- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jordan, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, was rocked Wednesday by a second day of protests that uncharacteristically targeted the king after the government raised fuel prices in a desperate act to reduce a massive budget deficit.

Hundreds of Jordanians poured into the streets in several cities across the Western-backed kingdom, chanting slogans against King Abdullah II. By Wednesday night, residents of Amman reported that the streets of the Jordanian capital were unusually empty.

Manal Omar, a Middle East specialist with the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace, said she has encountered angry and frustrated Jordanians as she traveled across the country over the past week.

“The conversations I’ve had reminded me of the conversations I had in Tunisia. People are saying that their living conditions are unbearable, and there is a sense that there is no movement toward reform. That is where the anger is coming from,” Ms. Omar said from Amman in a Skype interview with The Washington Times.

“They definitely put blame at the feet of the king, but they are not saying, ‘We hate the system.’”

Leila Hilal, director of the Middle East task force at the New America Foundation in Washington, said, “In Jordan, there is unprecedented criticism of the king among his traditional constituents.”

“They are very dissatisfied with the king, but there is not an intention, a desire or even a call among these protesting groups for toppling the monarchy.”

King Abdullah is a close friend of the U.S. and has honored a 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Palestinian refugees and their descendants make up almost half of Jordan’s population of 6 million.

Some Jordanians say they want a transformation to a constitutional monarchy with a more powerful parliament. However, that is an idea that has received little support.

Jordan has dodged the violent wave of Arab Spring protests that erupted two years ago and toppled rulers in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. Jordanians rarely have protested against their Western-backed king.

The protests this week are a culmination of long-standing tensions in Jordan over the slow pace of reforms.

“After the Arab Spring, the Jordanian monarchy promised to undertake certain reforms, and those reforms have moved very slowly, and, in fact, have completely stalled of late,” Ms. Hilal said.

“There is a lot of impatience with the government … people are feeling immense economic strain, lack of adequate political representation, concern about corruption, and they are acting out,” she added.

Demonstrations last erupted in September when the government tried to raise the price of gas and diesel fuel.

King Abdullah promptly reversed that decision.

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