Jordan: a revolt renewed

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As Israel launched its assault on Gaza, the return of Jordan's popular movement demonstrated the continuing vitality of the Arab revolutions.

The hirak (movement) erupted in simultaneous demonstrations across major towns in the second week of November. The immediate demand was for the reversal of the royal decision to remove price subsidies on essential goods such as fuel. However, the demonstrations have broken through the bubble that had hitherto protected the Jordanian Hashemite monarchy.

While it is untrue that the Arab Spring has passed Jordan by, earlier protests shied away from the slogan "The people demand the fall of the regime", calling mainly for reform. This new round of protests has raised precisely that demand, as well as calling directly for the fall of King Abduallah and in some cases announcing a republic. Such taboos have not been broken since the brief civil war of 1970 - mass demonstrations against the monarchical regime on this scale were last seen in the 1950s. This is a watershed for Jordan which, following the Egyptian Revolution, has appeared to be the only reliable US ally left on the frontline with Israel.

The protests have not only raised a previously unspeakable slogan: they are a return to the site of the previous defeat of the movement. In March 2011, after nine weeks of protests at the high point of the initial phase of the Arab revolutions, the youth movement gathered at Duwwar Dakhiliyya in the centre of Amman, Jordan's capital. They were driven off by riot police and pro-regime thugs.

A promised electoral reform to the current - system that ensures mainly pro-regime voices in parliament provided little in the way of actual change. However, it took the removal of price subsidies, in a country where the cost of living has far outstripped wages, to re-energise the movement.

There had already been protests about prices, but beginning on 13 November, there were large demonstrations all across the country including in Amman, Irbid, Mafraq and Tafilah. These included clashes with the police in Irbid and the use of tear gas and road closures in Tafilah. One protester, Qais Omari, was killed in Irbid.

In the town of Karak - historically known for its conservative Bedouin character - the protests attacked the governor's house. More than 10,000 marchers in Amman on the "Friday of Anger" on 17 November called for the reversal of the price rises and the fall of the regime. The teachers' union called a continuous strike against the price rises and, at the time of writing, a march by trade unionists has confronted police at the prime ministry.

The return of the hirak is a surprise to those who believed that the Arab Spring had simply become an Islamist winter. In this stereotypical narrative, young, middle class and pro-Western citizens have overthrown regimes only to allow the inherent backwardness of the Arab world to manifest itself in the election of Islamist parties.

This story was always false: the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia began as demands for "bread, freedom and social justice" by the poor majority of the population and the struggle for these demands continues. The Jordanian movement is part of that struggle. Jordan has seen more strikes in the past year than ever before in its history.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, an independent workers' movement has begun to coalesce. The social demands of the movement are the most dangerous to the regime, which has long manipulated the division between Palestinian and East Bank origin Jordanians in order to stay in power. The current protests include both "tribal" areas that were previously strongholds of the regime and impoverished Palestinian refugee camps.

The hirak is not at the point of toppling the regime - but an important barrier has been broken. The Jordanian state has strong forces of repression and foreign backers: with Israel pounding Gaza, the US and Saudi Arabia will also be paying very close attention to the Jordanian protests. Indeed, Hillary Clinton informed King Abdullah by telephone of US support for his "reform" programme and the neoliberal economic policies that are driving Jordanians onto the streets.

The Jordanian movement reminds the world that the Arab revolutions are still ongoing, and they are revolutions of the poor.