Jordanians protest again despite religious edict

AMMAN, Jordan—Jordanians demanding democratic reforms protested in the capital for the 10th street week following Friday’s Muslim prayers, defying an edict by the kingdom’s religious leaders not to demonstrate.

Chanting “We want to change the constitution,” about 150 students, independents and leftists marched in front of the al-Husseini mosque and held banners reading, “Democracy is action, not just a word.”

The demonstrations inspired by uprisings across the Middle East have so far not threatened the monarchy but are calling for U.S.-allied King Abdullah II to relinquish some of his sweeping powers.

The protests saw far few numbers than in previous weeks. The demonstrators are calling for the popular election of the prime minister and other reforms inspired by the Tunisia and Egypt uprisings. King Abdullah now appoints the prime minister and Cabinet officials.

Smaller demonstrations were also reported in four other cities nationwide calling for mainly for economic reforms. Two were pro-monarchy rallies.

Jordan’s top Muslim leader, the Grand Mufti, and six other Quranic scholars had earlier issued a fatwa—religious edict—instructing Jordanians not to take part in protests while the government and political parties work on a reform dialogue.

The fatwa, however, did not put off protesters in Amman such as student Walid Laham, 22. He scoffed at the nonbinding edict, saying it merely “reflected government views of appointed  officials” rather than the will of the people.

He called it “another strategy” by the government to stop the protests and delay reforms.

Another protester, professor Ibrahim Alloush, blamed cold, rainy weather for the smaller numbers. Past weeks’ rallies saw thousands take to the streets of Amman’s narrow downtown business district.

But Alloush reserved his biggest criticism for the lower turnout on Jordan’s largest opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, calling it “spineless.”

“They are avoiding confrontation at all cost and are probably getting something for it in return such as parliamentary seats,” Alloush said.

He suggested that the opposition party, allied with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, was making behind-closed-door deals with the government to enhance its own political position at the expense of other opposition forces.

The Islamic Action Front, however, has threatened to boycott a political reform dialogue initiated by King Abdullah, with its political chief, Zaki Bani Ersheid, on Thursday accusing the government of not being serious about change.

Bani Ersheid blamed Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit of intentionally “undermining” the opposition’s main proposal to elect the prime minister. He said al-Bakhit’s past record as prime minister showed he was not serious about reform and the Front was not interested in “dialogue for the sake of dialogue.”

Bani Ersheid also said the Front and Brotherhood would press their demands for change by staging a rally at Jordan’s professional associations complex late Friday—instead of holding street protests.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands are expected at a rally on Saturday in support of the king and his government.


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