AMMAN, Jordan – The real change in the political landscape is not what is happening on the streets, where protesters have been dwindling in numbers since King Abdullah II fired his government last week under pressure from growing calls for reform.
It is what is happening on the lips.
The focus of criticism these past few weeks has been the government – accused of both corruption and mismanaging a severe economic crisis – as attacking the king himself is against the law.
These past few days have nonetheless seen a growing number of voices start breaking that taboo, emboldened by a sense they are no longer alone with their individual whispered thoughts.
“People are talking more openly now,” political analyst Radwan Abdullah said in an interview on Wednesday, a significant development in a country where the secret police are feared to the point where people avoid talking politics over the telephone.
No one is asking for abolition of the monarchy, as the system of government that grants the crown to the Hashemites is largely viewed as necessary to balance the competing interests of its deeply divided subjects.
But more people are finding the courage to speak openly about their dissatisfaction with Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania – darlings of the West but unpopular at home.
The boldest example came this weekend when 36 Jordanian tribal leaders issued a joint statement warning the regime that if large-scale reforms did not come as promised then Jordan would go the way of Egypt and Tunisia.
“The immunity enjoyed by His Majesty the king may not be extended […] in an effort to preserve the constitution and prestige of the nation and continuity of the monarchy,” said an excerpt posted by popular online independent media site Ammon News.
The most surprising aspect of the statement was that it went after Queen Rania, denouncing the lavish birthday party she had in the desert at the expense of taxpayers and accusing her of corruption and meddling in government affairs.
Lengthy excerpts from the statement are available here: en.ammonnews.net
That was not always the case, as the statement was deleted from the website – allegedly by hackers – after Ammon News refused to take it down at the request of security agents. The move sparked a sit-in at the Jordanian Press Association office and the Committee to Protest Journalists, based in New York, has called on the Jordanian government to investigate the alleged attack.