Insight: Cash crisis, Arab ferment threaten Jordan's stability

Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:04am EST
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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Alistair Lyon

AMMAN (Reuters) - Violent protests that shocked Jordan this month have mostly subsided, but unprecedented chants for the "fall of the regime" suggested a deeper malaise in a kingdom so far spared the revolts reshaping the Arab world.

Anger over fuel subsidy cuts undoubtedly drove the unrest, in which police shot dead one man during a confrontation at a police station. The government's planned electricity price rises starting next year may well ignite more popular fury.

King Abdullah has made some constitutional reforms and his counselors say turnout at a parliamentary poll in January will test public support for the pace of political change amid an acute financial crisis that has forced Jordan to go to the IMF.

However, the model that has kept Jordan relatively stable for decades is cracking, nowhere more so than in the tribal East Bank provinces long seen as the bedrock of support for the Hashemite monarchy installed here by Britain in 1921.

The formula reinforced after the 1970 civil war between the army and Palestinian guerrillas - a defining national trauma now airbrushed from public discourse - broadly gives East Bankers jobs in the army, police, security services and bureaucracy.

Jordan's Palestinian-origin majority dominates private enterprise, but does not play a commensurate political role, in part because electoral gerrymandering curbs its voting power.

Although the fissure between the two communities is blurred by inter-marriage, long co-existence and, at least among the elite, business ties, it is likely to haunt Jordan as long as the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

Jordanians of all stripes are fearful of the insecurity that stalks their neighbors, but the money that kept discontent in check across a fragmented society is simply no longer there.   Continued...

Jordan's King Abdullah (R) meets with United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos at the Royal Palace in Amman November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Yousef Allan/Royal Palace/Handout