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In Jordan, Islamists try to spin popular protests into political uprising

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Jordanian decisionmakers have made no indications of enacting the political reforms demanded by activists and protesters, resisting calls to dismiss Prime Minister Samir Rifai or dissolve the parliament, counting on populist economic measures as enough to ride out the Tunisia effect.

Economic unrest

Few took notice on Jan. 7, when 200 public-sector workers took to the streets in a village south of Amman over the rising cost of living. Without the participation of political parties or trade unions, the event did not even garner a mention in local newspapers.

Emboldened by the toppling of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the impromptu street protest grew into nationwide “days of anger,” with thousands of Jordanians hitting the streets.

Most concerning to decisionmakers is that unlike the urban, middle-class Tunisians who led the uprising there, the bulk of Jordan’s protesters have been Trans-Jordanians from rural areas. They are ardent tribal supporters of the regime who feel jilted by economic restructuring, which they believe has left them out in the cold.

“This group is anxious about their economic future, they are afraid about the future of the state, and they need answers from the government,” said Mohammad Abu Rumman of the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies.

The protests also revealed a prevailing sense that the government’s focus on privatization and foreign investments have failed to spur job creation outside the capital.

Inaction over inflation has riled Bedouin tribes and villagers who have long relied on careers in the public sector, where most salaries still hover close to the $225 monthly minimum wage, analysts say.

“This is the traditional backbone of the political system. These protests are being organized by issue-oriented people who are much more difficult to reign in,” says Fares Braizat of the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

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