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Jordan aims to avoid unrest with dialogue on sweeping reforms

There is an ever-present worry in Jordan that, if dialogue fails now, a public that has so far asked only for reform of the regime could start thinking of revolution.

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Throughout two months of surprising upheaval, the feeling that a wave of democratic change was sweeping their region has galvanized Arab publics. Here in Jordan, beginning in January, thousands took to the streets, asking not for a revolution but for substantial democratic and economic reforms.

For the first time in years, there was a sense of optimism that those reforms would come.

Hopes dimmed, however, as the push for reforms stalled and governments in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria used military force to suppress protests. But last night, after weeks of stonewalling, the regime gave in to the opposition's demand for a more robust national dialogue that could reshape parts of the Constitution.

Although the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest political party, is boycotting the dialogue, saying the concessions don't go far enough, analysts say the renewed dialogue is a pivotal moment. There is an ever-present, if seldom spoken, worry that if it fails now a public that has so far asked only for reform could start thinking of revolution.

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"I think ... we will change the structure of the regime, to make it more democratic," says Mohammad Aburumman, a Jordanian political analyst. "It will avoid the revolutionary scenarios in Tunisia and Egypt, but give us the outputs of those scenarios."

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