Friday’s protest in downtown Amman was billed as the biggest in Jordan since regular demonstrations began a year and a half ago. Perhaps it was, though I doubt it came close to the 50,000 participants anticipated by the Islamic Action Front, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and organizer of the demonstration (though counting thousands of people isn’t particularly easy, especially from the street). Nonetheless, it was a significant demonstration of grievances and demands by a large number of different groups with a wide range of interests, and a lot of media to cover them.
These are just a few observations of my own, and below are some pictures I snapped from my phone.
- It was certainly interesting to see the various groupings and affiliations among the crowd, differentiated primarily by baseball hats of different kinds and colors. There was a small group of guys “chained” (not really, though) together wearing navy blue shirts and hats with signs pinned to themselves stating “Prisoners of Conscience.”
- There were a lot more women participating than I expected. While there were few in the large mass of people immediately in front of the King Hussein mosque, large groups of women were very active on the side streets and sidewalks, many of them wearing ball caps on top of their head coverings.
- The chants are great, though more difficult to understand than when having a regular conversation with someone. Shouts over speakers aren’t particularly clear to a non-native speaker, and thousands of voices at once can muffle diction, so I have to make a concerted effort to hear clearly. Quite a lot of it was directed to the King, though without crossing certain lines that led to jail time for some protesters in Tafileh some weeks back. A few I scratched down: “Abdullah, where are our freedoms?” “Our demands are legitimate.” “The people want the reform of the system.” “Abdullah, why protect the corrupt?” “Listen good, Abdullah. We want freedom, not royal favors.” The “music” of the chants is the best though. Reading them here in English just doesn’t do them justice. (Oh, they also did a short “translation” for the benefit of the English-language media. Interesting and kind of funny at that moment.)
- Readings signs and banners is easier. Many of the against corruption. Others wanting “real” reforms. Others against “the system of secret police.” And others generally stating an “order for political, economic, and social reform.”
- Security was heavy as expected. The “front line” of police were without guns (this has been usual practice), and line the main street on either side (and many in or on top of buildings). Things did not feel particularly tense and the police seemed relaxed; talking, smiling, and laughing. Once you move to the surrounding streets, however, you would find the gendarmerie “waiting in the wings” and well-armed.
All in all, an excellent day. I got a fresh squeezed orange juice for the way home and lucked out in getting a cab pretty quickly after leaving the downtown area. It’s kind of surreal being in such a crowded mass of people, then walking for just 2 to 3 minutes and being on completely deserted city streets. But the police block off all roads to that part of the downtown. We’ll see how things go from here now that the King dissolved parliament and new elections are supposed to take place before the end of the year.