Jordanian security forces clashed with pro-democracy protesters in Amman on Friday, the first violent confrontation in the capital in several months.
According to local reports, the clashes erupted when police blocked a march by hundreds of demonstrators that started from the city’s Grand Mosque after Friday prayers. The protesters chanted slogans calling for economic and political reform, and demanded the ousting of the government of Marouf al-Bakhit, who was appointed prime minister in February.
There were also reports of attacks on several journalists covering the demonstration, with claims that photographers and journalists were beaten by security officers despite wearing special police-issued vests identifying them as members of the press.
Tareq Momani, the head of Jordan’s Press Association, was quoted by the Ammon News website as saying that “the vests were a trap to target journalists by gendarmerie forces”.
The latest escalation is likely to raise fresh questions over Jordan’s ability to stand apart from the wave of political unrest sweeping the Arab world this year. The country has seen a number of opposition rallies since January, but on a much smaller scale – and with more modest demands – than in countries such as Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. Since March, the Jordanian opposition has also concentrated on staging protests in provincial cities around the country, and has generally shunned the capital.
The Jordanian system places relatively few constraints on the powers of King Abdullah, who has ruled the country since the death of his father, King Hussein, in 1999. Over recent months, the monarch has repeatedly promised democratic reforms, but critics claim he is moving too slowly and cautiously.
Many Jordanians have also been incensed by a string of recent, high-profile corruption scandals, which analysts say have severely damaged the standing of the current government.