By now, most people in Amman have already heard about the protests near the Israeli Embassy in the Rabia area. Protesters erected tents a few days ago and have been there on and off ever since. Today, a march was organized way up the street, starting from the Days Inn hotel, will plans of passing the embassy. So the 7iber gang scurried to go and document what was happening. It turned out only 40 people or so showed up, and to be fair, it was organized at 5pm when everyone was still getting off work. The main protest site, next to the Kaluti Mosque, usually gathers hundreds of people the later it gets in to the night.
In any case, at 5pm this small group wanted to start moving but hardly got 50 meters before running in to police. There were so many police they definitely outnumbered them five to one. It was disbanded within minutes.
But a while later, word came that the protesters at the main site were given a midnight deadline to take down the tents and go home. What ensued were several hours of gathering protesters who had come in defense of the tent. They lit bonfires as they have done every night. They chanted and sang patriotic songs. In the crowd, undercover police roamed around.
On 7iber, we had our own WatWet feed happening to document it blow by blow. Do tune in (you can also see it on the sidebar of the 7iber site) as it will be constantly updated as these protests continue in Amman.
The police were huddled in their vans waiting orders while a first warning was issued. Then a few hours of negotiations with some people deciding to leave and others gathering inside the main tent in order to serve as an obstacle to anyone willing to take it down. It didn’t seem to matter to the police that the protesters had a license. Every time someone in charge showed up, people gathered around to listen. I was interested in hearing what the excuse would be. There was the general feeling that the evening’s earlier protest up the street (independent of this one) was going to be used as an excuse to disband activities here. The police usually don’t need an excuse, but it would be interesting to hear one nevertheless.
Apparently it was an issue of noise. I found this a bit strange because (a) it’s a protest and (b) they’ve been here for several days now.
On the first night this protest took shape I was there and managed to hear the police official in charge explaining to protesters about how they wanted them to be able to raise their voice and show the world how democratic Jordan is so that, and I quote, “people can look at us and wish they were in Jordan”. End quote.
However, on Friday, protests forming soon after the duhr prayer turned a bit ugly and supposedly tear gas was thrown, while protesters cast stones at the police. I arrived a bit late but saw the whole side of one street lined with riot police, while protesters chanted at them from the other side. Meanwhile, the street between them was littered with rocks.
So evidently, it seemed this protest had dragged on a bit too long for someone’s taste.
But luckily, after a few hours of negotiations, and what I imagine, a lot of wasta-usage, they managed to come to an agreement where the tent would stay up but there would need to be a little more quiet.
The quiet protest.
These protests all feel so well-controlled if not perfectly orchestrated by the authorities. Like that policeman said earlier, there is the pretense of democracy or free speech and expression, but it is given by the authorities, controlled by the authorities, kept on a leash, pulled on when needed, and even refused by the authorities. Most protesters here, and elsewhere in this country, are pretty scared of the authorities. There is constant suspicion amongst the crowd of always being aware of who is talking to you, and whether they are undercover cops.
People are given small corners to chant their slogans and sing their songs, and when their numbers get too big or their voices too loud, someone pulls on the leash. They are almost always outnumbered by riot police who will some times line up across the sidewalk to make sure people are contained.
No one, not even the little kids who come to these events, are fooled by any feeling or sense of democracy. No one in any of these crowds is under the impression for one moment that this is the state ensuring their constitutional rights. In fact, one popular slogan chanted every time there’s trouble has to do with “our constitutional rights”. But even that is chanted almost sarcastically.
No one in these crowds believes it.
These protests live and die by the whims of the authorities.