Thousands of Jordanian Islamist supporters marched on Friday in the largest demonstration since Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted last year, calling on King Abdullah to accelerate democratic reforms.
The Islamist movement had estimated that around 50,000 protesters would go out in the demonstrations; but according to analysts they failed to do so. An estimate by AFP correspondents put the number of protesters at number 15,000.
Protestors from across the country flocked to the main street leading to the Husseini mosque in downtown Amman after Friday prayers and chanted: “Listen Abdullah, our demands are legitimate.”
The “Friday to Rescue the Nation” rally was called by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, to push for their demands for broader political representation and a more democratic parliament, Reuters reported.
Sheikh Hamam Said, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, said a concessionary move by the monarch to dissolve a rubber-stamp, tribal-dominated parliament on Thursday to set the stage for elections expected early next year was not enough.
His party will not go back on decision to boycott future elections under the current political system, he said.
The Islamists say electoral laws passed last July are tailored to curb their influence by drawing constituency lines in favor of sparsely populated, pro-government tribal areas that have a majority of parliamentary seats. Heavily populated cities which are their traditional strongholds are grossly under-represented, they say.
Hundreds of youths carried banners saying: “The corrupt are God’s enemies” and “For how long will the regime protect corrupt officials?”
Other placards called on the powerful security forces to end their pervasive role in political life.
“Democratic electoral law, constitutional changes, parliamentary governments, independent judiciary, constitutional court, effective anti-corruption efforts and preventing security services from interfering in political life,” read a large banner carried by protesters spelling out their demands.
Police said they prevented a group of youths from attacking the demonstrators, after they arrested eight people who were found to be carrying firearms in three minibuses heading into central Amman.
“We have been protesting for more than 20 months and you still do not understand our demands. We do not like demonstrations but we love Jordan,” read another banner carried by the protesters.
Jordan has had nearly two years of peaceful street protests by Islamists, tribal figures and leftists, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, but they have focused on reforming government and limiting King Abdullah's powers rather than ousting him.
The large demonstration went peacefully after loyalists who had planned to congregate at the same location called off a counter rally, defusing tensions that had raised prospects of clashes.
The king decided to dissolve the chamber of deputies on Thursday and to call early elections, the royal palace said. It gave no date, although the monarch has said he wants polls to be held by the end of 2012.
The Brotherhood has said it would boycott polling as it did Jordan’s last elections in 2010 to protest the lack of meaningful reforms. It demands a parliamentary system where the premier is elected rather than named by the king.
“I am telling the Muslim Brotherhood that they are making a tremendous miscalculation” with their threat to boycott, the king told AFP in an exclusive interview last month.
Other opposition parties have also said they were considering a boycott over a new electoral law under which voters cast two ballots -- one for individual candidates in their constituencies and one for nationwide party lists.
The king ordered parliament to increase the number of seats reserved for party candidates in a bid to persuade the Islamists to take part. MPs raised the number from 17 to 27, but that did not go far enough for the opposition.
“This elections law is not perfect. We all understand that. But there is no better consensus on an alternative. What is critical is that we keep going forward,” the king said.
“So I am telling the Muslim Brotherhood, you have a choice. To stay in the street or to help build the new democratic Jordan.”
The Islamists boycotted Jordan’s last elections in protest at constituency boundaries, saying they over-represented loyalist rural areas at the expense of urban areas seen as Islamist strongholds.