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In Jordan, even back-to-back rival protests are orderly

Security forces separate rival demonstrators (Islamist and pro-Monarchy) in downtown Amman, Jordan, following Friday prayers.

Patrick Martin/The Globe and Mail/Patrick Martin/The Globe and Mail

Only in Jordan: The friendly little kingdom known for its cleanliness and orderliness (a Canada of the Middle East, some say) even holds the tidiest protest marches.

As midday Friday prayers ended at the Hussein Mosque in downtown old Amman, two rival demonstrations swung into gear.

The first, lead by a large open-back truck decorated with Jordanian flags and photos of King Abdullah II, slowly began its parade down the street. In the back, a cheerleader with microphone sang out phrases of fealty to the monarch: "God bless our king;" "love to our leader;" "to us young people, you are our idol."

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Trailing the truck came 200-300 demonstrators waving placards and flags in praise of the hereditary Hashemite ruler (who is descended from the Prophet Mohammed).

Among them, several dozen marchers held onto a huge canopy with a giant portrait of the King. As the parade came to a halt at various times, the men holding the canopy would dance around in circles, much to the delight of supporters watching from rooftops and balconies along King Talal Street. (Talal was King Abdullah's grandfather.) Then, following behind the demonstration for the King, came a larger, louder and quite extraordinary march by the Muslim Brotherhood.

This parade was led by several dozen men carrying an enormous flag of Jordan held flat for the benefit of the television cameras and people on the balconies. The message the marchers wanted to convey was that their protest was for the benefit of Jordan; their loyalty to the state was strong.

Behind the flag came the Brothers' own open-back truck with a pair of cheerleaders leading 800 or so marchers in slogan after slogan.

They called for an end to corruption, for transparency in public affairs, and for real elections of real governments.

Echoing phrases heard in protests around the Arab world this past year, these marchers sang out: "The people want ... to fix our government; the people want ... a new election law."

As they marched in line, ever so slowly, organizers in bright yellow vests walked up and down like drill sergeants keeping everyone in straight lines – old men in jalabiyas and long grey beards and young men in leather jackets and greased hair alike.

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The loudest chants were offered at the mention of the Muslim Brothers opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and then again when Israel came up for criticism.

"The people want to cleanse Jordan from Israel," they called out; and "down with the Treaty of Wadi Arava" referring to the Israel-Jordan peace agreement.

At no point did the protesters utter a word of criticism about the King himself, though at one point they did chant: "No more promises; we want to SEE changes," and "Our patience has a limit."

Make no mistake, this country's Islamist movements want very much to see free and open elections that would likely give them a substantial bloc of seats in parliament. But there's a long way to go before that happens, and they see turning against the monarch as a counter-productive step.

The king holds the upper hand, both in being a respected descendant of the Prophet, and the commander in chief of a substantial army and bevy of security forces.

Indeed, all along the parade route and in neat lines marching between the rival demonstrations, were scores of security forces from various paramilitary units.

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But there was no tension between the demonstrators and the police as was the feature of protests in Egypt and Yemen, for example.

Indeed, at one point the Muslim Brotherhood cheerleader led the people in sending a warm and appreciative greeting to all the security forces at the protest today!

As the marches came to a halt at the end of King Talal Street, a unit of some 75 gendarmes, outfitted in helmets, body armour and batons, stepped quickly between the two rival demonstrations while each side belted out its closing slogans and songs.

Then the battle of the bands was over and the people quietly dispersed, vowing to return next Friday, when a "million-man march" is planned.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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