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Freedom! September 23, 2012

September 23, 2012

Outside Al-Husseini Mosque.

A mix of hundreds of demonstrators gathered in downtown Amman yesterday after the noon Friday prayer to both rally for the government and protest against it, some voicing their support of the government, while others called for an end to corruption and the release of political activists who were arrested three weeks ago in different cities in Jordan.

As the searing early afternoon sun beat down on hundreds of men and boys simultaneously putting their foreheads to the ground in devotion inside and outside Al-Husseni mosque, others were unfurling bright red banners and handing out black paper signs with slogans denouncing government officials and calling for reform. Immediately after the prayer, chants rang out from those calling for the activists’ release.

“Those who are coming out of the mosque, come stand and defend your children!

“Jordan is for free people!”

Chants ring out from those rallying against government corruption and political arrests: “No one can humiliate Jordan, even if we must tear down the whole system.”

There were two discernible groups pitted against one another. One group of people — some of whom were from the Jordanian Communist Party, others independent activists — walked together with both professional and handmade signs, some wearing bright red shirts with yellow hammer and sickles on the back. A smaller group of pro-government demonstrators replied to the activists’ chants in singsong.

“In our souls, in our blood, we will be for you Jordan. The people don’t want parties!”

“This is King Abdullah’s Jordan, so if you oppose him get out!”

(A video will be uploaded here when the Jordanian internet allows, insh’allah)

As the majority of protestors continued down King Talal bin Abdullah Street, the smaller group of mostly older, pro-government men stopped walking and formed a cluster on the right side of the road. Police outnumbered the demonstrators, forming an effective blockade to keep them separated from the street. Men took turns climbing a ladder and shouting their support for the government and the king. A older man wearing a red and white keffiyah on his head rallied the men, while they jumped in unison, chanting back.

The police form a barricade around a group of protesters.

After about five minutes, the group began walking again to catch up with the  other group of demonstrators. Sweat poured down the faces of the incited men and women as temperatures and tempers climbed, but the blistering heat did not dim their shouts. The men and women cried out for less corruption in government, and a country that isn’t controlled by security, but democracy, drowning out the others’ chants defending Jordan’s government: “You people against the King, you are cowards!”

Before the signs were put away, the crowd — sans the pro-government men — began to sing “Mawtini,” a popular poem throughout the Arab World written by a famous Palestinian poet named Irahim Touqan that was adopted as the anthem for the Palestine and Iraq. It has since become a song that represents a united Arab goal.

(A video of this will be uploaded here as well)

A protester calls for the release of activists who were arrested three weeks ago, holding a sign that reads, “No political arrests!” and “Freedom!”

About 45 minutes after it had begun, the chants died down and the banners were rolled back up. The streets were calm and people peacefully dispersed upon request of the police. I spoke with a young woman named Fida who lives in Amman and explained that many of the people with her were there to demand the release of the youth activists who were arrested three weeks ago, and for implementation of a “legal democracy.” She blamed the poor state of Jordan and the suffering of its people on the government: for the economy, the state of politics and the lack of freedom. She also said by imprisoning the activists, the Jordanian government has broken the law.

“Three weeks ago,  [the government] started arresting people, which is illegal. They have done nothing wrong and Jordan law says you cannot imprison someone for their opinion,” she said.

Our interview was cut short by a flood of people emptying out of downtown’s main street and running up the neck-breakingly steep hill toward the intersection of Kirfan and Al-Qaberati Street. Police slowed on the way up to a trot or a walk as journalists raced alongside protestors to the top of the road, where the opposing groups of demonstrators fought inside a small group of about 25 men, punching, kicking, and throwing one another against buildings, parked cars and each other.

Two women tried to push their way in, but were shoved back by the few policemen who were trying to break apart the brawl. One officer was thrown to the ground as he tried to intervene. Despite the hundreds of police officers that were walking alongside protestors on King Talal bin Abdullah Street, only one was left at the top by the time the fight ended.

A police officer is knocked to the crowd while trying to intervene between the protestors.

People ran back down the hill, jumping over refuse, past cars and navigating the uneven and steep stairs leading back to the main street. By the time I reached the bottom of the street, the crowd of people has dissipated and shopkeepers who had put away their merchandise were already beginning to bring their wares back out of their shops. A man who had been involved in the brawl clutched his head as his friends poured water over his face, though he had no visible wounds.

One man, Suhaib Assaf, was arrested but released on bail for “for humanitarian and medical reasons,” according to The Jordan Times.

A pro-government demonstrator after the fight.

If the protestors’ intentions are realized, the end of Friday’s protest isn’t the end of the dissent. As chants, signs and protestor Fida promised, they will continue to voice their opinion until their fellow activists are freed.

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*Translation provided by Talal al-Shoubaki. He also contributed considerable effort helping push me up the hill.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sam permalink
    September 23, 2012 10:03 am

    Excellent work…stay safe

  2. Annie Kauffman permalink
    September 23, 2012 10:24 pm

    Mumtaaz Melissa ! great pics and story . You guys stay safe

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