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Despite Taboo, Jordanians Call For King's Removal


In Jordan, speaking ill of the king is taboo, but today, thousands of people took to the streets around the country to protest rising fuel prices, and they scream that King Abdullah II is not a legitimate leader. NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Amman on the appearance of the Arab Spring in the Kingdom of Jordan.


LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Freedom, freedom, down with Abdullah, protesters chanted in the center of the nation's capital as riot police surrounded them with sticks and teargas guns at the ready. Except for a few clashes outside the capital, the protests were peaceful, but demonstrators say they're fed up with corruption, and they declared that King Abdullah must reform the system or leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Just a week ago, no one would have dared utter the name of the Western-educated monarch in a negative context publicly. To start with, it's a crime, but analysts and activists say the anger over a system of cronyism has reached a tipping point. The hike in prices will hurt the poor while the elite grow richer, protesters say, and they're tired of an unaccountable government.

LABIB KAMHAWI: We can say that absolute monarchy is behind us.

FADEL: Analyst and government critic Labib Kamhawi says King Abdullah will have to relinquish more power to an elected body or bear the brunt of people's rage.

KAMHAWI: And this is not confined to the class of the politically active Jordanians. This is rank-and-file Jordanians who never in their life demonstrated neither for nor against. But this time, they went down to the street, and they demonstrated. And they are screaming and shouting, and they are angry because it is affecting their life, their livelihood, their kids, their wives, their families, their future.

FADEL: The king, he says, has all the power in his hands but won't answer to the people. Until he does, protests will continue.

KAMHAWI: We haven't seen the end of it. No. I assure you of that.

FADEL: Still, many in Jordan worry that the protests will turn this peaceful nation into the warzone they see in neighboring Syria. It's a fear that Jordanian officials have alluded to. In downtown Amman, Ibrahim Abdelhamid surveyed the angry crowd with concern.

IBRAHIM ABDELHAMID: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The monarchy is stability, he says, and he doesn't want it to change even though he wants the government to reverse the price hikes. Over the past two years, the king has largely evaded the popular anger that took down Arab leaders in neighboring countries, but now, that rage is surfacing here. In the center of Amman, protesters turned out in support of the king as well. Riot police separated the two camps, and the protests dissipated peacefully in the early afternoon. Twenty-five-year-old protester Zaki Mohammed says he hopes the demonstrations here will have the same result as those in Egypt last year.

ZAKI MOHAMMED: I think if the people continue, if the people make this square like Tahrir Square in Cairo, I think it will become a revolution.

FADEL: On Friday night, the protests resumed. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.