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Shaken by Tunisian Unrest, Arab World Looks to Placate Street

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As Jordanians grow excited over next Friday's Asia Cup quarter final, when their national team plays Uzbekistan, anxiety is also growing over another day of anti-government demonstrations this weekend with opposition parties and professional associations already announcing they will participate this time.

Last Friday, thousands of citizens took to the streets, angry over increasing prices on essential goods and difficult living conditions. The unplanned protests, which took place in major Jordanian cities following noontime prayer, aimed to show the public's dissatisfaction over these price hikes and accused the government of corruption.
Many of the protestors called on King Abdullah II to replace the government. At the same time they blamed recently elected parliamentarians for supporting the government, with 111 out of 119 voting in favor of the current government during the confidence motion.

The protests in Jordan followed similar action across the Arab world, which first erupted in Tunisia in late December against poverty and unemployment. The protest in Tunisia reached boiling point on Friday when the country's leader of 23 years fled the country and demonstrations turned violent.

Whether Jordan's citizens will follow a similar route is still unclear but what is obvious now is that what happened in Tunisia sent a strong and clear warning to all Arab leaders that the people in the Middle East are fed up with the situations and the state's inclination to ignore public opinion for decades.

Several Arab regimes have taken measures to ease tensions among populations facing deteriorating living conditions. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah announced the establishment of a fund to be dedicated for the development of remote areas while in Syria, the government announced the allocation of $250 million to boost the living standards of disadvantaged citizens.

"People will always find a way to make their voices heard," said one man in downtown Amman, adding that Tunisia should be a lesson for all governments. "It is not necessarily for protests to become the violent, there are different means of expressions that can make government listen too."

It became clear that the Jordanian people can no longer tolerate the sharp rise in prices resulting from wrong government policies, which have contributed to deepening gap between the rich and poor segments of society and dragged large numbers of Jordanians under the poverty line.

However, unlike traditional opposition, the protests in Jordan are taking a new form. Whereas previously the loudest opposition voice was that of leftists, Islamists, labour unions, the majority of the protesters are young people concerned with their economic future, hitting the streets without political affiliations and not guided by foreign agendas.

So far, protests here have not been violent and King Abdullah has instructed the government to lower prices and take tangible measures to address the situation immediately. The government has already responded by lowering the price of fuel and 13 essential items, including sugar, rice, and milk.

At least five people have set themselves on fire in public to grab authorities' attention, emulating the example that set off Tunisia's revolutionary fervor, graduate student Mohamed Bouazizi, who like many across the Arab region faced an uncertain future and poor job prospects.

Arab citizens continue to take to the streets, emboldened by Tunisia and the knowledge that for the first time in decades, Arab regimes are taking notice. Whether the protests will bring about actual change in the relationship between Arab governments and citizens is still left to be seen.

The question is whether this will be enough to placate the masses. Only time will tell.