Locating Dissent: Space, Law, and Protest in Jordan
11 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 2 Oct 2009
Date Written: 2009
In March 2002, Jordan’s Queen Rania led a march of several hundred Jordanians as a gesture of solidarity with Palestinians during the Israeli invasion of Jenin, Nablus, and several other Palestinian towns. The widely photographed spectacle garnered significant domestic, regional, and international attention. Over the course of the previous month, thousands of Jordanians had participated in unsanctioned protests, and despite daily efforts that included tanks and tear gas, the regime proved unable to quell the demonstrations. The spectacle of the elegant Queen leading two hundred upper-class Jordanian citizens through the streets of Amman underlined the symbolic stakes of the manner in which the regime has sought to regulate public space in the ostensibly liberal-democratic monarchy. The Queen’s march took place along a route devoid of contentious political symbolism, beginning at a benign traffic circle and ending at a UNICEF office a few blocks away. Yet another Palestinian solidarity march planned by the Professionals Associations Complex (PAC) and the Islamic Action Front (IAF) to have taken place just days earlier was far more provocative: the PAC and IAF planned a march that they dubbed a “Sacred Crawl” (zahaf al-muqaddas), which was to start at PAC headquarters in the commercial district of Shmeisani and end at the Israeli Embassy - the local emissary representative of the forces directly responsible for the military invasions of the Palestinian towns and cities. Both demonstrations were intended as expressions of Palestinian solidarity, and both were planned as peaceful marches. But only the Queen’s march was legally sanctioned, despite taking place in the midst of weeks of unsanctioned marches; the Sacred Crawl was canceled at the last moment under pressure from security officials. The critical point of contention was not the content of the march - Palestinian solidarity - but space: the Jordanian government ruled that protests in close proximity to the Israeli embassy constituted a threat to public order.
These two protest events demonstrate the salience of the spatial dimensions in political protests, a dynamic of political dissent that has received little systematic attention from scholars. What sorts of protest events are permitted? Where may they be held? Who may organize them? To whom are the events visible? And are there limits to what can be said? In this chapter, we explore dimensions of protest through a critical examination of the specific spaces of contestation and the legal mechanisms used for their regulation. The protest events in Jordan during the Spring 2002 invasion by Israeli troops into the Palestinian cities and towns provide a window into these complex practices of political contestation and control.
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