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War on Gaza: Why Jordan protests have landed in the spotlight

The demonstrations have become deeply interwoven with conflicting regional and local agendas
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'God, Nation, Resistance' during a protest in support of Gaza near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan, 29 March, 2024 (Reuters)

Thousands of protesters have surrounded the Israeli embassy in Amman in recent days, demanding an end to the war on Gaza. Late last month, Jordanian forces arrested around 200 demonstrators after they tried to breach the security cordon around the complex.

Although the embassy has been without a diplomatic mission since Israel’s ambassador left Amman in October and Jordan recalled its ambassador in November, protest organisers have vowed to carry on until the war against Palestinians in Gaza comes to an end. 

The protests have been focused in the vicinity of the Kalouti Mosque and other areas near the embassy. But a parallel battle has been raging on social media between supporters and opponents of the protest movement.

Rhetoric, videos and images of the demonstrations are being used to construct polarised narratives about the protest movement and the motivations behind it - and this debate has spread beyond Jordan’s borders.

One example is the recent statement from Palestinian National Council member Osama al-Ali, who is affiliated with the Fatah movement. He has echoed Israel’s narrative against Hamas, and described the Jordanian demonstrators as "backward cows". 

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Some Arab news networks, including Al Arabiya and Sky News Arabia, have also devoted extensive coverage to guests criticising the protests, including allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have been conspiring with Iran to create confusion in Jordan.

This marks a shift from previous coverage by many major Gulf news networks, which in recent months have appeared more hesitant to criticise Hamas.

Fierce narrative battles

This raises a number of key questions: why are the media wars focusing on the Amman protests to this extent? Why are such fierce narrative battles developing around this movement? Despite minor frictions, the protests have been largely peaceful - so why is such a large spotlight being cast on them?

It appears that these demonstrations have become deeply interwoven with conflicting regional and local agendas.

There have been a number of pivotal events in this regard. After the deadly Israeli attack this month on Iran’s consulate in Syria, which killed several Iranian commanders, a spokesperson for the pro-Iranian Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah threatened to arm 12,000 Jordanian fighters to combat Israel. 

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This was followed by statements from prominent Hamas leaders, who stressed the importance of the Jordanian protests. In addition, Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, dedicated a message of support to the Kalouti demonstrators.

On the opposite side, the Jordanian protests have faced criticism for crossing a red line in the context of public debates, and even threatening national unity. Some critics have targeted the Palestinian population in Jordan, evoking past conflicts, such as Black September, when the Jordanian military clashed with Palestinian militants in the country.

Those on the other side believe Jordan must harden its position towards Israel in the face of its ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people

Others have engaged in hate speech on social media, using tags such as “the evil guest” to reference Palestinians in Jordan. This is a dangerous, provocative discourse that threatens to fuel social unrest.

Internal divisions in Jordanian political circles over the situation in Gaza have manifested themselves in the ongoing media war. Some are afraid that the protests will work to glorify leaders of the Hamas movement through slogans, posters and chants - essentially hijacking the Jordanian streets by prioritising ideological considerations over national interests.

Those who align with this view believe that the Jordanian national interest requires stepping back, rather than jumping directly into the fray over the Gaza war. Those on the other side, however, believe Jordan must harden its position towards Israel in the face of its ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people.

The central issue is thus not the Kalouti demonstrations themselves, as Jordan has previously witnessed widespread popular protest movements, which were ultimately contained. But this time around, the scale of the accompanying media and propaganda battle is striking.

The Amman demonstrations have thus become a theatre where local and regional confrontations over the war in Gaza are playing out.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Mohammad Abu Rumman is Associate professor of politics at the University of Jordan and an academic advisor at the Politics and Society institute.
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