|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
31 Jan. - 6 Feb. 2002
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Maan crisisJordan's King Abdullah moved quickly to end rioting in the troubled city of Maan, following a young man's death while in police custody. Al-Ahram Weekly's correspondent reports from Amman
Jordan's King Abdullah personally intervened to defuse tension in the southern city of Maan, and secured a pledge from the residents that there would not be a repetition of last week's riots, informed sources have told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Riots broke out in Maan, on 21 January, after a local youth died in police custody and charges were levelled at the authorities that the death was caused by police torture.
Police denied the charges but enraged residents and relatives went on a rampage and clashed with security forces. Riot police restored calm within 48 hours, giving the army no reason to get involved in the operation to restore security.
Eight local residents were wounded in the clashes and at least eight policemen suffered gunshot injuries. One of them died on Wednesday and was laid to rest on Thursday. The local Jordanian press praised the police for not returning fire, thus avoiding further civilian casualties.
In a meeting that went unreported in the local press, the king pointed out that internal unrest does not bode well for the country, particularly at a time when the troubles in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are casting a cloud over the East Bank and threaten unpredictable ramifications for Israel's eastern neighbour.
The notables attending the meeting, including leaders of all major tribes in and around Maan, agreed with the king and tendered an "unconditional apology" for last week's events. In explaining away the disturbances they characterised them, according to a highly-placed source, as "a stone gone astray."
"The king's handling of the situation was brilliant and showed that he's in the same mould as his (late) father (King Hussein)," said the source, a close adviser to the late monarch.
"He told them that the country was passing through a critical period, amid uncertainties in the West Bank and continuing Israeli military action against the Palestinians there," the source added.
"He also promised that he would get to the bottom of what caused the riots and take action against those responsible, should it be proven that the youth's death in custody was caused by torture."
Unlike Amman, and the northern parts of the country where Jordanians of Palestinian origin are a majority, Maan and the southern areas are dominated by Bedouin tribes, which are not easily scared or induced towards making compromises. That is why they constitute the central pillar of support for the ruling Hashemite family. Their loyalty to the throne is never questioned and a major segment of the kingdom's armed forces and police comes from the tribes.
It was in Maan, in 1989, that the first sign of Bedouin trouble erupted. The unrest was sparked by an increase in fuel prices prompted by an economic reform programme prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"At this point, there is nothing to indicate that there was any politics behind last week's incidents, although there are indications that certain elements tried to exploit the situation and stir up more trouble before they were contained," the source said.
Meanwhile, a committee has been formed by the ministry of interior and is investigating the case.
Eyewitnesses have reported that police later rounded up scores of Islamist suspects in Maan, a town which maintains particularly strong ties with Saudi religious clerics. In fact, residents of Maan and its outlying areas often move between Jordan and Saudi Arabia without any official documents, except for a paper permit from the local governor.
The king also promised the local leaders that, although no one would be detained for no reason, the law has to take its course against those who resorted to arson in attacking government property and who opened fire on security personnel. The disturbances led to two banks, a police station, the governor's official car and other items of public property being set on fire
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