AMMAN, Jordan – The leader of Jordan's largest opposition group warned that patience was running out with what he called the government's slow steps toward reform, as protesters took to the streets Friday in the largest outpouring yet in two months of unrest.
King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has so far failed to quiet the calls for sweeping political change that have hit his desert kingdom as unrest spirals throughout the region. The protesters' key demands are for a bigger say in politics and for the prime minister to be chosen through elections, not by the king.
On Friday, the leader of the opposition Islamic Action Front told about 4,000 people gathered in the capital, Amman, that Jordanians were becoming "impatient with the slow and insufficient steps toward reforms."
"Hurry up, hurry up, our government, the clock is ticking and people are eagerly waiting to see real and serious democratic reforms," Hamza Mansour said to loud applause by protesters shouting the rallying cry of "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."
For eight consecutive Fridays, Jordanians have held street demonstrations to demand political change, lower food prices and the dissolution of a parliament they say was chosen on the foundation of a flawed electoral law. Parliament is the only elected body in Jordan's national government. The king, who retains absolute powers, appoints and dismisses Cabinets and has the authority to dissolve the parliament.
So far, the protests have been largely peaceful and the crowds are much smaller than in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
In a sign that the protest movement is gaining momentum, Friday's crowd in Amman was the largest so far and it was made up of a diverse sampling of Jordan's many political shades. There were rights activists, university students, unionists, leftists, Islamists and those who want changes but remain loyal to the king.
"Citizens want parliament and the Cabinet to go," protesters shouted, while those still backing the king clapped, danced and chanted, "Jordan is our beloved country and King Abdullah is our great leader."
Around 1,000 activists of similar affiliations protested in four other cities.
In his first public remarks, King Abdullah on Sunday called on his government to make "quick and real" reforms.
He called for a comprehensive review of a heavily disputed election law that the opposition claims favors the king's Bedouin tribal loyalists at the expense of Islamists and other constituencies. The law was heavily criticized in the last parliamentary election in November.
The king, however, did not say whether he would relinquish the power to appoint prime ministers — a key demand of the protesters.
In one concession, the Cabinet this week revoked a legal provision requiring protesters to seek police permission before holding public rallies.
On Friday, Mansour, the opposition leader, called it a "positive, but insufficient step."
In the crowd, computer engineer Mohammed Husban, 25, said he joined the demonstration because "I want to the king to hear my voice, I want him to know that university graduates like me end up unemployed."
Civil servant Ibrahim Qaddri, 42, said he can barely make ends meet. "I have five children and I can't cope with the rising prices."
"Some people are getting richer from the corruption in the state, while the middle class, like me, is becoming poor," said 39-year-old shopkeeper Yasin Abu Adawy.
"We don't want the king to go; we love him, but we want him to solve our problems and to give us hope for a better future," he added.