AMMAN // Rallies expressing loyalty to Jordan's king are sweeping the country as demonstrators calling for political reforms have ratcheted up their calls for constitutional amendments.
Critics say the rallies are attempting to slow down the reform debate in the country, even as the government pledged to introduce amendments to laws that govern political life before the end of the year.
"These are orchestrated rallies and come against the pro-reform protest," Imad Hmoud, an independent analyst, said. "Governors are pushing citizens and tribal leaders to participate in loyalty protests and to place ads of loyalty in papers. They are hoping this would slow down and distract attention from actual reform measures."
In recent weeks there have been growing calls for "regime reforms", and a return of the country's 1952 constitution, before it was amended and consolidated the king's grip on power, in order to pave the way for a constitutional monarchy.
Marouf Bakhit, the newly appointed prime minister, promised in recent weeks to amend the electoral law by the end of this year. Critics say the law favours politicians who support the king by drawing voting districts that hamper challengers.
The calls for reform have prompted loyalists to stage their own rallies which were broadcast on state TV in the past two months, including continuous festivities marking King Abdullah II's birthday on January 31.
The demonstrations are a show of support for the king, who is facing a growing challenge from weekly street protests which initially demanded more jobs and a better standard of living before evolving into calls for reform of the government.
Some of the loyalty celebrations showed Bedouins dancing, while other citizens including children recited poems of praise. Television has also shown a "carnival" of buses, adorned with the king's photos and flowers, driving through the capital's streets last month.
The loyalty fever was also evident on Normina, a Jordanian satellite TV station that last month launched a four-day "one million" electronic vote in support of the king.
It sought to "thank the King for his previous, current and future efforts in developing the country and to prove to the entire world that Jordan is an oasis of stability.
"We have registered over 1.5 million votes," Imad Nashash, a TV anchor at the station said.
Most recently, a group of ten Jordanians, retired army men and independents, were rallying support for one million citizens to march In Amman on Saturday, calling it a day of loyalty in support of King Abdullah. It remains unclear how many people will participate.
The group, that got together last month, has already posted statements on dozens of Jordanian websites urging citizens to participate and to stand against those "who try to undermine the country's stability and security." Videos on YouTube show members of the group reciting poems under a huge portrait of the king.
"Go out and let your voices be heard across the word that loyalty is to God and then Abdullah," the statement read. "Those with suspicious agendas have planted their seeds in the country, it is our duty to root them out before they become entrenched," it read.
Fawwaz Khreishah, one of the committee members said: "We want to attract public attention that the regime has support. There should be more turn out in these rallies, he said.
Hundreds of impoverished Jordanians from across the country flocked to the royal court in central Amman yesterday after a rumour it was giving out up to 500 dinars (Dh2,570) in cash aid, but the authorities denied any handouts.
"I came early in the morning from Karak [southern Jordan] after I heard the royal court was giving money to the poor," Hamad Buheirat, 53, a retired soldier, said.
The palace denied it was handing out financial aid and said people behind the rumour had been arrested.