About 150 imams have protested outside the royal palace in Jordan’s capital Amman in an attempt to express their discontent with the government.
Monday’s demonstration outside Raghadan Palace was not the first time imams had taken to the streets, but it was by far their most significant demonstration in more than a year and a half of protests.
The clerics’ demands include an end to what they describe as the security service’s interference in Islamic affairs and at mosques. They have vowed to fight corruption through Islamic (Sharia) law.
They have also called for an investigation into potential corruption at the Islamic affairs ministry that they say has delayed a previously promised raise in their basic salaries.
One of their pre-conditions to negotiations with the ministry is the formation of a special professional association for imams – who feel they are the largest segment of society left without a voice.
Protest organisers accused officials at the ministry of shelving their demand for an imams’ syndicate, which has been in the hands of the government since February.
Participants hung posters on the walls of the royal court that read: “There is no alternative to a meeting with the country’s king”.
Majed Al Omari, the president of the preparatory committee for the imams professional association, told Al Jazeera that King Abdullah should listen to the demands and complaints of the imams because they represent the country’s safety valve.
There are about 5,000 mosque employees and imams who address millions of Jordanians at weekly Friday prayers, and they say they are struggling under difficult economic conditions.
Many of them do not have full-time jobs and complain of a lack of job security, while others say their salaries are too low to cope with rising prices.
The Islamic affairs ministry expressed its surprise over the call for Monday’s protest and said it had taken the imams’ request for a professional association to the prime Minister’s office.
In a statement, the ministry also said it had raised the salaries of imams, preachers, clerics and mosque employees by 90 per cent at the end of last year.
Jordan is cash-strapped, suffering from a huge budget deficit, which according to officials could reach $4bn this year. This precarious financial situation has led to budget restrictions for all government institutions.
Officials say about 2,700 mosques across the country remain without imams.
The ministry attributed the delay in a decision regarding a professional association to the government’s focus on more pressing legislation such as the election law.
But the imams are unimpressed with the ministry’s response.
Jordan’s religious establishment is not affiliated with any political or social group, and has remained largely neutral since the launch of the country’s 17-month-old pro-reform movement.
But after months of solo sit-ins, the clerics and imams see that joining the country’s protest movement may be worthwhile.
Even though they may represent different forces, their demand is one: an end to corruption that is threatening the country.