Jordanian political commentator Osama al-Sharif said the new wave of protests pose a "serious challenge, probably the most crucial since he (Abdullah) became king" in 1999.
The 50-year-old king has been fighting off a host of domestic challenges, including a Muslim Brotherhood boycott of parliamentary elections, increasing opposition from his traditional Bedouin allies and an inability to keep the Syrian civil war from spilling over his border.
So far, Abdullah has largely maintained control, partly by relinquishing some of his powers to parliament and amending the country's 60-year-old constitution. His Western-trained security forces have been able to keep protests from getting out of hand. And most in the opposition remain loyal to the king, pressing for reforms but not his removal.
But as the pressure has mounted, Abdullah has been forced to make concessions. He has surrendered some of his absolute powers to an elected parliament, and renounced his right to appoint the prime minister, saying lawmakers will select the premier following Jan. 23 national elections.
The country's economic woes have added to the crush of challenges, and they show no sign of easing.
Jordan's budget deficit is expected to reach a year end record of $3 billion, while foreign debt is expected to jump 27 percent to $27 billion this year as the country grapples with rising poverty, unemployment and inflation.
Donations promised by Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Arab nations — a badly needed cash infusion for resource-barren Jordan — have failed to materialize, while the cost of sheltering some 265,000 Syrian refugees who have fled their civil war has put further strain on Jordan's already meager water, fuel and electricity resources and health care system.
On top of that, disruptions in cheap Egyptian gas shipments cost Jordan an extra $7 million a day, the government said. The pipeline that transports the natural gas has been blown up more than a dozen times over the past year by militants in Egypt's Sinai desert, halting shipments. Jordan has switched to more expensive fuel oil to generate electricity.
Despite the challenges, Abdullah is expected to ride out the latest wave of protests, which are confined to certain areas in the country and have attracted relatively small numbers so far.
The stakes are high: Abdullah is a close ally of the United States and has been at the forefront of its global war on terrorism, including in Afghanistan. Jordan serves as a buffer zone to Saudi Arabia, another Sunni Muslim country, and to Israel, under a peace treaty signed in 1994, and Iraq. The kingdom hosts the largest Palestinian population outside the West Bank and Gaza.
"Washington's goal is to preserve the status quo, whereby Jordan is a "safe zone" in a sea of unrest," said a report by the Washington-based Middle East Research and Information project.
Associated Press writer Dale Gavlak contributed.
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