Jordan's king scraps entire cabinet

Abdullah taps ex-envoy to Israel, Marouf al-Bakhit, as prime minister after Jordanians take to streets calling for current PM to resign.

Jordan protest 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Jordan protest 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II fired his government on Tuesday and charged a new prime minister with boosting economic opportunities and giving citizens a greater stake in politics.
The monarch named Marouf Bakhit, 63, as prime minister, replacing the unpopular Samir Rifai.
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Bakhit – an ex-general who served as ambassador to Turkey and Israel and supports close ties with the US – previously served as prime minister from 2005-2007.
The country’s powerful Islamist opposition, which had demanded Rifai’s dismissal in several nationwide protests, said the changes didn’t go far enough. The former premier had been widely blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slow-moving political reforms. Early on Tuesday, he tendered his resignation to the king, who accepted it immediately, according to a statement from the Royal Palace in Amman.
“The move was expected, but the timing wasn’t,” said Assaf David, an expert on Jordan at the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace.
“Abdullah usually doesn’t like to be seen as acting under pressure,” David told The Jerusalem Post by phone, noting that protesters stopped short of calling for the monarch’s ouster, which he described as a “red line” that remains almost unchallenged within the kingdom.
David also drew a distinction between the rallies in Jordan and those in Egypt, in that those in the Hashemite Kingdom were largely peaceful and not met with police violence.
In his official statement, Abdullah said he had ordered Bakhit to “undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernization and development in Jordan.
“Economic reform is a necessity to provide a better life for our people,” the king said. “But we won’t be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making.”
Abdullah also demanded an “immediate revision of laws governing politics and public freedoms,” including legislation governing political parties, public meetings and elections.
Jordan’s most powerful opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, dismissed the changes as cosmetic.
“We reject the new prime minister and we will continue our protests until our demands are met,” said Hamza Mansour, leader of the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s political arm.
Mansour repeated his call for constitutional amendments to curb the king’s power in naming prime ministers, arguing that the post should go to the elected leader of the parliamentary majority.
Jordan’s constitution gives the king the exclusive power to appoint prime ministers, dismiss parliament and rule by decree.
“Unlike Egypt, we don’t want a regime change in Jordan, and we recognize the Hashemites’ rule in Jordan,” Mansour said, referring to Jordan’s ruling family. “But we want to see real political reforms introduced.”
When he ascended to the throne in 1999, Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein. Those reforms paved the way for a parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multi-party system and the suspension of martial law, which had been in effect since Israel’s War of Independence.
But little has been done since then. Although laws were enacted to ensure greater press freedom, journalists are still routinely prosecuted for expressing their opinion or for comments considered slanderous of the king and the royal family.
Some gains been made in women’s rights, but many say they have not gone far enough. Abdullah has pressed for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of “honor killings,” but courts often hand down lenient sentences.
Still, Jordan’s human rights record is a notch above those of Tunisia and Egypt. Although some critics of the king are prosecuted, they frequently are pardoned and some are even rewarded with government posts.
It was not immediately clear when Bakhit will name his ministers. A government official said the incoming premier was consulting with lawmakers, opposition groups, unionists and civil society institutions on the cabinet makeup.
The official, who is involved in the consultations, said Bakhit may name some opposition leaders to the new government. He declined to say whether Bakhit may approach the Muslim Brotherhood and insisted on anonymity because he is not allowed to brief the media.
A complex figure, Bakhit favors closer ties to Hamas while also pushing for maintaining good relations with Israel and the US, according to David of the Hebrew University. In 2005, Abdullah named Bakhit prime minister days after a triple bombing attack on Amman hotels claimed by the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
During his 2005-2007 tenure, Bakhit – an ex-major-general and top intelligence adviser – was credited with maintaining security and stability following the bombing, which in killing 60 people was the deadliest attack in Jordan’s modern history.