Government to Raise Electricity Prices

Today, an article appeared in the Jordan Times that announced (buried in the third paragraph) that the government intends to raise electricity prices. The article states that “The government’s programme includes comprehensive reforms in the electricity sector through further increases in electricity tariffs and diversification of energy sources.” Raising prices is easy, diversification is easier said than done. To this point, the only “diversification” that has been made recently is a commitment by Iraq to supply 60,000 tonnes of heavy fuel instead of 30,000 tonnes, as well as increased imports of Iraqi gas. The reality is that Jordan remains as dependent on Egyptian natural gas as ever, and the contract under which Egypt commits to supply Jordan with 240 million cubic feet of gas per day expires in 2019.

Diversification of energy sources remains a vital economic interest for Jordan. If steps to diversify energy sources are not made then it is entirely possible that Egypt, with rising domestic demand for gas would seek to reduce the amount that is supplied to Jordan or increase the price. The central card that Jordan held in the recent dispute – the threat to deport Egyptian workers – is serious now because of the unrest in Egypt, but one should not assume that the situation in 2019 won’t be dramatically different. The regime doesn’t seem to be taking any steps to diversify its energy supply.

The government is scrambling to patch up the immediate crisis without a vision for how to make it less likely to recur over the longer term. In order to reduce Jordan’s dependence on energy imports and make the economy less vulnerable, there are important steps that need to be taken, but no one seems to have the political will. For example, one source of more affordable energy could be solar energy, which the government, to it’s credit, sought to encourage through the implementation of net metering regulations in 2010. However, there does not seem to have been anything to encourage the installation of solar energy, and to date it seems that there is only one person selling power back to the grid.

The one man who is selling power back to the grid, Suleiman Nimri, has conducted studies showing that it is profitable for many institutions in Jordan to implement solar power, but they have frequently been scared by the large upfront capital costs. Indeed, if JD24,000 is all it takes for a university in the north of Jordan to save JD7,000 on electrical power, then surely it would be worthwhile for the government to move forward with this project as one of the ones they are supporting with the governorates’ development fund (It is worth noting that Nimri himself expects to recoup his investment in five to six years). However, this doesn’t seem to be happening. There’s no vision. Just one crisis after another. Perhaps the ultimate indictment of this is the fact that the article about Nimri appears in the Jordan Times, a regime newspaper, yet the article seems never to consider the possibility of the government encouraging this type of economic activity, or indeed of it building solar energy facilities itself, and then seeking aid to build more.

Instead what we have is more rate increases, more stalling on reform, and a government that seems determined to go as long as possible without listening to the will of the people.

Jordan Needs Real Reform, Not a Royal Paper

Jordan Times has announced that there will be a royal discussion paper released soon about the democratization process in Jordan. According to the article:

As Jordan moves closer to parliamentary elections, His Majesty King Abdullah will release a series of discussion papers outlining his vision on the Kingdom’s comprehensive reform process, a Royal Court statement said on Wednesday.

The first paper is to appear soon, focusing on His Majesty’s vision on the nation’s course towards democratisation.

In other words, a Royal Paper will be released outlining King Abdullah’s “vision on the nation’s course towards democratization” shortly before an election that much of the opposition has chosen to boycott due to an electoral law that did not adequately reform the process for electing MPs. Furthermore, any future reforms (if they could indeed be called that) would be made by the parliament elected in this election, which is likely to consist largely of government loyalists and members of nationalist and leftist parties that have – for whatever reason – chosen to participate in the hopes of winning a few seats.

As I have mentioned before, MPs who are elected from districts with smaller populations are unlikely to support electoral reform that would equalize the size of the districts – and remember, under the electoral law, 123 out of 150 MPs will be chosen from districts (including 15 district seats that are reserved for women). Furthermore, for the 27 list seats, there are a total of 61 parties, and with the much of the opposition boycotting it is easy to see these seats being distributed widely among smaller parties, many of which do not have coherent political ideologies or true membership bases. Also, there are issues with the way that party lists are structured, as it is a closed list system with voters required to choose the from the lists, many of which have been set up through bargaining, rather than being able to select candidates on the list, which only benefits those who made backroom deals to secure a high position on their party’s list. Such a parliament is not going to produce real reform.

For the regime to be even talking about putting out a paper on democratization at this stage shows their true intent – by focusing on the new parliament, which is elected in an unfair way they will be able to stall on implementing real reform for a bit longer.

The Real Story from Maliki’s Visit to Amman

Nouri_al-Maliki_with_Bush,_June_2006,_cropped

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki visited Amman and met with King Abdullah and Prime Minister Ensour, and agreed to double the amount of heavy fuel exported to Jordan from 30,000 tonnes to 60,000 tonnes. The official story makes it seem like Maliki made several agreements to help bail out the Jordanian economy, but in fact there was only one major new development – the additional heavy fuel (in addition to several smaller agreements regarding exports and agriculture), and simply a restatement of things that had been agreed to prior between the two countries, with the official media presenting it as something new when nothing has really changed. It’s part of a pattern with this regime – take something relatively minor and present it as a fundamental improvement over the past. Is the agreement for additional heavy fuel beneficial – somewhat, but it’s not part of something that will fundamentally alter the realities.

Let’s start with the one major new development, the two sides agreed that Iraq would double exports of heavy fuel to Jordan from 30,000 tonnes to 60,000 tonnes. In the short term, this agreement provides some help to the Jordanian economy. It is worth noting that heavy fuel can be used to generate electricity at power stations such as the Aqaba Thermal Power Station, which was the reason for Iraq agreeing to supply Jordan with 30,000 tonnes back in 2011.

Now let’s examine the other agreements. It turns out that except for the agreements on agriculture and transportation, they are either restatements of past agreements or things that provide no immediate benefit. For example, the construction of an oil pipeline to export Iraqi oil through Aqaba and to supply Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company – a pipeline with an estimated 1 million barrels per day capacity – was already agreed to back in June when the two governments agreed to move ahead with planning, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Iraqi and Jordanian governments dates back to 2011, though the Prime Ministry of Iraq approved it in June 2012. With regards to other agreements, the promise by Maliki to potentially supply Jordan with oil from Kirkuk and Basra oil fields was just that – a promise of something to happen in the future, without delivering any immediate benefit.

What actually happened was that Iraq made a minor agreement to boost the supply of heavy fuel, and the regime is presenting it as a major change. While it is more substantial than the gift of 100,000 barrels, ultimately it does little to change the underlying reality.

Egypt and Jordan: Is It Really All Resolved?

The gas is flowing again. Egypt and Jordan announced on Thursday that the flow of gas from Egypt to Jordan had reached 240 million cubic feet, which is the level that the two countries had agreed upon. At a press conference following a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, Prime Minister Ensour said, according to Jordan Times (not a direct quote) that relations between Egypt and Jordan “will never be hindered by any developments and will always be at their best.”

At the meeting Morsi and Qandil were said to have discussed the issues of Egyptian gas supplies and Egyptian laborers working in Jordan, and Egypt agreed to maintain the flow of natural gas according to the agreement. Qandil also held discussions with King Abdullah and gave him an invitation from President Morsi to visit Egypt. So, apparently, all issues between Egypt and Jordan will be resolved now that the flow of gas has been restored, but is it really that simple? First of all, given the numerous disruptions that have occurred due to attacks against the pipeline since the Egyptian revolution, it is not clear how long, exactly, the supply will actually be restored for.

Just a few days ago, King Abdullah criticized Egypt and threatened to deport Egyptians working in Jordan, and also pointed out that Jordan is a conduit for both Egyptian workers heading to the Gulf and Egyptian vegetables being exported to Iraq. He said at a meeting, according to witnesses that Jordan “has bargaining chips it will use when the time is right.” That sounds, according to the article, like a chill in relations between the two countries, and it notes that Morsi called King Abdullah and requested a halt to measures against Egyptian workers. So is everything really resolved? An analysis of the situation reveals that the fundamental structural issues remain, and that Ensour’s praise for Egypt at the press conference actually underscores the economic situation that Jordan faces both presently and over the long term.

In 2019, a major issue looms: the expiration of the gas supply agreement that was reached in 2004 between Egypt and Jordan. As King Abdullah said at the meeting, the disruption in supplies to Jordan cost the government about JD5 billion (about $7 billion) because it had to use more expensive sources of fuel. To put that in perspective, the cost was equal to the $5bn shortfall that Prime Minister Ensour said that Jordan would experience in its budget this year that was originally projected for 2012 back in February. It was also a factor in the government’s decision to raise fuel prices which triggered protests across Jordan. Disruptions in gas supplies from Egypt, then, have caused fundamental economic problems in Jordan, while the issue of Egyptian workers is important (particularly with the unrest occurring in Egypt now) but not nearly as fundamental as the issue of gas supplies to Jordan.

To put the leverage in this situation in perspective, it is helpful to note the amended agreement that Egypt and Jordan signed in December 2011. Egypt demanded – and got – an increase of more than 100 percent in the price of gas supplied to Jordan, to about $5 per BTU from $2.15-2.30 per BTU. The two countries also agreed to review the price of gas every two years, meaning another review will take place in 2013. Ensour can say that all issues between Egypt and Jordan have been resolved, but in fact this shows that tensions are likely to continue for years to come.

This is another example of the precarious economic situation that Jordan faces, that has been exacerbated by the regime’s continued failure to implement reforms. The regime is facing major problems and rather than implementing political reform that could give a new, democratic, government the mandate it needs to tackle them it is instead pressing forward as though these difficulties have all been resolved due to an agreement that in fact resolved only the immediate short-term chill in relations.

Explaining the Jordanian Regime’s Strategy

As the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23rd, 2013 continue to approach, the regime’s behavior in the face of public disapproval triggered by decisions such as the fuel price increase may seem puzzling. King Abdullah’s reaction, in his interviews and public speeches indicate that the regime’s actions may be part of a broader strategy to retain the greatest possible degree of political power following the elections. The regime’s strategy, in short, appears to be to win the greatest possible legitimacy for the upcoming elections while marginalizing both the Islamist and reformist opposition groups. This would likely attract the strongest degree of popular support. In particular, they seek to marginalize the IAF by portraying the political situation as a binary one with the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood as the two main political alternatives.

The regime’s strategy appears to have three crucial components: First, limiting the scope of reform by seeking its implementation by the next parliament. Second, attempting to marginalize opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front or reformist groups such as the National Front for Reform. Third, attracting the support of other opposition parties to legitimize the election. Then, following the election, a new Prime Minister will likely be appointed from among the King’s allies in parliament, which means that the system of choosing the government is cosmetically different although in fact no real reform has been made. Where have we seen this before?

King Abdullah has stressed the importance of participation in the upcoming elections in numerous interviews and public appearances. In an interview on December 5th, King Abdullah said “The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government.” By setting stage for reforms to be implemented in the next parliament, the regime is ensuring that they remain limited in scope. The upcoming election will be boycotted by most of the opposition, while the parliament itself will be elected under an electoral law which sets aside most of the seats to be elected from districts that are drawn with unequal populations which favor the regime. Under this electoral law only 27 out of 150 seats will be elected from party lists, while the opposition including the Islamic Action Front demands 50 percent be elected this way. Needless to say, politicians are unlikely to support electoral reform if they benefit from it, so it creates another constituency opposed to fundamental reform.

Second, the regime has worked to marginalize opposition groups such as the National Front for Reform and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The NFR is headed by a former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, Ahmed Obeidat, so the regime does not repress it in the same manner as the IAF, but it has been excluded by the regime failing to meet its demands for electoral reform. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, has been the subject of implicit attacks by King Abdullah during hisrecent dispute with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi over gas supplies to Egypt and Egyptian workers in Jordan, and a regime source stated that the actions of Morsi would have an affect on the way the regime deals with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. By opposing the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt he seeks to bolster his regime’s credentials in this way, and is aided by the recent protests in Egypt against Morsi’s decree and the constitutional referendum. This gives ammunition to the regime to say that the alternative is between the current regime and a Morsi-type government. With the recent events in Egypt the regime feels more confident in its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF and its ability to wait out their political boycott.

Third, the regime is seeking to legitimize the election by attracting participation of leftist and nationalist parties, which would provide for a token degree of opposition that at the same time lacks the support of the Brotherhood, and broadens the support for the regime. King Abdullah recently reached out to several of these parties in a series of meetings held at the homes of several political figures. Why did he do this? He did it because these parties are not a fundamental threat to the regime, and their participation also helps legitimize the election.

This, in short, is the regime’s strategy for handling the upcoming parliamentary elections and retaining the greatest degree of support. It is yet another cynical attempt to extend an authoritarian system and resist fundamental and necessary political reform. How much longer will King Abdullah’s tactics work on his people? We’ve all seen across the Middle East what happens when a leader underestimates the will of his people.

A Closer Look at Ensour’s 10,000 Jobs Promise

On December 13th, Prime Minister Ensour announced an “ambitious and real” program to create 10,000 jobs. It’s interesting to note that the regime has broken enough promises that it needs to refer to this program as not only “ambitious” but “real” also, perhaps in order to distinguish it from an imaginary program, such as those reform programs that King Abdullah has mentioned repeatedly over the years.

There’s just one problem with this announcement – it simply isn’t going to happen. 10,000 jobs aren’t going to be created. If you look into the details of the announcement there’s simply no way that the actions Ensour has promised to take are going to create anywhere near that many employment opportunities. From his statement, it seems clear that Ensour’s jobs program has two components, first, the Governorates Development Fund (more on that below), which is intended to develop small or medium-scale projects in governorates throughout Jordan. The second component is the Governorates Executive Program, which has yet to be implemented. A look at the history of the Governorates Development Fund (GDF for short) reveals that it is in fact a prime example of broken promises, stalling, and everything else that has plagued Jordan in recent years.

The GDF since its announcement that has been ill-conceived and incompetently managed. In July 2011, King Abdullah announced its establishment during a visit to Salt. Nothing then happened until December 2011, when King Abdullah said that he would not accept any more delays in launching the fund, despite the fact that there had been a delay of several months and he has spoken of himself before as “the type of person that wants everything done yesterday.” There were still several more months of delays after this meeting.

The clearest description of it comes from the same December 2011 meeting, where Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh said that it would have a JD150 million budget, including JD25 million in 2012 and would be funded by both the state and private sector. The fund would support projects throughout Jordan, help citizens develop skills, and provide low-interest loans to participants. It would have been operated by numerous state institutions, which would likely have made further delays and perhaps corruption inevitable. For example, it would have involved the Cities and Villages Development Bank, which was so inefficient that that the government had to seek assistance from the World Bank and the French Development Agency to restructure it.

There were, indeed, more delays as the government abandoned this plan in July 2012 and decided to have JEDCO (Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation) operate the fund. How much has been done since then? The answer is not much when you examine the details. When Ensour said that JD3 million had been contributed, he presented it as part of a jobs program, but in fact he was really discussing the government funding, after more delays, the GDF’s JD 3 million share of JD12 million in projects that JEDCO approved in back in September. Indeed, the additional JD12 million to be contributed to the GDF consists of more projects that had already been endorsed by JEDCO, and the total amount (JD15 million) is short of the JD25 million that the government promised would be spent at the meeting in December 2011.

The government is presenting things that had already been planned for a long time as part of a new jobs program. This is really another attempt to make it seem like things are changing when in fact no reform is being made.

In London, King Abdullah Talks About Reform. In Jordan He Jails Protesters

King Abdullah concluded his visit to the UK by saying that reform in Jordan is proceeding “strongly and steadily.” When one reads what he talked about and notes the sophistication of many in the audience, it leads me to wonder what was going through the minds of many of them. The event’s attendees included people from the media, politics, and other fields – and surely at least some of them are familiar with King Abdullah’s history of promises for reform that were made and then just as quickly broken. Perhaps he likes going to events like this because the reception he gets abroad is likely better than the one he would get at home.

He talked about the upcoming elections on January 23rd as though the boycott by the opposition and an unjust electoral law maintaining highly unequal district sizes for most of the seats simply don’t exist. A parliament elected in that manner isn’t progress, because politicians from the smaller constituencies will owe their election to the status quo and its difficult to envision them wanting to try and change it. He claims to be implementing reform even as the electoral law creates a natural base of lawmakers who would have a vested interest in opposing it.

Worst of all, he said these words about progress even as the regime continues to hold detainees from the protests in November. Many of the 113 who were scheduled to be released have not been freed yet, and the regime is refusing to release 13 of the detainess who it says were gulity of vandalism and “criminal conspiracy.” Among those still in custody is Emad Abu Hattab along with numerous other Muslim Brotherhood figures figures from the Muslim Brotherhood, which was why Islamist protesters were prominent in protests on Friday across Jordan calling for the regime to free the remaining detainees.

If the elections are being boycotted by the opposition, is that “steady and smooth” progress? If criticizing the King or participating in protests can land you in prison, is that “steady and smooth” progress? Reform is not merely the regime agreeing to certain changes in order to retain power, it’s final destination (indeed, it has one) is a government that is chosen by a parliament freely elected by its citizens who can express their wishes and criticize anyone. That’s real reform. That’s progress.

King Abdullah’s Quotes on Reform Speak for Themselves

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy

“I am the type of person that wants everything done yesterday, and that doesn’t only apply to the peace process and regional stability, but also economic reform.”

-King Abdullah, answering questions at the National Press Club in Washington DC, on April 9 2001.

Since assuming the throne in 1999, King Abdullah has had a lot to say about reform and democracy. He has repeatedly stressed the need for Jordan to implement political and economic reform. He talks the talk very well, he knows exactly what to say. The part that he seems to have difficulty with is in actually taking action with these commitments.

What is clear from these quotes is that King Abdullah and the regime are not serious about the implementation of political reform, and it is time for those who have not realized this to wake up. We should not have to dig up quotes from 1999 to demonstrate our point.

May 18, 1999: “Well, I think his late Majesty started the procedure of democratic reforms, and will continue–we will continue to move in that direction. There’s a lot that needs to be done. There’s a lot of maturing that we have to go through, but it’s a process that his late Majesty started, and, and we will continue to, to see it through.”

“The sky is the limit for what can be done on, on democracy and demo–democratic reforms.”

October 13, 1999: “In fact, this is the major challenge that faces us today as we approach the dawn of a new century. A modern state with functioning institutions, and an economy that is based on sustainable growth and on private sector enterprise, guaranteed by an independent judiciary. This is our aim and this is what I have set out to guarantee and protect.”

October 14, 1999: “Through our partnership with America, we have built a unique model in our region. It is a model of peace that is cemented by the respect of the principles fo democracy, freedom of expression, political pluralism, free economic enterprise and human dignity. It is being continually reinforced through our positive interaction with our neighbors.”

October 15, 1999: “At the top of this agenda is our determination to deepen our democratization process and to ensure that the culture of democracy becomes embedded in society through daily practices. An important aspect in this regard is the issue of national unity. Jordanians, men and women, regardless of origin, religion, or ideology need to feel equal before the law, as guaranteed by our constitution.”

October 21, 1999: “We, in Jordan, are continuing the process of democratization and in developing a proper system of checks and balances. We are taking steps to ensure that the democratization process is not just a set of laws establishing the framework for political activity, but a process by which the culture of democracy becomes intertwined in our society through daily practice.”

November 1, 1999: “My esteem for your Honourable Council is unlimited. Your council is the symbol of the free Jordanian will and it is the stronghold of our democratic path and its fortress. It is the beacon of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

June 2, 2000:  “Cementing democracy and pluralistic ideals, in a lawful environment that safeguards our national interest, continues to be the pillar of our strategy.”

June 5, 2000: “We are providing a model for our region where political stability, democratic principles, and the rule of law are offering Jordanians the opportunity to excel, to contribute to the develpment of their country, and be assets to the region”

June 9, 2000: “ We have to realize, me dear brothers, that such substantial changes affecting all aspects of our lives cannot be done away from our democratic course. We should endeavor to establish democratic open horizons for it, protect it from all forms of abuse and harm effecting it under any pretence. We believe that deepening the awareness in democracy…”

April 4, 2001: “In the next 10 years, we will see a dramatic, positive transformation in our democracy. There is criticism that I’ve concentrated on the economy, and that politics take second place. If you can concentrate on the economy, make life better for people, improve the standard of living, you’re actually, in the long run, accelerating the process of political reform.”

April 9, 2001: “Well, for our country the priority is the economy, getting, as I’ve said from day one, food on the table. We have problems with poverty; we have problems with unemployment. If we are going to progress, if we are going to move forward on political reforms, economic reforms, we have to make the economy of paramount importance, and we’ve seen over the past two years a real improvement in that.”

November 8, 2001: “We, in Jordan, also take pride in our democracy and democratic institutions.”

“Jordan is committed to preserving, protecting and developing our democracy. And I am dedicated to ensuring that every Jordanian continues to enjoy his basic and inalienable human rights.”

June 12, 2002: “Above all, it means speaking clearly and forcefully about the principles we stand for: democracy, freedom, respecting diversity, honoring the individual and the heritage each represents.”

January 26, 2003: “Early on, we realised that for reform to last, democratic consent must be built in. Today, Jordan’s progress towards democracy and pluralism is irreversible, and we are committed to it.”

May 25, 2003: “In Jordan, we seek to promote our democratic march, through the development of political and partisan activities, and the reinvigoration of civil society institutions, which form the basic core of our renaissance and comprehensive development that we strive to achieve.”

April 16, 2004: “Long-term stability and economic growth cannot be sustained without political reform, and Jordan has made this its priority.”

April 16, 2004: “We in Jordan are already committed to the work of reform. It’s driven by a vision, a vision that builds on our society’s strengths, values and history, while it reaches out to global opportunities. And we are succeeding.”

July 2, 2004: “In Jordan, an extensive reform program is well underway. We in Jordan are already committed to the work of reform. It’s driven by a vision, a vision that builds on our society’s strengths, values and history, while it reaches out to global opportunities. And we are succeeding.”

April 27, 2005: “Reform has many aspects. It obviously includes political reforms to give citizens a stake in progress. There must be transparent, accountable institutions. We are serious about combating corruption, which is an enemy of public confidence and drains a nation’s resources.”

October 9, 2005: “The reform process is irreversible. It stems from our conviction that our people always deserve the best.”

February 3, 2006: “In recent years we have accelerated reforms across the board to meet our country’s needs. The goal is tangible, genuine progress – economic, social, and political.”

Those who like the status quo find excuses to reject reform; often, they will claim it is being imposed from outside. But Jordan’s message is: reform is ours, and our future will not be stopped.”

July 12, 2006: “As you know, there have been a number of efforts over the past few years, from governmental and nongovernmental institutions, to draft goals, plans, agendas and executive programmes that embody my vision for Jordan’s future, for reform, modernisation and development and for confronting challenges and problems that must be faced.”

September 19, 2006: “In Jordan and elsewhere, there is a serious commitment to good governance and reform.”

September 20, 2006: “We occupy a key position in the global economy. We have led the developing world in driving the reforms needed to create economic growth and opportunity.”

May 19, 2007: “Our success anchors our respective regions in prosperity and stability. And it provides a crucial model, for other countries, of what structural and economic reform can achieve.”

July 1, 2007: “We believe that economic reform is inevitable and there is no alternative to it, and we will continue our reform programme until the end.”

December 2, 2007: “Our vision for Jordan’s future is clear and ambitious; its pillar is comprehensive reform and modernization – political, economic and social – for the sake of attaining the ultimate goal: improving citizens’ standard of living and providing the means for a decent life to every Jordanian family. This is the duty of all: myself, the government and you, the two houses of parliament. I repeat: what is required is to improve the citizen’s standard of living. This for us is a principle to which we are committed in governance and administration, and not just a slogan that some reiterate to achieve interim or momentary goals.”

“When talking about political reform, the first thing that we want to emphasize is the importance of entrenching awareness of democratic culture, and developing political parties that enable Jordanian citizens’ real participation in decision-making, provided that intentions are loyal to the homeland and to the preservation and defence of our immutable national principles, and not subject to outside agendas.”

February 10, 2008: “Many of us, including Jordan, have undertaken extensive reforms and with great success.”

March 16, 2009: “We have initiated reforms that have enabled our economy to do well in the hardest of times. We believe Jordan offers an extremely lucrative environment for investment and we are trying to lure investment that can create jobs and contribute to economic growth.”

June 8, 2009: “We are determined to comprehensively review and evaluate our experience of the past years. This is essential to avoid the pitfalls and inefficiencies that may have occurred and to revive the role and performance of institutions so as to accelerate the process of reform, modernisation and development, whose results are felt by citizens and will make Jordan a strong and prosperous nation.”

November 10, 2009: “Reform and improving the economic situation are linked to stability. Therefore, it is not an issue of prioritising one over the other; stability is a priority, reform is a priority and improving economic conditions is a priority. We are working on establishing mechanisms that allow us to develop our country and improve Jordanians’ standard of living and provide our citizens with best opportunities for achievement and creativity. I said several years ago that there’s no economic reform without political reform. We are committed to reform in all its aspects out of our conviction of its necessity and the need for development and modernization that stimulate the energies of Jordanians.”

April 29, 2010: I am optimistic that with this serious effort, we will overcome the challenges and advance in our reform and development process in all political, economic, administrative and social fields.

February 20, 2011: “And when I say reform, I want real and quick reform, because without genuine reforms, the situation will remain as it was, when many officials wasted opportunities because of reluctance to move forward and fear of change… when they retreated before people with private agendas who resisted reform to guard their own interests. I will not allow that to happen again.”

“When I talk about political reform, I want real reform consistent with the spirit of the age.”

June 12, 2011: “We direly need to activate the reform programme and accelerate its implementation; for we are moving forward in the process of reform, modernisation and comprehensive development within a system of freedom, justice and equal opportunities. There will be no postponement or reluctance in dealing with the files of reform, freedom and democracy.”

August 14, 2011: “With the completion of this step, we assert that the roadmap of political reform will be achieved within a timeframe that observes institutional processes and the existing constitutional channels, and no later than the fourth quarter of this year.”

September 20, 2011: “On the issue of political reform, yes. And again four months from now, God willing, I want to feel much better.”

October 17, 2011: “Political reform characterises the current phase in the journey of our beloved Jordan.”

October 22, 2011: “The second major player in job growth is government. Let’s be clear. Political reform is economic reform. For businesses to invest and expand with confidence, they need a predictable, level playing-field… transparency and accountability… the rule of law… and a strong, stable foundation of inclusive political life.

These are key elements of Jordan’s reform effort. For us, the Arab Spring has been an opportunity to move our nation’s interests forward. We seek a consensual and evolutionary path, engaging citizens at all levels.”

October 26, 2011: “The sensitive regional circumstances and the transformations that our region is undergoing compel us to assert our firm conviction that public participation, a clear roadmap, and unwavering commitment to reform are the only way forward. We need to overcome and rectify mistakes, and uphold meritocracy and accountability, which guarantee balance between the branches of government.

 Our priority today is political reform.”

January 17, 2012: “I think luckily in Jordan, we’re going from Arab Spring to Arab summer, which means we’re rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of reform. I think the Arab winters that we’re beginning to see around us have had impact on Jordanian society, to invigorate [us] to make sure we continue into the Arab summer and not into the Arab winter.”

January 26, 2012: “The Arab Spring was a positive opportunity for Jordan and an impetus towards real and comprehensive reforms, an opportunity that we seized to re-invigorate the political process in our country, setting a unique reform model for the whole region that would be a source of pride for all Jordanians.”

March 25, 2012: “The process of reform, development and modernisation is a continuous one and is necessary for Jordan’s interest. We have made great strides in that area, but the road ahead is still long and there must be concerted efforts to push the reform process forward. I have said more than once that we are committed to reform in all its aspects – political, economic and administrative – out of conviction that it is an inevitable requirement to develop the country and unleash the potential of Jordanians. And as I stated in the Letter of Designation to the government that we consider economic reform a priority due to its direct impact on people’s lives. We believe that economic reform will not achieve the results that we seek unless it becomes part of comprehensive political, social and administrative reforms that ensure the highest degree of public participation in decision making through efficient institutions that work transparently to exemplify achievement and address deficiencies and shortcomings wherever they may occur.”

June 20, 2012: “Since the start of the Arab Spring, I have had open and public stands. What I meant, more specifically, was that the Arab Spring had an impact on the pace of all aspects of reform in Jordan; add to that the general climate in our region, which constituted another catalyst for development and modernisation. The pace of reforms in the last decade in Jordan has often been described as progressive, but “two steps forward, one step backward”. The reasons are many and complicated, including the existence of certain powers that deem reform a threat to their interests. Other reasons included lack of a clear agenda and scale of priorities pertaining to reform or consensus over it, in addition to other factors and the regional developments that we all know. The situation today, mostly due to the Arab Spring, is better in Jordan in terms of clarity on the reform agenda and priorities, in addition to a general conviction among large segments of the population that reform is essential and inevitable. I am with my people, on the same boat when it comes to the belief that comprehensive reform is our ultimate goal, which we shall not give up. God willing, we will achieve our goals.”

April 18, 2012: “I am confident that 2012 will be a year of key political reform in Jordan.”

September 13, 2012: “Regional challenges are no excuse not to proceed with reform. We are confident enough with the reform process not to use regional challenges to step away from what Jordanians want to achieve – a strong drive for reform. We will continue with the reform process and our drive for elections by the end of this year”

September 25, 2012: “In Jordan we have charted our course guided by our heritage of mutual respect and moderation. Our Arab Spring journey is one of opportunity, to accelerate home-grown reforms and achieve national goals.”

October 23, 2012: “Here, I would like to assure you that our country is on the right track towards the reform we aspire to, and I would like to reiterate that we will have a new Parliament by the new year, following parliamentary elections that will be conducted with the highest degree of integrity and transparency.”

December 4, 2012: In Jordan, the pace of reform has been consistent with our national political priorities.

December 5, 2012: I look at the reforms achieved so far — the constitutional amendments, Constitutional Court, the IEC, the development of laws governing political life, early elections slated for January, and then starting to pilot a parliamentary government in line with the people’s aspirations and the nature of Jordan’s political structure…. All this is part of phase one, which will give us a boost but is not in itself the end of our democratisation course…The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government.

 

 

Royal Pardons Do Not Equal Reform or Democracy

Today King Abdullah ordered the release of 116 detainees who were arrested during the protests following the increase in fuel prices last month. The King did not however, pardon 13 inmates who were accused of “criminal conspiracy, vandalism, and illegal detention of people during the wave of riots.”

First of all, what’s with the “illegal detention” charge against some of those still being held? What are the specific accusations against them? Did they hold people while denying them medical care? Did they keep teenagers in custody? It’s in many ways an extremely ironic charge to be made by a regime that has done all of those things since Prime Minister Ensour announced the increase in fuel prices. What’s to say that these people still in detention did what they were accused of doing?

King Abdullah, by issuing this pardon is trying to do two things. First, he wants to appear moderate, willing to reconcile, as though he is making a compassionate gesture to those who (according to his and the regime’s logic only) have erred. Second, he is also trying once again to make a symbolic gesture by issuing a pardon while implementing no real reform. It’s from the same playbook as the decision to eliminate pensions for MPs or to prosecute a former intelligence chief. It’s designed to look good but nothing has really changed.

Kuwait After December 1st: A Divided Political Sphere

Protests in Kuwait have been held every day since the election on December 1st, and show no sign of abating, although at present their size is limited and the regime retains a degree of support. Today, a protest was held in Kuwait City that attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators who chanted slogans against the Emir’s decree, demonstrating that even as the regime has moved to dominate the formal political arena the opposition has the clout to demand that its voice be heard.

It seems from the results of the election that the opposition’s decision to boycott the polls means that there are two separate (but related) political processes occurring in Kuwait at the same time. There is the regular political process – now dominated by forces allied with the government – who are by no means homogenous (as will be outlined below in greater detail) consisting of the royal family and the executive branch, the National Assembly (now dominated by government allies) and the judicial system.

Then there is the opposition, which by boycotting the election removed itself from much of the formal political system. The political sphere of the opposition consists of protests, both authorized like the massive December 1st protest on the eve of the election, which was supported by @KarametWatan, the anonymous organizers of several previous protests. The rally was attended by numerous opposition figures, including Ahmed Al-Saadoun, former Speaker of the National Assembly who most recently held that position in the Assembly elected in February 2012, which was dissolved by the constitutional court. Also speaking at the rally was former Islamist MP Jamaan Al-Herbesh. Musallam Al-Barrak, a former MP who was arrested and later released on bail in October after urging the Emir not to rule in an autocratic manner, attended the rally and chanted slogans against the regime.

The government on Tuesday pledged to take a hard line against opposition protests. The Interior Ministry vowed to not allow “any unauthorized gatherings whatever their aims and needs are,” and said that police officers had been injured in clashes on Monday by protesters who were throwing stones and had attempted to run over police officers. The government’s hard line led them to arrest eight teenagers between 15 and 17 years old without charges before a protest on Thursday, according to Naser AlAbduljalil (@NforNaser).

At the same time that protests are continuing, the government has moved forward with the formal political process without opposition participation. Despite recent events, an analysis of the turnout reveals that the regime still has a large degree of public support, or at least acquiescence. If the opposition’s calculation of 28 percent turnout is accurate (down from approximately 60 percent in previous elections) then theoretically about 53.3 percent of the electorate participate in the boycott. The official statistics indicate that approximately 40 percent of the electorate voted, which would mean approximately 33 percent of the population participated in the boycott.

The regime is thus moving forward with the belief that it has the support (or at least acquiescence) of between 46 and 67 percent of the electorate following the recent election, and it is to this political process that I now turn.

Official Political Process (Government allies)

The government is moving foward as though the election was a referendum in which it prevailed. The Emir reappointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah who has served since late 2011 when a corruption scandal led to the resignation of his predecessor. He has until December 16th to select a new cabinet, as that is when the new National Assembly will convene.

The National Assembly that convenes on the 16th will be substantially different than the previous one, as Shia candidates won an unprecedented number of seats, while tribal figures and Sunni Islamists chose to boycott. MPs are already competing for position in the next parliament. Ali Al-Omair thought to be one of the frontrunners for the Speakership, and Essam Al-Dabous has also announced he intends to stand. MP Askar Al-Enezi has announced his run for the Deputy speakership. Al-Enezi was the top vote-getter in the 4th constituency despite being initially barred from running due to his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. (As a matter of fact candidates initially barred from standing did quite well, 9 of them were elected.) Both of these MPs – despite being government loyalists, have shown at least some degree of independence, as Al-Omair participated or supported two ministerial grillings in 2007 (including one member of the royal family), and Al-Enezi urged the government to apologize when the head of the Enezi tribe was arrested at the airport following pro-Bedoon protest tweets prior to a flight.

What these examples show is that the loyalists, just like the coalition opposing the government, cannot be considered a completely homogenous group. Some members of the new parliament have discussed making further changes to the electoral law, such as having 10 constituencies with 5 MPs and two votes per voter, which would be the same votes to seats ratio (40 percent) as under the 2006 electoral law, in the hopes of averting another boycott. However given the government’s decision to press forward in spite of the boycott the opposition is unlikely to take this as a suitable concession, and will likely continue to engage in protests and legal challenges, to which I now turn.

Opposition’s Political Process

The opposition decided to boycott the election following the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes each voter is allowed to cast from four to one. The protests have continued following the election.

Today, tens of thousands of Kuwaitis protested near Kuwait towers and chanted “the people want the fall of the decree.” On Wednesday, protesters gathered at a roundabout outside Kuwait City and were followed by cars honking their horns in support as they chanted against the Emir’s electoral decree. The previous day police had fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against the results of the election.

The opposition has refused to accept the legitimacy of the new parliament and is calling for the revocation of the one-vote decree. Their protests have been met by the regime with tear gas and batons as well as arbitrary arrests.

They have also vowed to challenge the electoral decrees through the courts. A few days ago several leading figures from the liberal National Bloc filed a petition, saying that they would respect the court’s verdict. The Emir had previously said the same thing. If the court rules against the decree it would result in the 2009 National assembly being recalled – yet again – and another election – yet again.

What does this mean?

The Emir’s decree was seen by the opposition as crossing a line, as they decided the regime wanted to increase its power at their expense. Meanwhile, following the election the regime feels confident that it can endure the protests. Maybe they are right, at least in the short term. However, over the long term if (even according to the regime’s own figures) one-third of the population rejects participation in the political process it does not bode well for Kuwait long-term. The regime may yet pull through this crisis without making any real concessions, but the people – as they have in the past – have been steadfast in demanding their rights. It is unclear whether any outcome can resolve the long-term political crisis, so the upheaval that has lasted for the past six years continues, and has entered a new phase with this most recent election.