Al-Qaeda’s gift to Jordan’s King Abdullah

“In reality, however, they don’t add up to meaningful reform. The ‘independent’ electoral commission, for example, is appointed by royal decree.”

This Al-Jazeer article further reaffirms the idea that Jordan is “forever on the brink”. We continue to witness reform promises without any concrete plans or actions that would help the country truly get the reform it seeks.

Picture/Article from Al-Jazeera

The foiled al-Qaeda plan to attack multiple sites in Jordan was a gift to Jordan’s King Abdullah. While a western audience views the king as a moderate in a sea of extremism, Jordanians have grown weary of his empty democracy talk and revolving-door cabinets that never deliver on promises.

With increasing dissent among the regime’s loyal opposition as well as its traditional support base, and with Syrian refugees showing signs of unrest, the arrest of the al-Qaeda plotters inside Jordan provided a welcome diversion for the king. It refocused attention on domestic security and the regime’s ability to protect its subjects, and away from the unpopular presence of US troops in the kingdom and the widespread demand by citizens for real political reform.

A longstanding commitment to (talking about) reform

For years, King Abdullah has been selling the kingdom’s democratisation efforts to audiences at home and abroad. By all counts, external audiences have been far more receptive to this narrative. The king tells us that Jordan is already well ahead of the reform efforts sparked by the Arab uprisings, offering (with Morocco) a model for gradual reform, political stability, and the containment of Islamist extremism.

Indeed, anything one can say about the need for democratic political reform, King Abdullah has already said it. Greater rule of law? Check. An empowered parliament? Check. An independent electoral commission, a constitutional court, and greater freedom of expression? Check, check, check. These are not promises, they are things the monarch has already done. In reality, however, they don’t add up to meaningful reform. The “independent” electoral commission, for example, is appointed by royal decree.

During his recent visit to the Daily Show, King Abdullah told Jon Stewart that he hoped to see his own role in governing significantly diminished in the future – although perhaps not the immediate future. A lame and deferential Stewart failed to push back with even a single reference to well-documented problems in the kingdom, such as the recent law severely restricting freedom of expression on the internet or the arrest of peaceful protestors under anti-terrorism provisions that direct their cases to the military-dominated State Security Court (the protestors, who were accused of insulting the king, were released this week). As the interview extended beyond the scheduled broadcast to a web feed, I half expected Stewart to lean over the table and kiss the king’s hand.


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