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.