Jordan’s King Abdullah Continues to Buy Time

Image by Troy Carter. (@CarterTroy)

King Abdullah’s most recent interview with Al Rai and Jordan Times and Al Bab either proves that he has learned nothing about the Arab Spring or is in fact a true genius. Since the beginning of 2011 King Abdullah has time and time again promised his people reform.

On November 14, 2011 King Abdullah said in an interview with Lyse Doucet of BBC that he and his government were in the process of  “rolling up our sleeves and now doing the hard work to achieve political reform.”  He appears to have mastered the art of being able to say the right things and to convince people that things are finally going to change, but the act is wearing thin.

When the people continued taking to the streets demanding much needed reform, King Abdullah’s approach never changed. He became skilled at agreeing with the need for reform and perhaps an expert at changing governments, over and over again as well. In April 2011, Prime Minister Khasawaneh resigned, holding his position for only 6 months because he felt that although he was appointed to implement reform, he was not actually being allowed to do so. In an interview with the economist Khasawneh said, “I was supposed to run a country… I won’t accept instructions from a palace.” What was King Abdullah’s response? What it has been this entire time, he not only said that reform needed to be implemented in Jordan but blamed Khasawaneh in a written letter saying that Khasawneh’s resignation was necessary because Jordan “cannot afford any delay in achieving the needed reform.”

Right now in Jordan, the people are risking their lives, and defending their dignity to protest. King Abdullah during these protests said nothing and did everything – everything that is related to issues going on outside Jordan. While his people took to the streets, King Abdullah’s only words were about Israel and Syria—yes both of which much be talked about, but how can a leader address other countries and not his own when his people literally took to his streets demanding for his downfall?

Now gives an interview for the first time since the November Uprising, and what does he say? He regurgitates the same speech that he has been reciting for the past year. This time however, he does do one thing different, he frees himself from blame. He does this by saying that these reforms that he’s been promising for the past year and half will have to be dealt with by parliament and the people, despite the fact that the upcoming election is being held under an electoral law which has led the opposition, including both the National Front for Reform and the Muslim Brotherhood to refuse to participate. Here are some highlights from his interview with the regime owned Jordan Times and Al-Rai, and Al-Bab: 

“The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year.”

What about King Abdullah’s own role in this process, which requires him to give up the absolute power he currently enjoys over Jordan’s political process? He’s saying that the reform is now in the hands of the Jordanian people, the parliament, everyone but himself. In a constitutional monarchy this would be fine, but as of yet Jordan doesn’t have that, so what is King Abdullah talking about? He is buying himself time, until the magical date of January 23, where all the reforms that have been promised will suddenly be implemented? Yes it sounds very nice and empowering to the people but these words mean nothing.

Regarding economic reform, he said: “It is also essential to create financial facilities for small and medium enterprises in the governorates, encourage entrepreneurship through soft loans and launch initiatives to provide empowerment, training and business incubators, as part of public-private sector partnerships. The Governorates Development Fund will play a key role in this regard.”

Not a bad idea in theory, but how is the government going to be able to successfully engage in such a program with its current record of corruption? What is more likely to happen is that business loans will be granted to those well-connected enough to be able to obtain them, and the money will be either diverted to corrupt officials and their associates, or lost altogether.

“What is important is to keep developing the law in a democratic manner through constitutional institutions to reflect the wish of the majority, so that it becomes fairer and more representative, empowers political parties, is more conducive to the formation of parliamentary governments and preserves pluralism.”

In a democracy, the people are allowed to protest, and to criticize any government officials regardless of who they are. Furthermore, the people are allowed to protest without getting beaten up, tear-gassed, tortured, or held on charges of trying to overthrow the regime. Indeed, in a democracy the notion of using force to remove a government would not exist because the government could be removed through elections, which would produce real change.

If Jordan were indeed developing the law in a democratic matter then Human Rights Watch would not constantly be writing about human rights violations. Since January 27, 2011 Human Rights Watch has been writing against the oppressive regimes tactics when it comes to the rights of the protesters, starting with their first article “Jordan: Let Jordanians Speak Their Minds.” It has not ended here, as since then Human Rights watch has published over 10 articles regarding the repressive tactics employed by the regime, most recently on September 14, 2012.

Regarding the aftermath of elections, I see it as a new stage of reforms to be implemented through the new Parliament. Then, we will move from the Jordanian Spring into the Jordanian Summer, the harvest season when the coming Parliament will start responding to several reform priorities and new issues of national concern.

Before I even being commenting on this I want to use once again what King Abdullah said in his interview with Lyse Doucet on November 14, 2011, “I think we in Jordan are going from the Arab spring to the Arab summer. I.e. rolling up our sleeves and now doing the hard work to achieve political reform.”

You cannot move from spring to summer with a parliament that is not going to be representative of the will of the Jordanian people, and that will be boycotted by almost every major opposition group. A true Jordanian summer would involve a parliament that is elected by the Jordanian people, using a fair electoral process rather than one that leaves most of the seats elected from vastly uneven districts. This also begs another question, what about last years “Arab summer”?

Additionally, true political reform means that parliament itself must assess, as the democratically elected representatives of the people, what political and other reforms get first priority.

Many on social media have praised King Abdullah’s speech and used these very same quotes to demonstrate how Jordan is on the path to reform. However, when looking into these quotes it isn’t difficult to see they mean nothing. Everything King Abdullah said was to buy himself more time. He hasn’t said anything that includes a real plan to put Jordan on the path to reform, as we simply keep hearing more of the same from the monarch.

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