UPDATED: Musallam al-Barrak Raises the Stakes

Update – Musallam al-Barrak’s appeal hearing has been set for April 22nd, which is next Monday. At this hearing the presiding judge has the power to suspend the implementation of Barrak’s sentence (which would drop the arrest warrant, though the case could remain) or order his arrest, which means he would be taken into custody immediately if he shows up for the hearing.

The regime appears to be sensitive to criticism from its loyalists that it is not cracking down hard enough. Perhaps ominously, the National Assembly, which was the first real parliament in the Gulf has become a forum for supporting the government’s efforts to crack down, and criticising it for not cracking down hard enough. The National Assembly issued a statement that condemned “insults” directed towards the Emir, which also supported the regime’s efforts against the opposition. Matters may come to a head next Monday depending on whether or not al-Barrak decides to attend the hearing.

Original Post - On Wednesday, former MP Musallam al-Barrak attended an impromptu rally at his diwaniyya accompanied by thousands of tribesmen firing machine guns into the air as if they were ready for battle against the regime. Three times since his sentence on Monday to five years in prison for alledgedly insulting the Emir, Barrak has evaded capture. The first two times the police went to his diwaniyya and he insisted that he would surrender to police if they produced the original arrest warrant, and he said they only had a copy. There were hundreds of his supporters present and the police decided not to risk a confrontation. Then, on Wednesday commandos were sent to raid his house, where several of his relatives were allegedly beaten. Up to 10,000 protesters responded by marching on the police station in Andalus, where they were repelled by riot police using tear gas and stun grenades. A fire was set to a vehicle belonging to the interior ministry and to a nearby market in Andalus, with several injuries reported. Following this, al-Barrak defiantly appeared again at his diwaniyya, stating once again that he was prepared to give himself up. After initially hesitating, his supporters marched towards the police station, setting off fireworks in response to the use of tear gas.

The National Assembly held a secret debate about these developments, and the interior minister has come under criticism for not cracking down harder, showing that Barrak’s actions and the regime’s perceived lack of response have angered many of the regime’s supporters. Several MPs had signalled earlier their desire to grill the Interior Minister, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah for his failure to crack down hard enough. It is worth noting amid these developments that one of the MPs who criticized the Interior Minister, Safa al-Hashem, has, to a degree, a vested interest in the regime’s actions, as she came in 14th the the February 2012 election, failing to win a seat by about 2500 votes. In December she benefited from the Emiri decree reducing the number of votes from four to one, and won a seat in an election that the opposition boycotted. Perhaps a troubling development of that boycott, and the opposition’s withdrawal from electoral politics is that the National Assembly has become a forum for urging government crackdowns rather than acting as a check on the executive’s power.

The opposition alledges that Barrak was not given a fair trial after his lawyers walked out after not being able to call their desired witnesses, including the Prime Minister, and denounced the verdict as political. An increasingly common sign of defiance against the regime by the opposition is the recitation of Musallam al-Barrak’s speech in October which led to his arrest in which he warned the Emir not to rule autocratically. It has been recited every night since the sentence by protesters, and was recently posted on the Ministry of Information’s web site when it was hacked on Wednesday. By doing this, opposition supporters are metaphorically “crossing the rubicon” by committing the same acts for which Barrak was arrested.

Through his actions following his sentence, Musallam al-Barrak has raised the stakes in Kuwait’s ongoing political crisis. In February 2012, in elections that have since been annulled, he received more than 30,000 votes, more than any candidate anywhere in Kuwait. By comparison, the candidate who was elected in first place in the 4th constituency in the boycotted December election received less than 3000.

In some ways, for more liberal protesters Barrak is an interesting symbol for their cause. Mona Kareem writes that although Barrak has become a symbol of the protests in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf, he is in fact a conservative with political positions on women’s rights (he supported gender segregation in universities and opposed women’s suffrage) and blasphemy (he supported a law that provided for the death penalty) liberals would consider deeply troubling. In turn, this gives the regime a chance to say that its opponents are politically unpalatable to distract from its repression. Much is unclear about the future, but it is clear that as an MP, or as a political prisoner, Musallam al-Barrak is a powerful force in Kuwaiti politics.

Could Ensour Lose the Confidence Vote?

The idea has been hinted at recently that the government faces an uphill battle winning the upcoming confidence vote in parliament, but it begs the question: what if Ensour cannot garner enough support to be able to survive a confidence vote? If he loses, whether it results in another Prime Minister being appointed or in an amended policy statement, the outcome will be partly due to factors beyond his control (such as the controversial proposal to reduce electricity price subsidies), but also due to his own seeming unwillingness to deal with parliament in terms that provide the lower house with adequate respect.

On Sundaym the Prime Minister presented his first policy statement to parliamen, and it is likely to receive a cold reception as parliament prepares for a vote of confidence in his government. Several political blocs have voiced their opposition to granting the government a vote of confidence, including the Watan bloc, the Democratic Gathering Bloc, and the Islamic Centrist Party. Particularly sensitive is the issue of electricity prices, with many MPs vowing to oppose the government in this vote unless it pledges that these prices will not be increased.

Ensour has also taken steps that can be seen as high-handed, that make it much less likely that he will receive the backing of MPs. Amer Al Sabaileh writes that reports indicate that ministers were notified of their appointment to the cabinet the day before it was announced. This was after it was already made public that the new cabinet would not include any MPs. This means that the MPs were excluded, were likely not adequately consulted, and the prospective candidates to head many of the ministries were not necessarily informed of their appointments beforehand. The reason for this approach is understandable – the parliament, as has been mentioned before is very fragmented. However, if MPs are ignored by the executive branch on questions such as this then they or their successors will continue to consider themselves to be part of an institution focused on distributing resources rather than passing of legislation and exercising oversight of the executive branch. There is another possibility that should be noted though – it is possible that Ensour excluded MPs in order to obtain their support by promising them appointments to the cabinet following the confidence vote.

If Ensour loses the confidence vote then it is likely that things will return to the drawing board with either an amended policy statement or another candidate for Prime Minister. The paradox that would arise if he loses the confidence vote is that parliament would be exercising its independence from the regime, but—if electricity prices are the main issue—would be doing so because MPs favor maintaining the policies that had been implemented by the regime for the last several decades. There is also another possibility of what might happen – that the regime, seeing that Ensour could lose, might call in the “backup units” – the intelligence agencies and the royal court – to ensure that he is able to survive the vote.

Whatever the scenario – whether Ensour loses, whether he is able to win backing from MPs by appointing some of them to the cabinet, or whether he is able to win through the support of the “backup units” the outcome is not a positive one for Jordan’s reform process.

Jordan’s One (Coherent) Party Parliament

Prior to the elections in January King Abdullah said that he wanted to encourage the development of Jordan’s political parties, and has expressed hope that Jordan would have three political coalitions representing the left, right, and center. Now, almost three months later it is clear how much remains to be accomplished towards this objective. The current parliament has several political blocs, three of the largest of which are the Watan (Homeland) Bloc, the Democratic Gathering Bloc, and the Islamic Centrist Party. Of these three groups, only the Islamic Centrist Party can be considered a true political party (the Islamic Action Front is also a party but it is not in parliament as it boycotted the elections). Jordan has, in effect, a one-party parliament with the Islamic Centrist Party with about 15 MPs, with the rest of the MPs either unaffiliated or part of small groupings. It is not a one-party parliament in the sense that there is only one recognized party with all the seats, but rather a one-party parliament in the sense that only one entity represented in it can be considered a serious political party.

This has real consequences – political parties consist of members (and MPs) have bonds of loyalty that are stronger than those of parliamentary blocs, which can gain or lose members over minor issues. Supporters, who were consulted through primaries or another selection process over the choice of candidates, would thus have more of a vested interest in seeing the party’s agenda enacted (and for the government to succeed) even if individual measures were unpopular. The reason why the issue of electricity prices has become a deal-breaker for many in parliament is not just due to the unpopularity of price increases (Ensour recently said they would likely rise by 16 percent) but also because independent and tribal MPs depend for support on their ability to dispense patronage to their followers. In this case, with rural and tribal areas affected more heavily by subsidy cuts than urban areas, their willingness to maintain subsidies is a method in essence of patronage. This is not to say subsidy reductions per se are good or bad, but the subsidies are a burden on the state budget of which everyone needs to be aware.

A case study of the effects of this is the upcoming confidence vote that Ensour faces in parliament. Prior to announcing the new cabinet he decided that MPs would not be included among the initial list of ministers. This may have been a reaction to the fact that it took parliament so long to come to a consensus on the appointment of a Prime Minister, and then another lengthy period of time before a cabinet was agreed upon, but bypassing parliament cannot, in the long term, signify a healthy system of representative democracy. It also makes securing the support of parliament in a confidence vote that much more difficult – if MPs (even loyalist ones) are not trusted to be included in the cabinet, then they are much less likely to support the government even when it depends on their support in a confidence vote. Additionally, there are reports that part of the hostility directed against Ensour is due to the fact that MPs did not feel that they were consulted in the formation of the cabinet. There is also the ever-present issue of electricity prices which the three parliamentary blocs say is a deal-breaker if Ensour wants to receive their support.

Consequently, with Ensour saying that he is not going to rely on the support of regime institutions such as the royal palace or the intelligence services (which are also referred to as the “backup units”), he faces a difficult challenge in winning the necessary degree of support to be able to win a confidence vote. Particularly in a parliament that is elected under a system designed to favor independent and tribal candidates, despite the fact that these are the most likely MPs to oppose measures such as subsidy reductions.

Ultimately the present situation is a consequence of the long-term policies that favor independent candidates, who won a majority in the most recent elections. These candidates depend for support on their ability to dispense patronage, particularly to areas that are dependent on the state particularly with regards to employment. The consequence is that political and economic reforms become dichotomous – the economic reforms require “backup units” to implement because MPs will never agree to them democratically. Over the long term, the challenge this poses to the reform process is immense.

Is Kuwait’s Anti-Expat Momentum Stalling

It seems that after a series of measures targeting expats were introduced In Kuwait that the momentum behind them may be stalling. On Wednesday, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to charge expats the full price for fuel, which would then be dispensed to Kuwaitis with a ration card. Other components of the measure would have required the deportation of expats who commit “grave violations” of traffic laws.

The vote in the National Assembly was decisive, with over 30 members voting against it including government officials who are ex-officio members, while 8 MPs voted in favor of it. It seems then that the momentum that has been targeted against expats has stalled for the time being. Measures that have been proposed recently such as fixed residency periods that would require them to leave the country after a certain period of time as well as nationality quotas have foundered due to the fact that after the emotion has left the picture they turn out to be detrimental to the country. In particular, if skilled workers such as teachers have been in the country for ten years should they then be forced to leave?

It is important to recognize of course that part of the sentiment that is behind measures like this is intended to increase the job opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens. However, the issue is that expats have recently been targeted with proposals to such an extent that recently it felt like hardly a day went by without the introduction of another one. There are indeed still some under consideration such as the proposal to effectively segregate health clinics by permitting expatriates to attend them in non-emergency situations only in afternoon hours. However, the rejection by the National Assembly of the proposal to charge Kuwaiti citizens different fuel prices indicates that the momentum may be shifting on this issue.

At the end of the day, Kuwait has a problem with its citizens relying on guaranteed state employment (the source of income for over 90 percent of them). However, the decisions that have recently been taken against expats have appeared intended not at ultimatley opening jobs for Kuwait’s citizens but instead aimed at stirring up anti-expat sentiment to deflect attention from the government’s failings.

Jordan’s New Cabinet: 18 ministers, No MPs

The composition of Jordan’s new cabinet was just announced, more than two months after the election. It consists of 19 members including Prime Minister Ensour, none of whom are Members of Parliament, though Ensour has said he would seek to include MPs in the cabinet in the next several months. Of the members of the outgoing cabinet, four of them retained their posts. The list of new Cabinet Ministers is as follows:

  1. Prime Minister and Defence: Abdullah Ensour
  2. Interior and Municipal Affairs: Hussein Majali (new, merged portfolio)
  3. Justice and Prime Ministry Affairs: Ahmad Ziadat (new, merged portfolio)
  4. Foreign Affairs: Nasser Judeh (unchanged)
  5. Trade, Industry, Communications, and Supply: Hatem Halawani (unchanged, merged portfolios)
  6. Finance: Ummaya Tukan (new)
  7. Planning, Tourism, and Antiquities: Ibrahim Saif (new)
  8. Education: Mohammad Wahash (new)
  9. Higher Education and Scientific Research: Amin Mahmud (new)
  10. Water and Agriculture: Hazem Nasser (new, merged portfolio)
  11. Information, Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs: Mohammad Momani (new, merged portfolios)
  12. Health and the Environment: Mjalli Mheilan (new, merged portfolio)
  13. Social Development: Reem Abu Hassan (new)
  14. Housing and Public Works: Walid Masri (new)
  15. Energy: Malek Kabariti (new)
  16. Labour and Transport: Nidal Qatamin (unchanged, merged portfolio)
  17. Islamic Affairs and Awqaf: Mohammad Qudah (new)
  18. Culture: Barakat Awajan (new)
  19. Public Sector Development: Khleif Khawaldeh (unchanged)

The list of Ministers includes nine newcomers and five who have previously served as Ministers, and among the newcomers is one woman, Reem Abu Hassan, who will be serving as Minister of Social Development. The most noteworthy holdover from the previous government is Nasser Judeh, who gains an additional responsiblity for Expatriate Affairs in addition to Foreign Affairs.

This list of cabinet ministers includes many changes in the individuals who are serving in the government but it seems much less likely that it will lead to corresponding changes in policy. Despite the number of changes, many of them, despite their status as first-time ministers have served in other posts within the government. Many of them have served in think tanks, some of which were affiliated with the Jordanian government although others served at think tanks that were independent.

For example, Interior Minister Awad Khliefat (who had been mentioned as a candidate for PM following the election in addition to Ensour) was replaced by Public Security Department Director Hussein Majali. Majali was director of the Public Security Department during protests against the fuel prices, and while those protests were ongoing claimed that two Syrian nationals had been paid to protest to increase the size of crowds. The payments, he said were made by a political party, which does not show an attitude that is favorable to the parties that the government says it wants to encourage.

Finance Minister Ummaya Tukan is another appointee who cannot be considered a newcomer after having served as head of the Central Bank of Jordan from 2001 to 2010. Ibrahim Saif, the new Minister of Planning is one of the more interesting additions, becoming a Minister after several years at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author or coauthor of numerous publications related to the Jordanian economy.

Malik Kabariti will become Minister for Energy, a crucial portfolio as the government considers steps that might be taken regarding electricity prices. Prior to his appointment to the cabinet he was Chairman of the Board at the National Electric Power Company

Interestingly, Reem Abu Hassan, the women’s right’s activist who is the only woman appointed to the cabinet is the daughter-in-law of Ahmed Obeidat, the head of the National Front for Reform, as she is married to his son Thamer. Prior to her appointment she was head of the National Council for Family Affairs, a government-supported think tank.

Mohamed Momani is another Minister who comes from an academic or think tank background, as he is a media figure and academic who joins the cabinet from the Jordan Media Institute, which offers an MA program in journalism. Barakat Ojwan joins the cabinet from private practice as a physician and activist in Maan. His involvement in the cabinet begs an interesting question – given that the cabinet excludes MPs currently does this mean that he would have been excluded as well had he won a national list seat that he ended up losing?

The Ministry of Supplies (under incumbent Minister Hatem Hawalani) was brought back under the new cabinet, and other changes included dividing Education with Higher Education, and combining Higher Education with Scientific Research

The new government faces many challenges, including those such as electricity prices that were left over by the previous government, which may have been one issue that caused the process of making the current cabinet to take such a long time. The way that it addresses these challenges will set a precedent for the future of both the policies that are implemented in Jordan and the way future governments are formed. The process of selecting a cabinet took more than two months this time. Next election, it would be extremely damaging to the Jordanian reform process if these types of delays were to happen again.

Instead of Helping Citizens, Kuwaiti MPs and Ministries Target Expats

Recently a number of measures have been considered in Kuwait that target the country’s substantial population of expatriates. It is important before this issue is examined in more detail that the background be discussed. It is estimated that out of a total population of about three million, two thirds are expatriates while the remaining one million are citizens. There is, essentially, a dichotomy in the economy between these two groups. The state provides essentially guaranteed employment to its citizens in the public sector that comes with generous benefits, and citizens have taken advantage, with more than 90 percent of them holding jobs in the public sector. Meanwhile, the private sector is dominated by expatriates, who hold over 98 percent of the jobs.

The expense of employing approximately 91 percent of its citizens is a substantial one for the Kuwaiti government, but it is one that it is currently able to afford due to the current high price of oil. Kuwait export crude is projected to be $107 per barrel with one month remaining in the fiscal year, which leads to a major surplus. However, the official budget projections, which are included in this economic report by the National Bank of Kuwait, are calculated with a projected oil price of $65 for 2012/2013 and a projected oil price of $70 for 2013/2014. According to these figures, if the oil prices were at that level, Kuwait would have large budget deficits, totaling approximately KD7.3 billion ($25 billion) for 2012/2013 and KD3.05 billion ($10.7 billion) for 2013.

Since the Arab Spring began at the beginning of 2011, the regime has done two things – first, it has reacted to clamp down on dissent, and second, it has boosted government spending substantially. These spending increases could include granting interest relief to Kuwaiti citizens who overspent their income and obtained personal loans to do so, or having the government purchase the loans. The issue, beyond that of equity or fairness, is that financial institutions are likely to continue extending such loans if they believe that the state would continue to bail them out by repaying them.

This increased spending has happened to a degree that the World Bank reported in 2012 that it would be unable to sustain it over the long term. The IMF projected in 2012 that at the current rate Kuwait would run out of extra oil revenue by 2017 and would no longer be able to save funds for its future generations fund. At the time that report was written it estimated that the breakeven point was $44 per barrel, but the recent budget projections show that the breakeven point is now substantially higher.

It is impossible to predict the direction of oil prices, and a decline to $70 a barrel is not unforeseeable. It might not be likely, but it is not impossible either, and would, as the statistics above show, put a serious strain on Kuwait’s budget (and could lead to subsidy reductions as well). It is therefore necessary to increase the private sector employment opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens so that they do not need to rely on government employment, which over the long term could be affected by fluctuations in the price of oil. There was recently a plan passed by the National Assembly to help finance small business projects that employ citizens but it has been criticized as having many of the same flaws as previous efforts, which helped establish some businesses but these did not employ substantial numbers of Kuwait’s citizens. There is, then, a pressing need for employment for the substantial young population, but currently a lack of adequate steps being taken. A recent $111 billion development plan that included contributions from the private sector was blocked by parliament last year. The danger is that Kuwait will, even with recent measures to attract foreign investment, lose out on business to other states in the region such as the UAE.

It is in this context then, that recent measures have been taken targeting Kuwait’s substantial population of expatriate workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor announced a plan to reduce the number of expats by 100,000 annually to reach 1 million in ten years. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health recently implemented a measure intended to segregate the hours that Kuwaitis and expatriates receive non-emergency medical care. They have also been blamed even for traffic jams and accidents. However, the measures to restrict expatriates have two flaws – first, they are attempting to scapegoat a population of workers for issues beyond their control. Expats only recently (in 2010) received a degree of protection that included a minimum wage, and have suffered abuse from employers in the past. Second, it could under present economic conditions lead to a loss of valuable skilled workers, as a recent survey of Kuwaiti citizens showed.

What, then, is the solution? The exclusion of citizens from meaningful economic (and increasingly political) participation is a long-term issue that need to be addressed. What is required is careful study and well-studied and implemented plans, not measures intended to target a class of workers for long-term problems that are not of their creation.

Jordan and the United States Under Obama: A Complex Alliance

King Abdullah and President Obama appeared at a news conference following their meeting on Friday. The King welcomed Obama to Jordan and mentioned the subjects they discussed in their meeting, which included Syria and the influx of refugees, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, political reform, and , and thanked the United States for its continued support which he said “has allowed us to get Jordan where we are today,” and discussed the reform measures that the government has introduced, and said Jordan could be an example of peaceful reform. He said “This is the Jordanian moment.  What we’re seeing is the third way in the Middle East — we are seeing that the Arab Spring is behind us; we in Jordan are looking now at the Arab Summer for us all, which means that we all have to roll our sleeves”

President Obama reciprocated the King’s praise, saying that “Jordan is an invaluable ally. It is a great friend,” Obama praised King Abdullah and and said that the reform process in Jordan  and said that the United States was committed to Jordan’s security, including from the dangers of a spillover from the conflict in Syria. He pledged to seek support for $200 million in additional budget support from congress in addition to loan guarantees, with this aid intended to help with economic reform and offset the impact of the conflict in Syria and the influx of refugees. He praised the reform process and said that the economic reforms were necessary and that Jordan had an opportunity to be an example of peaceful change.

King Abdullah and President Obama had much praise for each other at the press conference, and Jordan-US relations are indeed strong, but the relationship is much more complex than this. Obama alluded to this when he said that “Our cooperation on Syria is an example of how the partnership between the United States and Jordan improves the lives not only of the Jordanian people, but peoples across the region.” What Obama meant was that Jordan’s actions in keeping its borders open have produced benefits for other states in the region. However, these benefits – to others – have come at a substantial cost to Jordan that has not always been reciprocated. Even now, President Obama alone does not have the ability to provide the additional $200 million in budget support to Jordan, as he actually said that he would work with congress to provide it. Given the recent history of American politics that is not necessarily a sure thing. Meanwhile, the expenses that Jordan is incurring are happening right now.

Jordan has done a lot for numerous other states in the region, and the hosting of refugees from Syria is only the most recent thing, and yet the promises that have been made to Jordan in return have not always been met. This is not to say that the $200 million in assistance or the loan guarantees will not be provided, but it is important to note that it is not a certainty, and it is worth noting that most of the money totalling $1.5 billion pledged at a conference in Kuwait in January has not materialized. Pledged assistance from several of the Gulf states has also been late in arriving.

It is important, in the future, to ensure that Jordan’s reliance on aid is reduced even as it is needed at present for the short term. This would ensure that the present situation – in which Jordan does things for others in the region and elsewhere that are very costly – and for which it is not supported to the degree that it should be, despite the expenses and difficulties it has encountered on the issue of Syria and numerous other issues that have emerged in recent years.

King Abdullah’s Post-Interview Damage Control Begins

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy)

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy)

The damage control effort following King Abdullah’s interview with The Atlantic has begun. Today, the Turkish Foreign Ministry sought clarification regarding comments King Abdullah was said to have made regarding Prime Minister Erdogan. In the interview, King Abdullah said “I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey.” Regarding Prime Minister Erdogan, King Abdullah said that “Erdogan once stated that democracy for him is a bus ride…Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” He also compared Erdogan to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, saying “Instead of the Turkish model, taking six or seven years, [instead of] being an Erdoğan, Morsi wanted to do it overnight” He also had more critical comments to say about Morsi, saying that “There is no depth there” and gave the example of Morsi’s attitude towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. The interview also contained criticism of King Abdullah’s family, who he said behaved more like royalty the further they were from the throne (and said he would punish them sometimes to send a message), the Islamic Action Front (who he said wants to overthrow the government), the National Current Party headed by conservative and loyalist former Speaker Abdul Hadi al-Majali (which he said lacks a political platform), and the GID, which he criticized as well, as well as an anecdote about Bashar al-Assad being unfamiliar with jet lag, as well as comments about his relatively strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

From a PR standpoint it was a disaster. After Turkish diplomats complained about his comments regarding Ergogan, the regime has moved into full damage control mode. King Abdullah posted on his facebook page that the interview was “inaccurate and dishonest.” Jordanian officials have said they will give a “public general explanation” regarding the interview. What could such an explanation entail? Either King Abdullah made these remarks about the leaders of neigboring or nearby countries such as Egypt or Turkey or he did not. Either Jeffrey Goldberg is a fabricator (which would require a substantial amount of evidence to back up) or perhasp, as might be more likely, King Abdullah thought his comments were off the record. Even if this is the case it overlooks a larger point – even if King Abdullah did not expect these comments to be published, they were still what he said and still what he thought.

There is a larger danger here, not just for King Abdullah but for any leader who speaks off the record in a manner that is substantially different from when they are on the record. What do these comments achieve? They hurt Jordan’s relations with several countries and caused potential internal strife without achieving any gains. Turkey, like Jordan, borders Syria and is heavily involved in addressing the conflict in that country. Egypt is a major supplier of gas to Jordan, and yet both of those countries are not likely to take kindly to these comments. The damage control has begun.

What is clear from this interview is this: even if some of the things that King Abdullah said are arguably true, they should not have been said by someone who has stated he aspires to be a constitutional monarch. It is also, regardless, imprudent to damage Jordan’s relations with states in the region and damage its diplomatic position without any corresponding gains.

Update 1: Protesters Rally Against “Theatrial Plays” on Reform

**Update**More protests were held on Friday, March 15th in Amman. There were two rallies on Friday: an Islamist rally in downtown Amman with about 1000 participants and a leftist rally that attracted about 200 in Ashrafiye. The protests in Amman focused on both political and economic griefances. They criticized Prime Minister Ensour’s economic policies for seeking to raise prices, and called for his resignation. The protests also focused on the issue of corruption, as demonstrators chanted “We demand freedom from corruption.” The dissolution of parliament was another demand, and this may indicate that some of the demonstrators may have been affiliated with parties or movements supporting the boycott in January, including the Islamic Action Front. Protesters said they would hold a sit-in on the airport road beginning March 21st to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the March 24th rally that was broken up by security forces. Protests were not convinced to Amman alone, as rallies were also held elsewhere including in Irbid, Tafileh, Kafak, and Maan.

These protests and their persistence around Jordan indicate the sentiment that reform measures have been inadequate is widely held. To try and dismiss protests such as these as organized by parties such as the Islamic Action Front seeking to gain power misses the point entirely. If a group of people gathers to demonstrate they do so because of their grievances, not their party affiliation. These demands – for electoral reform, for an end to corruption, and against higher prices are widely held, even if watching events in nearby countries such as Syria, Egypt, or Tunisia may have made some Jordanians wary of similar events happening in Jordan. The higher turnout in January’s election over the previous one is perhaps best interpreted as a desire for a different type of change from that in other regional states, not an endorsement of the status quo. If the regime does not need these calls then future protests, and greater frustration with the political process are inevitable.

**Original Post**Another large protest attended by hundreds of people was held in Amman on Friday in front of the Al-Husseini Mosque. There was a diverse crowd or participants including Islamists, youth movements, and other reformists, and the rally used the slogan “Crisis of Governance, Not Governments.” The protesters chanted that the regime was not genuine in implementing reform efforts, saying that it was engaged in a “mere theatrical play.” They also called for reforms to the electoral law and for amending the constitution. There were also criticisms made of the government’s efforts to free Khaled Natour, who was detained in Saudi Arabia about two months ago. He had taken part in protests outside of the Saudi Embassy in Jordan against the crackdown in Bahrain.

The criticism that the regime’s reforms are a “mere theatrical play” have a significant amount of validity when one examines issues such as, for example, corruption. Perhaps the definition of a theatrical play is something that puts on a spectacle but is not actually real, or in this case not actually achieving change. In Amman Criminal Court right now, Walid Kurdi, former Chairman of the Jordan Phosphate Mining Company  (and husband of Princess Basma, aunt of King Abdullah) is on trial for corruption. He was indicted on January 2nd, and his assets have been seized. Witnesses have been called, evidence has been examined, and charges have been made that outline Kurdi’s alleged conduct, including involvement in overpriced shipping contracts signed shortly after the company’s privatization with a firm that he controlled along with his relatives. Putting an uncle of the King on trial for corruption is intended make it seem as though change is happening, and that no one is above the law.

There is, however, a problem: Kurdi left Jordan on a flight to London January 6, 2012 and has not returned since then. There’s a major corruption trial being held, but the defendant is missing. He is thought by some sources to still be in the UK, but the government has not filed an Interpol arrest warrant, and little progress if any seems to have been made on his extradition to face the charges.

If there were an example of a theatrical play on the issue of corruption, Kurdi’s trial would be one. This issue is just one example of how reform measures often seem to be oriented more towards making it appear action is being taken rather than taking the difficult measures needed to bring about change. This is true not just on corruption but on other issues as well such as elections, where improvements in process have been made but the electoral law remains unfair. This is why protests such as this continue to happen. People do not feel that the political process is capable of bring about substantive change.

Violence Spreads to Jordan’s Parliament

**Update** Here is a YouTube video with the footage of the fight from Telegraph TV.

Violence has spread to Jordan’s parliament. During a speech by Prime Minister Ensour defending his government’s fuel price increase last week, he was interrupted by MP Zaid Shawabkah from Madaba, who started yelling at him before his colleagues intervened and convinced him to calm down. Soon after, an altercation began.

Ensour continued his speech and argued that the government had no choice due to Jordan’s budgetary situation, when Shawabkah interrupted him again, standing up and accusing him of corruption. Deputy Speaker Khalil Atiyeh apologized to the Prime Minister on behalf of the house for any disrepectful behavior from its members, and Ensour, though angered, continued his speech.

Shawabkah started interrupting Ensour again, and MP Shadi Odwan – whom Jordan Times reported seemed to have a firearm, though he did not pull it out – to move towards him, and colleagues intervened to separate the two of them. As more MPs started to become involved the situation escalated, Atiyeh ended the session.

The participants in this altercation were not protesters who stormed parliament, they were MPs, elected officials. A key element of political reform is having institutions such as parliament where policies are debated, and where those who are upset with the government can both work within parliament and outside of it to gain political support to either change policies or win future elections. This incident shows that it takes more than just changing laws to change a political culture.