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.

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