What would a buffer zone mean for Syria and Jordan?

The conflict in Syria, which has had such a massive and devastating impact on Jordan moreso than perhaps any other country except Syria itself, appears that it is entering a new phase.

There are many current indications that the US and its allies are preparing some type of intervention. The US is leaving warplanes and missile batteries in Jordan at the request of the Jordanian regime, which could be used to enforce either a no fly zone or a more limited buffer zone, though the Obama administration has not yet made any public decisions about this yet. A recent report indicated that one potential option under consideration by the Obama administration is for a limited no fly zone along the border that would extend approximately 40 km into Syria, and would be enforced by aircraft operating from within Jordan. These pilots would be able to enter Syrian airspace in self-defense if they were fired upon or encountered advancing planes, although US air-to-air missiles have a sufficiently long range to make that scenario potentially unnecessary.

Interestingly, the publicly stated positions of the Jordanian government are not necessarily in line with these news reports. Jordan Times quotes a government spokesman, Mohammad Momani, as saying that the Jordanian government opposes international military action in Syria. In a speech on Sunday at a graduation at Mutah University, King Abdullah said that the crisis imposed “some harsh realities” on Jordan but said that Jordan has a moral responsibility to help those affected by the conflict, and that he favored a political solution. He also said that “the first and ultimate goal has been to protect Jordan and Jordanian’s’ interests.”

How should comments by the government spokesman and King Abdullah be examined alongside the media reports that Jordan has given approval to the use of its territory to enforce a no-fly zone along the border? Is this another example of the regime telling one thing to foreign diplomats and officials and another to the Jordanian people? That is probably part of it, but there is also something else – what these proposals may signal is that the Jordanian regime believes that it cannot continue to admit large numbers of refugees from Syria for much longer due to the strain that they are causing and wants to establish a buffer zone along the border so that it does not have to do that anymore. This would be in line with a recent Al-Monitor article that says that Jordan has closed border crossings with Syria and that there are large numbers of refugees who are stranded along the Syrian side.

The article says that large numbers of refugees are waiting in the Daraa region border villages of Naseeb, Tell Shihab, and Heit, and that a large number of refugees were waiting in Tell Shihab. In the event that a no-fly zone were implemented that extended 40km from the border between Jordan and Syria, this area would be within the no-fly zone, so the Jordanian regime might then say that it no longer needs to admit the refugees because they are within a buffer zone inside Syria, where rebel forces would also be provided with training. What this means is that upon closer examination the proposal for a “no-fly zone” may be as much about taking the pressure off of Jordan. The regime’s denial that it supports intervention in Syria can be understood in the context of not wanting to appear subordinate to the United States, due to the fact that there are some within Jordan who would object to a major presence of American forces.

The problem with this proposal, if one puts aside potential objections to American foreign policy, is that it carries all the negative elements of American intervention while also being inadequate to change the balance of power inside Syria, as the regime has gotten the upper hand recently. It is in many ways not a decision to intervene so much as a decision to preserve the status quo in a modified way for a longer period of time, even though for refugees in the potential buffer zone life may be worse than it is within Jordan.

As Regime Cracks Down on the Press, Could Parliament Intervene?

A key element in a democratic system is that there are multiple centers of power, each of which is able under certain circumstances to limit the powers of the institutions. These institutional checks must be real, and must be immune to being overridden except in the most extreme of circumstances. In turn, those who are members of these institutions, such as parliament or the judiciary must exercise their duties responsibly to prevent both repression and obstructionism. In Jordan, recent events have given parliament a chance to demonstrate its institutional strength by exercising a check on the executive branch’s power. This opportunity comes as MPs have shown their objections to a new press law that has led the government to block numerous news websites, a list of which can be found here.

This is an opportunity for parliament as an institution to assert itself in a way that can move the reform process forward, but only if MPs take this opportunity. The government has indicated that it is amenable to a chance in the law, but this stance may be intended to stave off reform rather than to encourage it. Still, if the government is on record as supporting a change then it would be unlikely to oppose it should a change actually go through, because it would be politically almost impossible for it to change its position on this issue, which presents an opening that parliament can seize if it so desires.

The parliament needs to demonstrate its strength by reforming this press law in such a way that the government would find it politically impossible to object to it. It could start with several of the most problematic provisions – such as holding the owners of websites accountable for comments, and requiring comments to be about the same topic as the article, as well as eliminating requirements that news sites have a lead editor who is a member of the JPA. The bill would have to be passed in the Chamber of Deputies by a significant margin, which would make the Senate, and the regime, think twice about attempting to block it.

This is a crucial test for parliament as an institution – there have been clear objections raised to this press law, but and it is up for parliament to act to ensure that it fulfills its role of both legislating and acting as a body that can provide oversight against regime abuses. Only with parliament taking its proper role—with real power, not merely words describing how it has been reformed—can the political reform process move forward in a real way.

Does the Jordanian/Russian Arms Factory Signify Something Deeper

On Thursday, King Abdullah attended the opening of the ADARA Equipment and Defence Systems Company’s (JRESCO) factory in Amman. What was significant about this ceremony was that there was someone else present as well: Russian Ambassador Alexander Kalugin. The factory is part of a joint venture with Russia to produce the Nashab RPG-32, which Jordan Times reports is superior to the RPGs that are currently used by the Jordanian armed forces, and a statement said that the new RPG “is highly efficient in penetrating armoured vehicles and destroy bunkers.” Russia is, of course, providing weapons to the Syrian regime as well during the civil war, meaning that Jordan is manufacturing weapons as part of a joint venture with Russia even as Russia contributes to the conflict that is causing refugees to spill over into Jordan.

What does this mean? Is it simply an economic arrangement or does it signify something deeper regarding Jordan’s relations with the Russia and the United States? What is interesting about this arrangement in particular is that a 2012 poll by Pew indicated that apart from Japan, Jordanians had the most negative opinion of Russia in the world, with 70 percent viewing Russia negatively. These attitudes are not short-term, as the percentage of Jordanians who viewed Russia negatively was 49 percent in 2007, 58 percent in 2009, 58 percent in 2010, 63 percent in 2011, before rising to 70 percent in 2012. While polling data is not yet available for 2013 it would not be difficult to imagine that the conflict in Syria has caused the opinions to become even more negative.

What is the reason for this joint venture? Is it purely a business transaction or is it something more? Is it perhaps a way of reaching out to Russia to signify that Jordan should not be thought of as a US satellite by Moscow even though it has traditionally been a US ally in the region? Is it a way of gaining more leverage with the United States by hinting that it could turn to Russia as an alternative (despite the implausibility of allying with a country that is viewed so unfavorably by the Jordanian people)? Is it good public relations to have this factory opening the same week as a delegation from the US congress visited Jordan and met with Prime Minister Ensour? Was this just a coincidence or was it thought through? If it was it seems as though Jordan has little to gain from it. Is it perhaps a way of seeking aid from another resource-rich country?

In the end, only time will tell what this means for the future of Jordanian relations with Russia and the United States and whether this is part of a broader trend. It is, however, an interesting development in a region affected by a conflict in Syria in which Russia’s involvement has been critical in sustaining the Assad regime.

Is there hope for the “Friends of Syria” meeting on Wednesday?

As Jordan prepares to host a Friends of Syria meeting on Wednesday to be attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the conflict in that country seems only to be getting worse. Prospects for a solution to the conflict seem dim, and Jordan is the country most affected by it apart from Syria itself. The Geneva 2 conference sponsored by the United States and Russia that is expected to take place next month is still plagued with uncertainty as the opposition has been unable to agree on who exactly will represent it in the negotiations. President Assad took a hard line in a recent interview in which he called opposition forces “terrorists” who he would not negotiate with, while the opposition remains divided amongst itself. Despite tens of thousands of deaths and 1.5 million refugees the conflict shows no sign of concluding anytime soon.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Germany, and Italy will meet to dicuss events in Syria. They will also try to decide on common positions ahead of the Geneva 2 Conference.

In perhaps a disturbing analogy, an article on Al-Monitor says that the negotiations would begin “Vietnamese Style” without a ceasefire. The issue is that if an agreement is reached while fighting continues there is a risk that it will be meaningless on the ground even as its signing appears to be a major achievement.

Meanwhile, the conflict continues. Jordan is now hosting 500,000 Syrian refugees with more entering the country every day as the conflict has escalated. Al-Jazeera reports that the Zaatari refugee camp will become the world’s largest by the end of the year if the conflict continues, and that if it were a city it would be Jordan’s fifth largest. In addition, it is also important to recognize that things could get worse, a lot worse, if this conflict continues. Syria has approximately 22.5 mllion people, with 1.5 million of them living as refugees. Of those refugees, one third of them are in Jordan, temporarily increasing the population from 6.5 million to 7 million. It is not difficult at all to envision hundreds of thousands more refugees entering Jordan if the conflict continues. In addition, every single regional actor has been drawn in, and the recent battle in Qusair had Hezbollah fighting alongside Syrian troops, with Israel threatening more air strikes.

Where do things go from here? This conflict is not and should not be portrayed as a manichean struggle between a virtuous opposition and an evil regime. Some in the opposition undoubtedly support an authoritarian state, albeit one of a different kind, and many countries backing the opposition have either problematic histories in the region, or human rights abuses of their own. But one also cannot escape the recognition that in Syria there is a regime that believes it should be in power regardless of what the Syrian people decide. Even if one were to pretend, for a moment, that most of the population supported Assad, there is nothing in his past actions that indicates a willingness to take the opinions of the Syrian people into account. Of this there is no doubt. Coupled with the regime’s willingness to retain power at any cost is the notion that loyalty to the regime and to the country of Syria are bound together, creating a bizarre logic in which those taking up arms against a regime that has shown its willingness to commit brutal atrocities are “terrorists” and where Syria must be defended against its own people. It’s a worldview where Syrians opposed to the regime are agents of foreign influence but Hezbollah fighters are not.

There is little immediate prospect of a solution to the conflict, and it seems that for the time being Jordan will continue to bear the greatest proportional burden as fighting continues.

What Does the Recent Violence in Maan Mean?

Over the last week there have been recurrent episodes of violence in Jordan, triggered by the tribal violence at Al Hussein Bin Talal University in Maan. On Friday there were rallies held across Jordan condemning this violence and the regime for failing to stop it. This violence at the university, which announced that classes would be cancelled for a third day is tragic, and the risk is that if it spreads it could harm Jordan’s educational system, which is one of the country’s strongest assests. Over the last two decades the literacy rate and the enrollment rates have both increased, despite continuing issues with the exam-based selection process for universities and other secondary education such as medical school. Preventing this type of violence is critical because if it continues for a long enough period it will do lasting damage to Jordan’s educational system even if it were eventually brought under control.

The educational system’s improvements are not merely statistics printed on a sheet of paper. They have produced real benefits for Jordan and is an asset that the country possesses. One of the assets that this has produced is a health care system that is one of the best in the region, where foreigners come to obtain medical treatment. For example, Jordan is currently in a major dispute with Libya over hospital bills that the Libyan government has refused to pay, leading Jordanian private hospitals to stop accepting the Libyan government’s promises of future payment. Why did Libya, an oil-rich state send its patients to Jordan? They were sent there because the medical care was among the best, if not the best, in the region, and the reason why Jordan is able to offer such care is the quality of its education system and medical schools. This is why this type of violence cannot continue.

What is significant about these protests is what the protesters are actually calling for is security and stability and this is what the regime has failed to provide by failing to stop these clashes. This violence is outside the traditional dynamic of regime/opposition clashes. It involves a tribal dispute of unclear origins involving students and their relatives that turned violent in a public place, where anyone could have been caught in the crossfire. Justice Minister Hussein Majali has said that there were 22 arrested for weapons possession but time will tell if this incident is adequately investigated.

At a time of intense political turmoil and a newly-reappointed government steps have to be taken to make sure that this type of incident will never happen again. Many opponents of reform may argue that security and reform are diametrically opposed, but this incident – in which violence occurred

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 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.

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.