The Meaning Behind King Abdullah’s Visit to Egypt

On Saturday, July 20, King Abdullah became the first Arab Head of State to visit Egypt since the military ousted former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 following major protests. This was not just a simple meeting between two heads of state – there were numerous high-ranking officials on both the Egyptian and Jordanian sides who participated. King Abdullah was met at the Cairo Airport by Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Bablawi, and he met with Interim Egyptian President Aldi Mansour at Ittihadiyah palace, the official residence of the Egyptian President. Meetings also involved Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, as well as Vice President for Foreign Relations Mohamed ElBaradei.

King Abdullah said that Jordan supported the decisions of the Egyptian people and wanted to improve relations, and called for reconciliation among Egypt’s political factions. They also discussed regional issues including the Syria conflict and the recent agreement to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They also said that the Egyptian-Jordanian Higher Committee would meet again as soon as possible.

The visit was undoubtedly intended to show support for the new Egyptian government, and King Abdullah likes sees an ally in the new regime. He had publicly criticized Morsi in an interview in The Atlantic, and Egypt’s gas supplies had been interrupted several times during Morsi’s tenure. It reached an extent that King Abdullah considered taking action against the Egyptian workers who were currently living in Jordan. It is also worth noting that the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate condemned the overthrow of Morsi as a coup led by the United States.

King Abdullah may view the Egyptian regime as facing a similar situation to his regime and views this as an opportunity to form an alliance of common interests. In this context, this visit should be seen as relating as much to cooperation on the domestic situations facing the two countries as it is to the broader situation in the region.

Explaining the Jordanian Regime’s Strategy

As the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23rd, 2013 continue to approach, the regime’s behavior in the face of public disapproval triggered by decisions such as the fuel price increase may seem puzzling. King Abdullah’s reaction, in his interviews and public speeches indicate that the regime’s actions may be part of a broader strategy to retain the greatest possible degree of political power following the elections. The regime’s strategy, in short, appears to be to win the greatest possible legitimacy for the upcoming elections while marginalizing both the Islamist and reformist opposition groups. This would likely attract the strongest degree of popular support. In particular, they seek to marginalize the IAF by portraying the political situation as a binary one with the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood as the two main political alternatives.

The regime’s strategy appears to have three crucial components: First, limiting the scope of reform by seeking its implementation by the next parliament. Second, attempting to marginalize opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front or reformist groups such as the National Front for Reform. Third, attracting the support of other opposition parties to legitimize the election. Then, following the election, a new Prime Minister will likely be appointed from among the King’s allies in parliament, which means that the system of choosing the government is cosmetically different although in fact no real reform has been made. Where have we seen this before?

King Abdullah has stressed the importance of participation in the upcoming elections in numerous interviews and public appearances. In an interview on December 5th, King Abdullah said “The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government.” By setting stage for reforms to be implemented in the next parliament, the regime is ensuring that they remain limited in scope. The upcoming election will be boycotted by most of the opposition, while the parliament itself will be elected under an electoral law which sets aside most of the seats to be elected from districts that are drawn with unequal populations which favor the regime. Under this electoral law only 27 out of 150 seats will be elected from party lists, while the opposition including the Islamic Action Front demands 50 percent be elected this way. Needless to say, politicians are unlikely to support electoral reform if they benefit from it, so it creates another constituency opposed to fundamental reform.

Second, the regime has worked to marginalize opposition groups such as the National Front for Reform and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The NFR is headed by a former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, Ahmed Obeidat, so the regime does not repress it in the same manner as the IAF, but it has been excluded by the regime failing to meet its demands for electoral reform. The Muslim Brotherhood, by contrast, has been the subject of implicit attacks by King Abdullah during hisrecent dispute with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi over gas supplies to Egypt and Egyptian workers in Jordan, and a regime source stated that the actions of Morsi would have an affect on the way the regime deals with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. By opposing the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt he seeks to bolster his regime’s credentials in this way, and is aided by the recent protests in Egypt against Morsi’s decree and the constitutional referendum. This gives ammunition to the regime to say that the alternative is between the current regime and a Morsi-type government. With the recent events in Egypt the regime feels more confident in its attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF and its ability to wait out their political boycott.

Third, the regime is seeking to legitimize the election by attracting participation of leftist and nationalist parties, which would provide for a token degree of opposition that at the same time lacks the support of the Brotherhood, and broadens the support for the regime. King Abdullah recently reached out to several of these parties in a series of meetings held at the homes of several political figures. Why did he do this? He did it because these parties are not a fundamental threat to the regime, and their participation also helps legitimize the election.

This, in short, is the regime’s strategy for handling the upcoming parliamentary elections and retaining the greatest degree of support. It is yet another cynical attempt to extend an authoritarian system and resist fundamental and necessary political reform. How much longer will King Abdullah’s tactics work on his people? We’ve all seen across the Middle East what happens when a leader underestimates the will of his people.

Day 4: Still No Word from King Abdullah (Update 1)

Protests against the government’s fuel price hike have entered their fourth day, and still we have heard nothing from King Abdullah even as protesters in Amman called for his removal. Protests today continued in Amman, as well as throughout Jordan. Still, despite the fact that the King has increasingly become the target of protesters’ anger, he still has yet to make a statement or public appearance since the crisis began.

There were only a few pieces of news that came out about the King today. The first was that he has cancelled his visit to the United Kingdom that was scheduled to take place next week. He also received a call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and according to Petra, the state news agency, the King expressed his concern over Israeli aggression in Gaza and warned against escalation, and also urged regional and international efforts to help ease the crisis. The end of this article is the interesting part. It says “She also hailed King Abdullah’s roadmap for political reform as well as the government’s efforts to achieve economic reform, stressing the importance of the Jordanian-US partnership.” and that they agreed to continue coordinating on regional developments, “Especially the situation in Gaza” (emphasis ours). Another article discusses the comments made by a state department spokesman indicating support for King Abdullah and his governments reform measures, while acknowleding the right to peaceful protest.

There is another, perhaps more ominous article on Petra, which discusses a conversation that King Abdullah had with the King of Bahrain, Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa. It says that they discussed events within the region “especially the situation in Gaza.” Bahrain, if you recall, was where GCC forces led by Saudi Arabia suppressed demonstrations as part of “Operation Peninsula Shield.” Did they talk just about Gaza? Or was anything else discussed?

What is going on? There’s no news from the King, nothing. Is he trying to ride out the situation, planning to repress demonstrators, or simply in denial? There’s no information. It’s this sort of denial that the people outside the palace and well-connected circles actually exist that serves as a catalyst for those out on the streets demonstrating.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing supported the demonstrations today and said they would participate until the government reversed its decision. The Muslim Brotherhood also emphasized its focus on dialogue, especially regarding reform of the electoral law. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood says that the group “Isn’t against the King.” Pro-government groups also demonstrated in Jordan.

For this daily update, we have created sections for each area where events have taken place. As we obtain more information we will add it to the respective section.

If you witness any developments don’t hesitate to contact us or tweet to us on Twitter @ImpatientBedu, and we can add the information here.

Amman

At least 6000 people protested, with many calling for the removal of the King. This included a crowd estimated at 4000 at the Husseini mosque, where minor clashes with police were reported. There were also protests at Istkilal street and at Dakhliyya Square, which is near the interior ministry. This where previous protests were violently dispersed by police using water cannons.

Police closed streets to demonstrators, including  between Abdoun bridge and 4th circle, and between Blue Fig and Abdoun Circle, according to @LumaQ

Aqaba

Here is a video posted by @Freedom_Jordan of a large crowd protesting in Aqaba.

Irbid

According to Ammon Times, there were two protests in Irbid, both of which were held after Friday prayers. One of them was organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, and called for modifying the election procedures, reversing the subsidy cuts, and taking measures against corruption. The second protest was organized by youth and popular reform activist movements, and called for political, social, and economic reform. Security forces were present but no clashes were reported.

Demonstrations took place at the funeral of Qais Al-Omari, who was killed by the police during a demonstration on Tuesday.

Also in Irbid, the student union at Yarmouk University declared an open-ended strike.

Karak

Large protest reported. Here’s a video posted by @Freedom_Jordan.

Also, @che_palover tweeted numerous photos of the demonstrations today, including this one of protesters rallying on Friday night in Karak.

Tafileh

Protest calling for reforms held by youth and popular activist groups, which pledged to continue protesting until demands were met. Security forces were present but no clashes were reported.

Thiban

Police forces fired on protesters according to activist Mohammad Alsneid (related by @freedom_Jordan), though we have not seen other reports of this. We will keep you updated if we have confirmation.

Zarqa

Large protests were reported according to @freedom_Jordan. Here is a link to a video of demonstrators.


King Abdullah’s ‘Crisis Response Team’

According to al-Monitor‘s translation of an article by Al-Hayatthe Jordanian government has formed a ‘crisis response team’ to address the ongoing political crisis between the government and the opposition. According to the article:

According to confirmed information obtained by Al-Hayat from official sources, serious efforts are underway by former prime ministers, senior figures in various government institutions and politicians close to the decision-making circles to form this crisis-response team, which is expected to end the mounting tension in the country and build new understandings between the state and active political sides.

In the official meetings, these figures have called for launching a series of urgent meetings between the government of Prime Minister Abdallah Ensour and the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, in order to quickly reach political understandings that would end the political stalemate witnessed in the country since the outbreak of the pro-reform, anti-corruption popular protests in January 2011.

Both the makeup of this ‘crisis response team’ and the very fact that the government established it are both instructive about the nature of the current political situation in Jordan. First of all, the types of people on it — “former prime ministers, senior figures in various government institutions and politicians close to the decision-making circles” seems like they are all from the same clique that has dominated political power until now. Additionally, it is worth noting that there are enough former Prime Ministers to form a committee on their own, including three in the last year. In short – the very people on this committee are the same ones who are looking for a way to continue the status quo of repeated promises and no reforms.

According to this article, the committee has made reaching out the Muslim Brotherhood a priority, and Zaki Bani Arshid, a veteran of the Islamic Action Front has said that his party is willing to engage in dialogue with the government. However, he also outlined his differences with the government and said that the biggest risk is elections that result in a continuation of the status quo.

If the government were serious about reform they would not have convened a committee of those most likely to have a vested interest in protecting as much of the status quo as possible. What the regime seems to want is a dialogue that gives it credibility and allows it to make more promises of reform while preserving an untenable situation as long as possible.

Reform?

Is this just another attempt by King Abdullah of Jordan to legitimize his power?<br /><br /><br /><br />
al-monitor:</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>Jordan’s King Abdullah II has ordered his prime minister to release 20 activists accused of insulting him. Abdullah also called for all factions — including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been planning a boycott — to participate in forthcoming elections. Read more.

Is this just another attempt by King Abdullah of Jordan to legitimize his power?

al-monitor:

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has ordered his prime minister to release 20 activists accused of insulting him. Abdullah also called for all factions — including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been planning a boycott — to participate in forthcoming elections. Read more.