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.

Is the Regime Blaming the Syrian Refugee Crisis for Its Reform Failures?

King Abdullah of Jordan, alongside his Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh have once again attempted to deflect criticism from their own regime’s failures by blaming external events. In this case, they are blaming the spillover of Syrian refugees across the border into Jordan for many of the nation’s recent difficulties. The spillover of Syrian refugees has been occurring since the Syrian revolution, and the effects of it cannot be ignored.

According to UNHCR approximately 205,000 refugees have entered the country and this number is only expected to increase. Jordan has always been notable for its open-door policies regarding its surrounding countries, as seen in 2007 with the spillover of Iraqi refugees, not to mention that 67 percent of the population is of Palestinian origin. The effects of these refugees have hurt and will continue to hurt Jordan economically, socially, and politically. First, these refugees are not allowed to work in the country, leaving them economically strained. Second, Jordan doesn’t have the funds to support these refugees, leaving 70 percent of the them dispersed in the cities along the border with Syria rather than the refugee camps, creating problems for aid groups attempting to locate them and provide assistance. More importantly, Jordan doesn’t have the means to support its own people let alone outsiders seeking refuge from conflict.

In an interview with Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch, Nasser Judeh asserts that not only has the international community not helped aid Jordan in this crisis, but also this crisis will deeply hurt Jordan. However, the regime is no way in trouble solely due to the spillover of refugees. The protests in Jordan that have occurred every Friday since January 2011 have rarely if not ever called for the government to address the Syria issue, rather the people taking to the streets are demanding reform regarding domestic issues such as corruption, the economic crisis, the role of the Mukhabarat (Jordanian state security) in people’s everyday lives, human rights violations, and so forth.

We must also note that in 2007, the Jordanian government inflated the number of Iraqi refugees coming into the country to receive more international funding. Once this funding was received, Jordan did not efficiently allocate the funding to solve the crisis. Would it be above this regime to inflate the number of Syrian refugees in the country at some point to obtain additional funding?

The true impact of the spillover of Syrian refugees into Jordan can only be analyzed seriously if the regime is truthful about the rest of the issues it’s facing. Jordan is not going to fall because of these refugees, but the crisis in Syria is going to deeply affect the current problems the regime, and the nation at large are facing. One cannot address the issues of the influx of refugees in its proper context until the other demands for reform are either met or at least talked about in a serious manner that isn’t intended to simply appease the people by promising fictional reform, and blaming events outside of Jordan when the regime does not live up to its promises.

The (Old) New Court Chief Who Is Helping to Pick Jordan’s Next PM

Jordan is in the midst of a political process that is unprecedented, even though it definitely falls short of the regime’s narrative that this election would bring fundamental change and parliamentary government. Despite falling short of the regime’s narrative, it is nonetheless true that the process of appointing the next government is being conducted differently from the process by which its predecessors were appointed.

Previous Prime Ministers were appointed directly by the King, while Prime Minister Ensour’s successor will be chosen in consultation with parliament. New Royal Court Chief Fayez Tarawneh will meet with the major blocs in parliament for consultations, starting with the largest. Independent MPs will be consulted afterwards.

Tarawneh’s recent appointment as Royal Court Chief was the second time that he had held the position. In a certain way, he’s always been someone whom King Abdullah has turned to when he faces difficulties. When King Abdullah first assumed the throne, Tarawneh was Prime Minister. In January 2000, when conservative Prime Minister Abdur Rauf far-Rawabdeh, and controversial liberal court chief Abdelkarim al-Kabariti were feuding over numerous issues, including economic policy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and Jordan’s relationship with Iraq. Rawabdeh was seen as pro-Baghdad while Kabariti’s dislike of Saddam Hussein was well known.

When King Abdullah decided to replace Kabariti as Court Chief, whom did he appoint? Fayez Tarawneh, who had a strong working relationship with Rawabdeh. His stronger relationship with Rawabdeh was surely due at least in part to Kabariti’s abrasive nature (as PM Kabariti the budget for the royal court, but also cut bread subsidies and blamed the ensuing riots on Iraqi interference, and had an Iraqi diplomat expelled). However, there is something else also at work here – When Tarawneh was appointed by King Abdullah to replace Kabariti, it represented a victory for those who were opposed even to reforms that were intended to bolster the regime over the long term. Tarawneh’s good professional relationship with Rawabdeh would, in part, have been due to the fact that Tarawneh’s positions on these issues were more in line with those of Rawabdeh, a conservative plagued by rumors of corruption.

As Royal Court Chief, Tarawneh forcefully defended the government’s position prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, saying that Jordan’s economic relationship with the United States was vital, despite his personal objections – and those of many within the Jordanian government – to a US-led invasion of Iraq. He also implied that the US would make its decision to go to war based on its own interests rather than those of Jordan.

It is interesting to note that King Abdullah actually may have tried to get rid of Tarawneh in 2003, when he appointed him to the senate, and selected Faisal al-Fayez as his replacement at the Royal Court.  Despite this, Tarawneh remained a staunch loyalist (referred to in a cable leaked by wikileaks as a “hardcore East Banker”, and in 2005 bragged about having a local Imam at his mosque in West Amman arrested for discussing radical politics while at the mosque during prayer services, and called for the arrest of more extremist clerics, and accused the IAF of being a front for Hamas. In March 2006 he talked to the American Ambassador about his fear that the IAF and Muslim Brotherhood would triumph if direct elections for Mayors and council members were restored.  Regardless of what one thinks of the IAF, Tarawneh was willing to undermine democratic elections in order to defeat an opposing political party. This does not bode well for reform or parliamentary democracy.

Last year, when King Abdullah ousted PM Awn Khasawneh and harshly criticized him in the letter accepting his resignation in which the King accused Khasawneh of going slow on reform, he called on Tarawneh to become Prime Minister a second time, though he lasted for only a few months before Ensour was appointed to replace him. Ensour was said to be the last PM appointed directly by the King, but with Ensour unlikely to remain in his position, who is leading the negotiations from the palace’s side to choose his successor? Fayez Tarawneh.  This doesn’t mean that the election has not brought some degree of change (though less than the regime’s narrative), but Tarawneh’s role leaves those hoping for real reform over the long term with little to look forward to.

Riots Show Jordan’s Political Crisis Continues

The elections were supposed to bring change, so why did riots take place throughout Jordan for several days afterwards? These events show that far from being over, the country’s political crisis continues to smolder. It’s not explosive, but its still there and still smoldering in the background of everything taking place in Jordanian politics. A total of 31 riots were said to have taken place between January 23rd (when the election was held) and January 26th, and these riots included shootings, blocked roads, and attacks on public institutions. Protesters also tried to attack Prime Minister Ensour’s home in Salt and the headquarters of the IEC in Amman, although police blocked their path in both locations. In Mafraq one person died in clashes between the supporters of rival tribal candidates, and there have been tribal protesters chanting slogans in support of the opposition, while the Muslim Brotherhood was largely absent.

Why is all of this happening? Part of it, of course, is the rivalries between tribal candidates causing clashes, but there is something more here as well. The election was not accepted universally by all political groups as a means of bringing about change in the way Jordan is governed. Many of them, including the Islamic Action Front and many reformist groups boycotted because they felt that the election was more of a way of the loyalists giving themselves legitimacy than it was a genuine effort at political reform.

These sentiments may have been reinforced by the selection of the person who is going to be negotiating on behalf of the regime when discussions on the selection of the next government begin: former Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, who is now Chief of the Royal Court. According to a recent Al-Monitor article, Tarawneh was selected because for exactly this role. According to the article, “During the past years, Tarawneh has become known for doing what is asked of him quite accurately, and for being a good manager of the pawns in the political game, in accordance with the inclinations of decision-makers.” In this case, his selection might perhaps be another sign of the inclinations of decision makers. King Abdullah appointed him as PM when he ousted former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, and he is appointing him Royal Court Chief now. If his appointment is indeed a signal of the regime’s inclinations, then does not bode well for future efforts at reform during the coming parliament.

How Jordan’s Loyalists Stayed in Charge

Jordan held an election last Wednesday that was hailed by the regime as an important step on the path to reform. Turnout reached 56 percent despite boycotts by much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front and many reformists. People voted in the hope that this election with a modified electoral law would bring change. I held many of the same hopes myself, but it is clear that despite everything, for now the loyalists remain firmly in charge. How did this happen?

Political power is still centralized among a small clique of insiders with ties to the regime. The new Chief of the Royal Court is former Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, who was appointed as PM following the King’s dismissal of Awn Khasawneh. The new PM has not been announced yet, but it should be noted that the King has said he will consult with parliamentary blocs, and one of the largest blocs is the National Current Party, which is headed by former Speaker Abdul Hadi al-Majali, who a few years ago spoke against electoral reform, although he appears to have changed his position during the most recent election campaign. Still, if someone was on record opposing even the modest electoral reforms during the most recent parliament, then it is unlikely that they will be supportive of further reform in the future, except perhaps to the degree that they consider it to be a necessity.

How did this situation come about? Former Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher points out that even after the reform passed last year, the current electoral law remains inadequate and means parliament cannot exercise oversight of the executive branch. He addresses three issues in his article that are crucial to the reform process: (1) electoral reform, including a gradual increase in the number of seats allocated to party lists; (2) prosecuting and preventing corruption; and (3) economic reform, addressing the current economic crisis as well as unemployment, inequality, and Jordan’s continued dependence on outside aid.

Right now, it seems as though many loyalists have examined the results exactly the wrong way. 56 percent of registered voters did not turn out to vote because they wanted the way that Jordan is governed to remain the same. They did so, I think, in the hope that this time would be the start on the process of change. However, with many of those who opposed even modest reforms in a strong position, it is easy to be skeptical of whether the new parliament will produce meaningful reforms.