King Abdullah II spent most of last week in Washington, D.C., where he tried to shore up U.S. support for Jordan by meeting with business leaders (pitching Jordan for foreign investment), civil society organizations (including American Arab, Muslim, and Jewish organizations), congressional leaders, the vice president, and finally, with President Barack Obama at the White House. Yet upon his return to Jordan, the king was met with a new statement of domestic opposition, signed by almost a thousand opposition figures, railing against a multitude of regime policies, both foreign and domestic. Having just returned from a seemingly successful visit to the United States, this is probably not the welcome that the king was hoping for.
Jordanian officials used to joke that Jordanian foreign policy could best be explained by noting that Jordan existed "between Iraq and a hard place." That old English-language pun may not have been riotously funny in the past, but in the present it no longer even comes close to explaining the extent of external pressures on the kingdom. The economy remains disastrous. The reform process remains incomplete and contested. And the Syrian civil war edges ever closer to Jordan, threatening to drag the kingdom into a conflict that it is desperately trying to avoid.
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Looking at the past 10 years of Iraq's history through the lens of displacement reveals a complex -- and sobering -- reality. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, humanitarian agencies prepared for a massive outpouring of Iraqi refugees. But this didn't happen. Instead a much more dynamic and complex form of displacement occurred. First, some 500,000 Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been displaced by the Saddam Hussein regime returned to their places of origin. Then, in the 2003 to 2006 period, more than a million Iraqis were displaced as sectarian militias battled for control of specific neighborhoods. In February 2006, the bombing of the Al-Askaria Mosque and its violent aftermath ratcheted the numbers of IDPs up to a staggering 2.7 million. In a period of about a year, five percent of Iraq's total population fled their homes and settled elsewhere in Iraq while an additional 2 million or so fled the country entirely. It is important to underscore that this displacement was not just a by-product of the conflict, but rather the result of deliberate policies of sectarian cleansing by armed militias.
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In some respects, Jordan's recent electoral process began and ended with Abdullah an-Nsour. Nsour was first appointed prime minister of Jordan in October 2012, replacing Fayez Tarawneh, who had served a mere five months. At that time, Nsour became the fifth prime minister of Jordan since the start of the regional Arab Spring at the end of 2010. Now, apparently, he is also the sixth, tapped to form a new government following Jordan's January 2013 parliamentary elections.
There are other signs of continuity amidst all the discussion of reform. Immediately after the elections, the new parliament elected Saad Hayel Srour to be speaker of parliament. Srour had served in the post several times before. Along similar lines, former Prime Minister Tarawneh was appointed Chief of the Royal Hashemite Court. Both men are conservative veteran officials. Similarly, the shift from Nsour to Nsour as prime minister doesn't exactly cry out "change," yet parts of the process were actually new and different.
Against all expectations, Jordan's parliamentary election this week seems to have generated some optimism. The big questions had little to do with the appeal of specific political platforms or even the candidates themselves, but rather with process and turnout. Would the newly-established Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) reverse Jordan's infamous track record of electoral fraud and pull off a transparent and credible election? Would voter participation exceed levels from previous elections or would citizen apathy and Muslim Brotherhood calls for a boycott take hold? Would the next parliament reflect the same tribal voting patterns and return familiar faces to parliament or inject some new blood into the mix? Final results of the Jordanian election have yet to be announced, but early indicators answer some of these questions and paint a far more interesting picture than anticipated.
On January 23, Jordanians will return to the polls to elect a new parliament. Among the many questions surrounding these polls, of course, is this: Does it matter? Both the 2007 and 2010 elections were marred by extensive charges of rigging, and each produced a lackluster parliament that was disbanded long before its term was up. Many Jordanians complain of economic injustices, corruption in government (especially in terms of business deals connected to privatization), and an electoral and governing system that seems to maintain the status quo. Faith and confidence in the system, in short, are in short supply.
Yet the Jordanian regime has been emphatic that these elections are different. Jordan is different. In my own meetings with King Abdullah, he has consistently argued that Jordan is carving a unique path through the regional Arab Spring: that it is a case of a regime reforming itself. The regime has emphasized that Jordan is at a key turning point, including a shift toward a truer parliamentary system of governance. In an effort to engage public debate and encourage voter participation, the king has even begun publishing a series of brief political treatises. The latest of these, issued this week, addresses the transition to a more parliamentary government.
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The period of Arab uprisings that began in winter 2010 to 2011 has brought myriad changes to the region. However, one perennial constant is the willingness of official and semi-official elements in Jordan to manipulate identity issues in order to stymie meaningful reform. Indeed, given the past history of the Jordanian government, the most recent developments could be viewed as simply boring, were they not so deeply cynical and destructive.
The newest chapter in this ongoing saga of who is a Jordanian -- native East Bankers, certainly; Jordanians of Palestinian origin, not so much or perhaps not at all -- has come in response to the upcoming parliamentary elections. With only a few exceptions, most notably in 1956 and 1989, elections in Jordan have been highly controlled affairs, in which the outcomes have been largely cooked beforehand, either through changes in the electoral law (as in 1993), or through outright fraud (most notably, but certainly not exclusively, in 1997 and 2007). On occasion, when it is argued that "regional conditions" are problematic, elections have been postponed, as in the early 2000s, and in many cases some of the most significant opposition forces, most recently the Muslim Brotherhood, have decided to boycott rather than play the palace's or security forces' game.
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It has been widely noted that monarchies have done better at surviving the Arab uprisings that began two years ago. Three Presidents (Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Saleh) have fallen, along with Muammar al-Qaddafi's unique Jamahiriaya, while Bashar al-Assad's Baathist presidential regime faces a mortal threat. No Arab monarch has yet lost his throne. For some analysts and academics, this pattern suggests a fairly obvious "monarchical exception" which demands explanation.
In August, I launched a debate on Foreign Policy about whether and how monarchy matters in explaining the resilience of Arab regimes. I was not impressed. Against arguments that monarchies possess some kind of unique legitimacy commanding the loyalty of their people, I noted that Arab monarchies have in fact faced significant popular mobilization over the last two years: Bahrain has had one of the most intense and protracted uprisings anywhere; Kuwait is facing the deepest political crisis in its post-occupation history; Jordan experienced unprecedented protests; Saudi Arabia has had a protracted challenge in its Eastern Province; Oman experienced unusual levels of protest; Morocco's protest movement drove the king to adopt a significant (if underwhelming) constitutional initiative. I concluded, "the monarchies look like fairly typical Arab authoritarian regimes, surviving because they enjoy greater financial resources, less demanding international allies, and powerful media assets to perpetuate their legitimation myths."
The responses I got over email, over Twitter, across blogs, and at various academic conferences convinced me that the monarchy question remains an open one, however. It is an important debate for political scientists and analysts, with a wide range of arguments and evidence to consider. Over the last few months, I have reached out to a number of leading scholars to weigh in on the question of Arab monarchy. I asked them to move beyond simple binaries ("monarchy does or doesn't matter") to explore the specific mechanisms by which it might matter, to weigh them against competing explanations, and to show how monarchy operated in particular cases which they knew well. Those articles, along with some particularly relevant older Middle East Channel essays, are now collected in today's new POMEPS Brief, "The Arab Monarchy Debate."
The unusually intense protests that swept Jordan two weeks ago in response to the government's decision to raise fuel subsidies focused attention on the kingdom's long-simmering political crisis. The protests shocked many observers not only because of their size and geographical scope, but because of the virtually unprecedented calls for the overthrow of the monarchical regime. The protests tapered off after a few days, partly due to a backlash against these more extreme slogans among a generally reformist opposition. But even if the Jordanian monarchy was not to be quickly swept away, deep and fundamental political problems remain unresolved.
To get a better sense of the meaning of these protests, I sat down with Jillian Schwedler of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for the eighth in our series of POMEPS Conversations with leading Middle East specialists (the full series can be found here, with the latest featured each week in the video box of the Middle East Channel home page). Schwedler, who is completing a book on the politics of popular protest in Jordan, helps to explain why the tens of thousands demonstrating in the downtown al-Hussein mosque which impress the casual observer are less politically significant than a few hundred at the interior ministry. Schwedler had this to say:
The subsiding of the headline-grabbing protests does not mean that Jordan's political crisis is over. Nor is it likely that the crisis will be resolved by elections held under an unpopular election law, boycotted by most opposition parties, and viewed as irrelevant by most activist youth. Popular mobilization is rapidly reshaping the contours of Jordanian political life in ways which the Jordanian regime seems unable or unwilling to recognize. The fading of the most potent protests (for now) should not lead anyone to relax about the country's fate.
For more on Jordan's troubled politics, see these recent articles from the Middle East Channel:
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
If one is to believe what's in the papers, it's a bad year for Jordan. It's got a violent civil war going on in its northern neighbor, which has sent more than 100,000 refugees fleeing over the border, and constantly threatens more spillover. Internally, it's facing a massive budget crisis, and its two-year-old, Arab Spring-inspired political protest movement just won't seem to go away.
In the past few months, I've read a dozen or more news articles and think tank reports that claim, with greater or lesser degrees of hysteria, that Jordan is finished. If King Abdullah II does not bow to the will of the protesters in the streets, and implement reforms that are less cosmetic than those of the past two years, it's all over. The regime will fall, the country will be destabilized and either "collapse" or "explode," or be taken over by Jihadi Islamist Fanatics, the Muslim Brotherhood, or people from a scary alternate universe in which the Muslim Brotherhood are Jihadi Islamist Fanatics.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The boy wears a white headband, Rambo-style, and an undershirt that shows off his muscled arms. He says he's 17, and looks it. He should be hanging out on a corner in some Syrian village, sneaking smiles at the passing girls, not standing amid the swirling dust of a refugee camp boasting about his time as a fighter.
"I was with the Free Army, and I brought my family here," he says -- to Jordan, to the Zaatari camp, near the northern city of Mafraq. "I stayed for one week, then went back to Syria. The bad situation had got worse, and people were being slaughtered with knives. The people I was working with had fled to Lejja [in the mountains, to regroup].... I saw that there was nothing for me to do there, and so I came back."
"Most of the young people here, they are with the Free Army, and there are no weapons for them, no weapons at all."
The boy's conversation follows a script that has become quickly familiar: He is asked about what brought him here, and answers with a plea for weapons. He wants anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles, and foreign troops enforcing a no-fly zone over his home in southern Syria.
King Abdullah of Jordan just appointed his fifth prime minister since the start of the 2011 regional Arab Spring, and a sixth will soon be on the way. Veteran politician Abdullah an-Nsour was appointed to replace outgoing Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, who served for five months in the wake of the surprise resignation of pro-reform Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh (who had served for sixth months). New Prime Minister Nsour is charged with a transitional role by overseeing upcoming parliamentary elections, after which another new prime minister will emerge. Jordan's next elections will most likely be held in December 2012 or January 2013.
Jordanian prime ministers don't tend to stay in office for lengthy terms, but even by Jordanian standards, the pace of government change these past two years has been rapid. For some Jordanians, this amounts to a fairly weak and all-too-familiar tactic for the monarchy to create the semblance of change, without actually having any. But for others, there is a logic to the succession of governments, each charged with a different task, building on the next stage of reform.
In a region home to governments with a long history of Internet censorship, Jordan has long stood out as a model of relative freedom. Since its arrival in the kingdom in the mid 1990s, free and open access to the World Wide Web has not only been maintained but indeed championed by King Abdullah II, since he came into power in 1999. An unfiltered Internet has been largely credited for cultivating a burgeoning IT sector that has come to represent roughly 14 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), as well as a new wave of youth-driven, Internet-based entrepreneurship in a country where unemployment ranges between 13 percent (official) and 30 percent (unofficial).
With such context in mind, many Jordanians were surprised at the government's announcement this August that it would be amending the country's notorious Press and Publications law to include articles that would seek to restrict Internet freedoms. The draft legislation includes articles that would hold online media accountable for any comments left by their readers, and would prohibit them from publishing any comments deemed irrelevant to the published article. Moreover, online media organizations would also be required to archive all comments left on their sites for at least six months. However, the most troublesome amendment essentially requires online media to register with and obtain a license from the Press and Publications Department, paying a fee of roughly $1,400 (lowered from an initially proposed $14,000), and giving the government the ability to block sites failing to comply. Bringing online news sites in to the folds of the Press and Publications law would therefore require them to be mandatory members of the Jordan Press Association, and undergo the same regulations governing print publications, including appointing an editor-in-chief who has been a member of the association for a minimum of four years.
Jordan wants the United States to believe that Islamists, headlined by the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic Action Front (IAF) party, are the most dangerous opposition in the kingdom. Yet this is pure fiction, a ruse that exploits Western fears of an Islamist takeover while justifying the authoritarian monarchy's preference for shallow political reforms cloaked in the language of democracy. In truth, nearly two years of protests have exposed the more perilous threat to the Hashemite kingship to be a new generation of tribal opposition. Led by popular youth movements, these grass-roots activists demand that King Abdullah honor past promises to deliver true change, such as a fairer elections law and the elimination of corruption. Left unattended, this unprecedented wave of dissent will create a major crisis for the regime.
Tribal youth opposition began in February 2011, when demonstrations rocked the small town of Dhiban. These groups have since mobilized hundreds of protest events on a weekly basis, including dabke song-and-dance performances, impromptu street protests drawing dozens of people, organized marches attracting hundreds, and contentious acts like blocking highways and harassing government motorcades. That such agitation has spread across Jordan's rural governorates, where many tribal communities reside, flies in the face of academic stereotypes. Whereas urban opposition groups like the IAF draw strength from the Palestinian majority, concentrated in sprawling Amman, the East Bank minority, exemplified by the tribes, is supposed to be the regime's loyal bedrock. The reality is more complex. Tribal youth activists respect the institution of monarchy, but they have lost trust in this monarch and all of his appointed cabinets. Amman may still be a hotbed of opposition, but the most spirited Friday protests now erupt in the northern and southern tribal areas outside the capital.
Jordan's lower house of parliament has approved the country's latest draft electoral law, and was soon seconded by the upper house or senate, with no revisions. The public response, however, was anything but quiet. The new electoral law triggered instant uproar across the kingdom among opposition and pro-reform activists.
Even in parliament itself, some members threatened to resign over passage of what they viewed as a regressive law, while others even came to blows. Opposition parties and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated political party, the Islamic Action Front, threatened to boycott the election unless the law was changed. The Jordanian parts of the twitterverse and blogosphere lit up with animated discussions, most of which were scathing in their assessment of the new law and indeed of reform in the kingdom in general. Indeed, the draft law -- coupled with highly unpopular economic austerity measures -- seemed to reinvigorate Jordan's 17 month old protest movement.
Even writing this feels like déjà vu, however, since this is Jordan's second electoral law in as many months, put forth by its fourth government in the last 17 months. In a sense, we have seen this movie before. Or have we? King Abdullah surprised many observers by calling for a special session of parliament, sending the legislation back to be amended, and even making the same suggestion as the opposition: adding seats for political parties and national lists.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this month, Jordan's new prime minister, Fayez Tarawneh, unveiled his new cabinet and reaffirmed the kingdom's self-described commitment to combating corruption. But for the new government -- Jordan's fourth since the Arab Spring began -- the drive against kickbacks and wasta may be losing steam as doubts arise about the progress of the anti-corruption campaign. The crackdown on corruption -- including the arrests of several high-profile politicians once considered "untouchable" -- has been a key element in the Jordanian government's strategy to navigate the political turbulence of the Arab Spring. In December, former Amman mayor Omar Maani was arrested on fraud charges. (He was released four weeks later on bail.) In February, Mohammad Dahabi, the former director of Jordan's intelligence service, was taken into custody on charges of money laundering.
Jordan's Prime Minister Awn al-Khaswaneh submitted his
resignation today after less than a year in office. His surprising move reportedly
came in protest over the refusal of the Royal Court to allow
meaningful political reforms. The last straw, it appears, was the
disappointing new election law which failed to respond to long-standing
complaints by political activists, parties, and outside analysts. Less than a
week ago, I told the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad
that I was deeply worried about the kingdom's stability because of its failure
to enact any serious political or economic reform or to engage seriously with a
growing wave of protest and unrest. The sudden resignation of the respected
jurist should draw renewed attention to Jordan's political stability -- and
raise important questions about its willingness and ability to reform.
The Middle East Channel has been keeping a close eye on Jordan's ongoing political problems:
"The Implications of Jordan's New Election Law" -- Curtis Ryan, April 13, 2012
"Identity and Corruption in Jordanian Politics" -- Curtis Ryan, February 9, 2012
"Just What Does Jordan's King Abdullah Understand" -- Laurie Brand and Fayyaz Hammad, January 17, 2012
"Jordan's Fictional Reforms" -- Sean Yom, November 9, 2011
"Fragile Hopes for Jordan's New Prime Minister" -- Christine Satkowski, October 24, 2011
We will have more soon on the unfolding developments in Jordan.
The government of Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh unveiled its new draft electoral law this week. Promulgated by the government, and then issued by royal decree, the new law now goes to parliament for study and debate. The response has been swift, with the debate occurring not only under the dome of the Jordanian Parliament, but also throughout society -- from street discussions, to cafes, to the twitterverse. Political parties in particular have been quick to condemn the new law, with the opposition threatening an electoral boycott that would render the whole process meaningless. Today, activists are participating in major demonstrations protesting the proposed law and commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 unrest that led to the liberalization process in the first place.
These demonstrations, then, are not new. The kingdom has seen street demonstrations almost every Friday since December 2011 calling for various aspects of reform: combating corruption (especially in the context of the economic privatization process), checks and balances between the branches of government, a more independent judiciary, a reduced role for the mukhabarat in public life, and new more democratic laws on parties and elections. As the winds of change swirl around the region, leaving trails of violence and unrest across almost every Jordanian border, Jordanians themselves have continued to pursue reform rather than revolution. Whether or not that situation takes a more dramatic turn depends on the extent of successful and meaningful reform in the kingdom, with the electoral law as one key piece of the overall puzzle.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The "Arab Spring" is now over one year old. In much of the popular analysis over the past year the term "Arab Spring" has become the defining characteristic of the "new" Middle East emerging from decades of authoritarian and repressive rule. However, one should be cautious about inflating the importance of the democratic uprisings in several Arab countries in shaping the future contours of the Middle East. This caution applies especially to exaggerating both the prospects of democracy -- particularly the unhindered linear transition to representative rule -- in the Arab world and the role of major Arab powers in determining political outcomes in the Middle East in the short and medium-term future.
As the battle in Syria continues to escalate, international media is beginning to pick up on the situation of those the fighting has displaced. News outlets are already predicting that Syria's civil war will result in a refugee crisis of "epic" proportions, which will swamp Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.
Among Syria's neighbors, it is Jordan that has the best reputation for welcoming refugees -- its short history has been measured in waves of successive migrations, from the Caucasus, Palestine and Israel (several times), and Iraq. Unlike Lebanon, it is not saturated by Syrian security services, and compared to southeast Turkey in February, the climate is temperate. It is here that one would expect the lion's share of Syrians to flee.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
FIFA, the international federation for world soccer, is poised to make a decision in a few days that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim women -- whether or not to overturn the current ban on the hijab, or headscarf. Matters actually came to a head last summer, in June 2011, when the entire Iranian women's soccer team was prevented from playing in Olympic qualifying matches held in Jordan. The ouster of an entire national team, minutes before a key international match, led to a resurgent global debate on the relations between the hijab, sports, and international politics. Today, however, the winds of change seem to be blowing back in the other direction, as activists, athletes, and allies -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- appear to have met every FIFA objection and will arrive at the March 3 London meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) with a proposal to lift the ban and allow thousands of women an opportunity that is blocked under current rules.
Sport Hijab designed by Cindy van den Bremen, Capsters; Photo by Peter Stigter
Former head of Jordanian intelligence Muhammad Dhahabi was detained this week on charges of money laundering and corruption. He wasn't the first. In December, former Amman mayor Omar Maani was arrested on corruption charges. Last month, a young pro-democracy activist from Madaba, Ibrahim Braizat, was arrested and then convicted - in the State Security Court -- for setting fire to a banner picturing King Abdullah II. Last week, police arrested the always-controversial former Member of Parliament Ahmad Oweidi al-Abbadi, allegedly for suggesting that Jordan should become a republic.
Each of these arrests has generated considerable discussion, and sent signals about where exactly Jordan is on the barometer of the Arab Spring. While the Maani case was greeted by some in Jordan's reform movement as part of a crackdown on corruption -- a key opposition demand -- Braizat's two year sentence was met with serious concern, as the state seemed to have come down unusually harshly for what amounted to minor vandalism. As should be expected from those who follow Jordanian politics, the signals are mixed.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Women are at a crossroads in the Middle East and North Africa. This is widely reflected in the current battles over the adoption of quotas aimed at improving women's chances of being elected into parliaments. Although women's quotas were introduced as early as 1979 in Egypt, there are new efforts underway in the Middle East to implement them. Last year, Tunisia adopted a law requiring that party lists alternate between men and women. In a more restrained manner, Libya recently drafted an election law that gives women only 10 percent of the seats. However, the struggle for quotas has also met with resistance as in Egypt, which abandoned a 2010 quota law altogether that would have ensured the presence of 64 women in the parliament.
Quotas are not only being adopted in the legislative arena in the Middle East, they are being entertained in government as well. Recently, the Iraqi cabinet approved a quota system that requires women to make up half of all hires in the ministries of health and education and to account for 30 percent of hires at all other ministries.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
"Fahimtkum," meaning "I get it," (literally, "I have understood you") became famous this time last year when then-Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali cynically proclaimed it in a speech, a last ditch effort to convince the Tunisian people that he had heard their discontent and was ready to make serious changes.
In late summer 2011, a new Jordanian political satire taking its name -- "Al`an fahimtkum" ("Now I understand you") -- from the same phrase of Ben Ali's, began running on the stage of the Concord Theatre in Amman. Using the family of a Jordanian of modest means who works as a driver for a government minister, Abu Saqr, the play's successive scenes address a range of the country's current political scandals and woes: from repeated references to the government's questionable sales of state land and assets, to mocking the process by which government ministers are chosen, to raising questions about just who has been sending the baltajiyyah (thugs) to beat up protesters at opposition meetings and demonstrations over the past year. In December, demand for tickets increased dramatically after King Abdullah II attended and reportedly much enjoyed the play.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
On January 6, 2011, then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Sharm el Sheikh in an effort to resuscitate the flagging peace process. Egypt for many years played the role of regional protector of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which was extremely heavy on process while being ever-more transparently light on delivering peace. It is a role that the new Egypt is unlikely to volunteer for.
Almost exactly one year later, Jordan has gone some ways toward assuming that role by convening Israeli-Palestinian exploratory talks in Amman on Tuesday. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators did not meet officially or publicly throughout 2011 at the Palestinian insistence that Israel first stop settlement activity. It took a considerable effort to make yesterday's meeting happen, given ongoing settlement construction, land seizures, and home demolitions. The meeting, hosted by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on behalf of King Abdullah II, brought together Quartet envoys, Yizhak Molcho, legal adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, and the indefatigable chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, awkwardly pictured at the table's head as he presented positions on border and security (proposals well known to his interlocutors). Following the meeting, Judeh sought to manage expectations while announcing that a series of talks will follow. Preserving an old school peace process is going to be very hard work in the new realities of the Middle East.
Compared to recent dramatic events -- Qaddafi's demise in Libya, Tunisia's groundbreaking elections, the Coptic killings in Egypt -- Jordan's latest cabinet shuffle barely registered as a news blip. Indeed, King Abdullah's dismissal of wildly unpopular Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit had been expected as early as this summer. Still, many analysts greeted new Premier Awn Khasawneh with hope and anticipation. In a country that has simmered with growing unrest, the appointment of a new government explicitly charged with rejuvenating a moribund political reform process may represent a decisive royal concession. As opposition protests enter their eleventh month, perhaps the monarchy has realized that democratization can wait no longer.
Such an appraisal is admirably optimistic, but it is a convenient fiction produced for Western consumption. Scryers of Jordan must look beyond any given cabinet to understand that although the Hashemite palace trumpets the cause of democracy, its goal during the Arab Spring has been to preserve autocratic supremacy. A transition to constitutional monarchy exists more as fantasy in the minds of liberals than a goal supported by the palace. Yet that is the logical endgame of Jordanian democratization: a near-absolute monarchy devolving power to a fairly elected parliament, alongside a General Intelligence Directorate that no longer interferes in public life.
AMMAN—Hundreds of activists filled the streets of downtown Amman on Friday, reiterating their weekly demands for the Jordanian government to implement political and economic reforms. But this week, the chants ringing from the crowd carried a more optimistic tone, as demonstrators and Jordanian lawmakers are cautiously welcoming King Abdullah's appointment last week of a new prime minister, Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh.
Khasawneh is a man unknown to most Jordanians. He has spent most of his long career in public service away from the limelight, as a legal adviser to the late King Hussein and senior official in the foreign ministry. Since 2000 he has served on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, including three years as the ICJ's vice president from 2006-09. Yet many Jordanians believe Khasawneh represents the best chance since the Arab Spring began for Jordan to achieve meaningful reform. With his legal talents and lack of political entanglements, many hope that he will be able to bridge the kingdom's deep political divides and tackle the corruption that is pervasive throughout the Jordanian government.
Cynicism and skepticism always have their place, but today might just go down as an historic day on the Israeli-Palestinian front. No, there is no direct or quick fix move from the Palestinian application for U.N. membership to the actual realization of a Palestinian state (and certainly not when one factors in the Israeli response) but the Palestinian U.N. move does represent the most definitive break yet with the failed and structurally flawed strategies for advancing peace of many a year. Many Palestinians and others are now suggesting that the PLO leadership progress from the symbolism of September 23rd to a concerted struggle for their freedom centered on nonviolent resistance, diplomacy, and international legality, believing that this would finally deliver a breakthrough.
In its theatrics, today was rather predictable -- other than the Quartet statement of the afternoon, on which more in a moment. The speeches of Abbas and Netanyahu held few, if any, surprises. Abbas played to the Palestinian community at home and around the world, and to the rest of the international community.
Jordan unveiled a package of constitutional amendments last Sunday which offered the most drastic overhaul of the 1952 constitution ever proposed. King Abdullah promised these revisions on June 12 in a surprising televised speech. The new push came in response to five months of increasingly strident protests and criticism, and seemed designed to emulate the constitutional reform gambit of Morocco's King Mohammed VI.
Many Jordanians were stunned by the explicit promise in June of a future system that would draw governing cabinets from the elected parliament rather than appointment by palace fiat. The idea of constitutional monarchy, which entails divesting absolute royal power to the legislature alongside other sweeping institutional changes, captivated the political salons, business magazines, and civic debates of Amman through July. Many intellectuals compared the excitement in the air to 1989, when King Hussein began to end decades of authoritarian closure through unprecedented political reforms.
The revisions unveiled on Sunday made some serious changes, but fell far short of that promise of elected governments. Unlike in Morocco, there will be no popular referendum. The reforms do not curb the king's core powers or move toward a constitutional monarchy in which he would reign but not rule. The election and parties law, unchecked security services, and rife corruption go untouched. Economic development outside Amman remains laggard. Will such a limited reform gambit be enough to blunt popular pressure on the embattled king?
04 Mar 2011 KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
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