Jordan: Ahead Of The Arab Spring Curve Or Treading Water?

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    AMMAN, Jordan (MintPress)–Key U.S. Mideast ally Jordan says it has been keeping ahead of the Arab Spring upheavals that have seen long-time Arab leaders toppled, but some citizens and analysts say promised reforms are not being realized.

    Over the weekend, King Abdullah II re-appointed Abdullah Ensour as prime minister to form a new cabinet following the first parliamentary elections in January since palace-inspired reforms started two years ago.  Ensour’s government oversaw the elections.

    This was the first time that the monarch has consulted with the parliament on the selection of a prime minister — giving up his royal prerogative to appoint the head of government. It was touted by some as Jordan’s parliament choosing the prime minister for the first time.

    “This is a fallacy that the regime is trying to implant in the minds of the people,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi.

    “The concept of parliamentary government has been abused to convince people that this is what happened, but it’s not true,” he said. “The prime minister has been commissioned to form a new government according to the old style, but under a new title. That’s all.”


    Background of protester demands on elections

    Initially, the Jan. 23 elections were billed as a landmark which would see a prime minister emerge from elected lawmakers. That has been a chief demand by protesters taking to the streets since the start of the Arab Spring demonstrations here asking for more political say, a serious tackling of government corruption as well as economic reforms.

    Many believe the king was offering to cede some of his powers to try to prevent simmering dissent from boiling over into a full-blown Arab Spring uprising in the kingdom, considered one of the most stable countries in the region.

    But that idea was rolled back, in part due to many lawmakers being elected along traditional tribal affiliations or family connections, rather than along ideological lines of right, left and center.  The palace and the government said it will take time for Jordan’s 23 splintered political parties to coalesce into at least three ideological camps.

    Political analyst Oraib Rentawi faults the government of Ensour and his predecessors for creating a “new” election law that continues to perpetrate politics along tribal lines, rather than democratic political development with parties and platforms.

    “They keep following the same track and expecting different results. This is impossible,” he said. “This is the same track essentially used in past elections, so how could we end up with a legislature capable of creating a parliamentary government?”

    “Elections were to be held with the promise of making a breakthrough on reforms. Instead, we are ending up with almost the same ruling elite. This means the reform track is not moving well,” Rentawi said.

    “You can’t make omelets without eggs. In the same way, you cannot make a parliamentary government without ideological blocs, without political parties,” Rentawi argued.

    Rentawi also faults an electoral system of one person-one vote for creating a “weak, fragmented parliament” over the past 20 years. Other observers claim that the docile legislature has been manipulated by other powerful forces in the country to maintain the status quo.

    However, government officials counter, claiming that the king wants to see the establishment of an effective political system where mature political parties will eventually take over the day-to-day responsibilities for the affairs of state, a role currently reserved for the monarchy.

    They point to an interview the king gave to a French magazine just ahead of the election.

    “The system of ruling in Jordan is evolving … and the monarchy which my son will inherit will not be the same as the one I inherited,” he said, without elaborating.

    The comments raised speculation that Jordan could eventually move toward a constitutional monarchy, like Britain, with the king in a more ceremonial role. Abdullah, 51, has been in power 14 years.  Still, many observers do not believe this will happen in the current period.


    Kerry praises Jordan’s reform initiatives

    Government officials, such as Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, during a recent joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, also point to Jordan’s reform initiatives as achieving change without the upheaval seen elsewhere in the Arab Spring. They include amendments made to about one-third of the constitution, the creation of an independent electoral commission which oversaw the polls and the establishment of a constitutional court.

    Kerry praised the election’s record level of turnout, notwithstanding the boycott by Jordan’s most powerful opposition Muslim Brotherhood and nationalist parties. He also hailed the king and government for “working hard to maintain a peaceful approach to their reform.”

    But analyst Kamhawi believes that the United States and the West are interesting in supporting Jordan “because Syria is taking precedence over everything else,” thus giving the king and the government some breathing space.

    He and Rentawi warn, however, the price increases expected to be carried out by Ensour in the coming months could set Jordan on a collision course, with violent protests to re-occur, with coming protests going so far as to call for Abdullah to step down, as was seen last November when fuel prices were drastically hiked.

    “If you don’t have a credible parliament, a representative one, capable of carrying out its responsibilities, then people will look somewhere else for their demands to be met … in the streets,” Rentawi said. “This is very, very dangerous.”

    “We’ve seen many governments so far, but nothing has been changed,” complained Mohamed Khail, a resident in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

    “It’s always the same policies, like price hikes,” he said. “It’s always against the people — God help them. We expect the situation to get even worse in the future.”

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