Watchman Newsletter

Jordanian King Replaces Prime Minister amid Protests

Bridges For Peace (Link) - BFP Israel Mosaic Radio - Joshua Spurlock (February 1, 2011)

With massive protests demanding governmental change in Egypt, Jordan�s King Abdullah II heeded protests in his own nation on Tuesday [February 1] by replacing his prime minister. The New York Times said King Abdullah named Marouf al-Bakhit�who previously served as prime minister from 2005�07 and is a former general and Jordanian ambassador to Israel�as the new prime minister. Jordan and Egypt are the only two nations in the Arab world that have full diplomatic ties with Israel. The protests in Jordan have generally not demanded King Abdullah�s resignation, unlike in Egypt, where dismissing President Hosni Mubarak has been the protestors� primary goal.

The New York Times noted that directly criticizing the king in Jordan is banned. Jordan�s four weeks of protests have focused on the economy and political reforms. The royal palace targeted those points in the official announcement regarding the prime minister change.

According to The New York Times, the statement said Bakhit is to take �practical, swift and tangible steps to launch a real political reform process in line with the king�s version of comprehensive reform, modernization and development.�

Dr. Assaf David, an expert on Jordan from the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Bridges for Peace on Tuesday (Febraury 1) that the appointment of Bakhit was expected, but the timing was not. �The king doesn�t like to be seen as acting under pressure, and what he�s done right now is basically acting under pressure,� said David. �So that means that he assessed that things necessitate this change right now.�

While things can change, David noted that Abdullah�s rule does not seem to be in jeopardy for the time being. �I can�t say if it�s going to expand beyond this [calling for the removal of the old prime minister],� said David. �I can�t see right now any major opposition force calling for the removal of King Abdullah. That would be really a red line in Jordan, to say so publicly. Not to suggest that it doesn�t exist privately�these calls, this expectation maybe, that someday it would happen�but I can�t see it taking place publicly right now.�

Perhaps the biggest question now is whether the protestors ultimately will be satisfied with the government shuffle. In Jordan, where there are millions of Palestinians, there are two primary opposition groups protesting: the traditional Islamists opposition and the Transjordanian group, which includes public sector employees and retired military officials. David believes that Bakhit will satisfy the Transjordanian opposition, which he said is �very important.�

However, appeasing the Islamists with his appointment is not a given, despite the fact that David said Bakhit�s reform vision is �quite similar� to that of the Islamists, even if it may be different �in terms of pace.�

According to The New York Times, the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, was not satisfied by Bakhit. The newspaper quoted Zaki Saad, head of the political bureau of the Islamic Action Front, as calling Bakhit a �very bad choice.� Saad was willing to see if Bakhit had changed with regards to his openness to dialogue.

David said that Bakhit is more open to dialogue with Hamas. �I do expect [their] getting closer to Hamas. That might be a very likely outcome of this appointment,� said David. �Bakhit prefers to have closer contacts with Hamas, as he sees this Islamist force as the new face of Palestinian society, the new face of Palestinian politics. So basically he calls for and has been calling for mending fences with Hamas for the last two, three years.�

While he can�t predict what will happen, David said that shift to Hamas could come in a shrewd, secret manner rather than a dramatic move that is a big blow to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority�especially as the US may not appreciate such a step from their ally. However, despite his interest in talking to Israel�s enemy, Bakhit�s appointment shouldn�t signal a shift in Jordan�s relationship with Israel. �I don�t expect any change on this issue,� said David.

While it remains to be seen if things will calm down in Jordan, David believes King Abdullah made a shrewd move with Bakhit, who after leaving the prime minister�s post before did not follow the government-line in his comments regarding some policies. So he�s not entirely an insider�even if David said he is a member of the Transjordanian elite, a senate member, and a �seasoned politician.�

�I think that the choice of this man is really clever right now,� said David. �Because on the one hand, he is not a total dissident or in opposition to the regime, but on the other hand, he does symbolize a change.� Now it remains to be seen as to whether his level of change and his slower approach to that change will be enough to ultimately halt the protest movement in Jordan. �