2011-02-01 Jordan's King Sacks Government as Protests Grow

Jordan's King Abdullah II sacked his cabinet Tuesday after being confronted with the on going protests by thousands of Jordanians over high unemployment and high food prices. Jordan's Royal Palace announced that the Monarchy had accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who many blame for rising fuel and food prices and poor economic performance. The King has asked ex-army general Marouf Bakhit to form a new government. Bakhit has been prime minister before and also has been an ambassador to Israel so while this change may be prompted by the demands of the people in the streets, it is not seen as any real change in the status quo.

The Jerusalem Post had this to say about him:

n 2005, Abdullah named Bakhit as his prime minister days after a triple bombing on Amman hotels claimed by the al-Qaida in Iraq leader, Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

During his 2005-2007 tenure, Bakhit — an ex-army major general and top intelligence adviser — was credited with maintaining security and stability following the attack.

According to Rosemary Hollis, professor of Middle East policy studies at London's City University,

[Bakhit] is a former general and briefly ambassador to Israel who has been prime minister before. He's someone who would be seen as a safe pair of hands, I wouldn't see it as a sign of liberalization. With his previous premiership, he talked the talk of reform but little actually happened.

Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, protests have spread across Jordan in recent weeks. Demonstrators blame corruption and free-market reforms for making the plight of the poor worst than it already was. Jordan has one of the Arab worlds smallest economies and it is heavily dependent on foreign aid. The King's succession of governments have done nothing to stem a prolonged recession or the rising public debt that has grown to a record $15bn this year.

Every Friday since the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the opposition movement has held protest rallies in Amman, Jordan's capital, following Muslim pray. This Friday,

About 3,500 opposition activists from Jordan's main Islamist opposition group, trade unions and leftist organizations gathered in Amman's downtown, waving colorful banners reading: "Send the corrupt guys to court."

The crowd denounced Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai's unpopular policies. Many shouted: "Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians."

Another 2,500 people also took to the streets in six other cities across the country after the noon prayers. Those protests also called for Rifai's ouster.

King Abdullah has promised to have Bakhit "correct the mistakes of the past." The King also said that economic reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making."

Regardless of such talk of reform and enlightenment and in spite of changes at the top, the protests in Jordan are expected to grow as this movement for radical change sweeps the region.

See also:
2011-01-28 In Jordan Thousands Demand New Government
2011-01-23 Middle East protest round-up: Yemen, Jordan, Algeria
2011-01-01 Wikileaks in the Jordan Media - Arabic Cable Translations

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