The Struggle for Power in Jordan

By Ali Younes

When Jordan’s Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh took office six months ago, he was hailed as a much needed reformer with a clean slate in Jordanian politics after spending 10 years as a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It turned out that his very asset that propelled him to power, turned out to be his undoing when he resigned abruptly last Thursday.

The chain of events that triggered the tumultuous Jordanian weekend unfolded when the King’s aids summoned the deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister to the Palace, while their boss, the Prime Minister, was abroad. The two men were called in to sign the King’s Royal decree to extend the current Parliament session in order to pass the controversial election law and carry on with the King’s vision for political reform.

Press reports said that the two men were given a dire choice of either sign the document or choose their boss over the King. Constitutionally, the Royal decree requires the signature of the prime minister or his deputy in order for it to take effect.

For Khasawneh, however, that was a public humiliation to his authority and flies in the face of his original mission which was to restore the public authority to the office of the Prime Minister. As a result, he tendered his resignation to the king while traveling in Turkey on a state visit.

King Abdullah II, then, immediately, asked former Prime Minister and regime insider Fayez Tarawneh to form the new government. Tarawneh had spent his 40- year career working at the Royal Palace, Foreign Minister and Prime Minister. Many Jordanian writers and analysts regard him as an old guard and an ultra- conservative bureaucrat.

Columnist Rakan Saaydeh said to me that there is a fundamental difference between Khasawneh and Tarawneh. The First, according to Saaydeh who writes for the largest Jordanian daily, Al Rai, was eager to restore the constitutional powers to the office of Prime Minister, while for the second, it is a non-issue.

From the perspective of the pro-reform and pro-democracy movement in Jordan, this appointment is considered bad news.

Reporter and TV Journalist Rasha Alwahsh said when I asked her what this appointment means for the activists and pro-democracy movement, she said: “Tarawneh’s appointment is an insult to the Jordanians because he considers political reform, freedom of speech and freedom of the press as a security threat, instead of being building blocks of a democratic state.” Alwahsh, who is prominent in the freedom of the press movement, added that “with a prime minister like that, it is hard to think that the country is moving forward.”

This, despite that Jordanian prime ministers are practically powerless and only serve to be “sacked “and as “buffer” between the king and the people.

The past events, however, were unusual for the conservative Jordanian politics. The context and the dislocation of Khasawneh’s letter of resignation can be understood as subtle and rare challenge to the King’s authority despite its polite and loyalist language.

The King, meanwhile, accepted the resignation, with an equally rare, open and harsh rebuke of his prime minister, charging him of “ stalling reform” and being” slow” in carrying out the reforms the King had wanted.

Al Quds Al Arabi reporter and political analyst Bassam Badareen, who first broke the story of Khasawneh’s resignation, reported that Khasawneh was angered when king decided to extend the ordinary session of the Parliament without consulting with him.

Badareen suggested that he was facing a trench-warfare from the Military-Intelligence elites. He was, however, counting on the support from the European Union for his reforms. Khasawneh simply miscalculated his cards.

More tellingly, the King in a sleight of hand, outfoxed his prime minister “by accepting his resignation right after a meeting with ambassadors of the EU, the same people Khasawneh was hoping they would back him up,” said Badareen.

Jordanian politicians however blamed Khasawneh for being unrealistic in his expectations of political reform in Jordan and for not resisting the new election law, and for trying to engage the Muslim Brotherhood Movement to try to bring it back into the political process.

Thus, even his own Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, appeared on Al Jazeera, on the same day, attacking his own boss publically after the government resigned. Judeh, who was married to the royal family, is expected to retain his job in the next government.

The election law, in addition, had caused friction within the Jordanian political system and society because of its discriminatory nature against population centers like Amman and Zarka where the majority of the Palestinian-Jordanian citizens reside.

Hamza Mansour the 68 years old Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) the Political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, commented on the unfolding events in Jordan and said me that Khasawneh’s resignation was a bit too late. “He should have resigned a month ago when they [the General Intelligence Department, GID] forced this unconstitutional and un-modern law on the Jordanian people”

A former educator and three-term Member of Parliament, and a powerful leader, Mansour argued that “This law, if passed by the current parliament will undermine democratic reform and is a setback to democracy and civil liberties of the Jordanian people”

Lt. General Faisal Al Shoubaki,the Director of the Mukhabarat, ( GID) wrote, however, in his “Welcome Note” on his department web site that the mission of the GID is to carry the King’s vision that will “help it achieve its role in the service of country and citizens, respect of human rights and citizens’ dignity, and act as a pillar of support for process of comprehensive reform led by His Majesty the King.”

Mansour also lambasted the manner in which Tarawneh was picked as Prime Minister. “The Prime Ministers of Jordan are still being chosen from within exclusive club with total disregard to the people of Jordan.” He said.

When I told Mr. Mansour, however, that King Abdullah II had stated, here in Washington, last year that he wanted to have the prime minister of Jordan elected in 2012 and that he would give up some of his powers to the parliament and the prime minister in the near future.  Mr. Mansour responded “Actions are more important than theories.”

Washington- based Freedom House Foundation agrees with Mr. Mansour’s assessment with regards to political freedoms and civil liberties in Jordan.

In its 2011 global report, Jordan was designated as “Not Free” country, which is the worst of the other two categories of “Free” and “Partially Free”

Freedom House mission, according to its web site is to “support democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights around the world.”

As for Freedom rating, Jordan was rated at 5.5, while Civil liberties rated at 5 and political Rights at 6. (7 is the highest and worst rating while 1 is the lowest and the best rating)

According to the report “a Not Free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.”

In 2012 report, Jordan’s ratings did not improve and remained the same as the year before.

This rating puts Jordan in the same category with 47 other countries around the world, half of which are the Arab League states and countries like Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and North Korea.

While Bangladesh, for example, had much better ratings than Jordan as a “Partly Free” country with Freedom ratings of 3.5, civil Liberties, 4 and Political Rights 3.

Although King Abdullah II appears to be more progressive in his thinking than his aids according to his statements, he is, however surrounded, according to local Jordanian analysts; by old guard conservatives who resist change.

Political analyst Saaydeh explains that power centers in Jordan are not interested in opening up the country to reform. “The power centers [Military-intelligence-tribal elites] feel that it is their God-given right to have this overarching power, under the justification that they are the guardians of the regime.”

Badareen, in the meantime, thinks that Jordanian prime ministers are appointed to serve one specific mission at a time. They are an exclusive club of “Mission-Men”. “The new Prime Minister”, he continued, “will only last few months, accomplish what he is tasked to do, then he will clear the way for yet another man, and another mission.

– Ali Younes is a writer and Middle Eastern affairs analyst based in Washington D.C.  He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aliyounes98@gmail.com and on twitter at @clearali.

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