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Tags: Analysis: Jordan's King Abdullah Promises Reform

Analysis: Jordan's King Abdullah Promises Reform

Monday, 20 June 2011 05:46 PM EDT

King Abdullah has at least temporarily quelled protesters’ calls for reform by replacing the government and reaffirming his commitment to long-term democratic change, but continued public grumbling and lack of serious initiatives by the government could spark potentially violent protests and shift public demands from evolutionary reforms to regime change.

Last Tuesday, King Abdullah II announced a plan for future wide-ranging political reforms. His plan will shift the power to select the government, including the Prime Minister and other ministers, from the King to the parliament. He also said he will strengthen political parties. However, the King did not set a time-table for those changes, and said it would take two to three years to make major changes. Additionally, King Abdullah warned against disunity and “irresponsible media reporting,” and said that sudden political change could cause “chaos and unrest.”

Since February, Jordanians have been demonstrating for a change of government, constitutional reform for greater rights and protections for citizens, political reforms to make all citizens equal, anti-corruption legislation, and the reduction of government and security forces influence in media, civil society, and education.


Unlike its Arab neighbors, the Jordanian public is not calling for regime change or removal of the monarchy, and appears concerned about destabilization if King Abdullah is forced out. Demonstrators initially demanded the removal of the government of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifa’I, and the King responded by dismissing the entire cabinet. While the King’s rare speech calmed protesters over the short term, most are skeptical about real reform from the monarchy without some type of time-table, and question whether the King will deliver as promised.

Jordanians believe the King is critical to maintaining a balance between the indigenous Bedouin Jordanians and those of Palestinian descent, and each fears gains by the other group if the King leaves. Jordanians are also horrified by the chaos in neighboring countries since the fall of long-time dictators, and fervently wish to avoid that type of disaster.

The King almost certainly recognizes that he needs to institute democratic reforms to avoid destabilization and his violent removal from power. If he quickly institutes even seeds of democratic change, he can peacefully transition the country toward a constitutional monarchy and long-term change. Jordan’s elite will require some time to accept change, but also realize that it is inevitable; their alternative is to face exile and serious societal dislocation.

However, if King Abdullah misreads the importance of democracy to the protesters and attempts to delay real changes, he could ignite the simmering powder keg and encourage calls for his removal. Many Jordanians continue to fear the monarchy, which has acted swiftly and violently to end anti-monarchy demonstrations. Unlike his predecessors, King Abdullah is not untouchable, and even some supporters and military officers have condemned the regime.

While Jordanians prefer the stability of a monarchy over anarchy they see in other newly democratic countries, there support is not unconditional, and they may choose to remove the King rather than to listen to continued hollow promises without true reform.

[Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She now is managing partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Fla., and vice president at CTC International Group Inc., a private intelligence firm.]

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Analysis: Jordan's King Abdullah Promises Reform
Monday, 20 June 2011 05:46 PM
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