Jordan’s King Abdullah has indicated good intentions by responding to pressure from the Jordanian street before it’s too late. He has dismissed prime ministers repeatedly in the past, but the background of protests in Jordan coupled with the serious developments in neighbouring Egypt, give the Rifai sacking added significance and value.
For two consecutive Fridays peaceful demonstrations across the kingdom echoed the same demand: sack prime minister Samir Rifai and his cabinet. Rifai, a wealthy aristocrat, with negligible popularity among the general public, offered little relief in addressing poverty, inflation, unemployment and electoral reforms.
Many challenges face newly appointed prime minister and former major general Marouf Al Bakhit. He served as prime minister before. He held the parliamentary elections of 2007 that brought about what Jordanians describe as the worst lower house in Jordan’s history. That is why king Abdullah dissolved parliament halfway through its term in November 2009 and called for early elections. Jordan’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has already disapproved of Bakhit’s appointment, saying they are sceptical of his ability to carry out political reforms.
What opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood want, is to elect the PM and cabinet members who are traditionally appointed by the monarch. Though king Abdullah has promised sincere economic and political reforms, especially on an election law, he will not surrender his right to appoint the prime minister and will not change the constitution.
Almost half of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin. But Palestinian representation in parliament has never exceeded 20 per cent since 1989 and is currently at its lowest 12 per cent. The current one-man-one-vote election law along with the cautiously divided constituencies are designed in such a way to favour Bedouin pro-government loyalists to Palestinian Jordanians densely populating cities like Amman, Zarqa and Irbid. More of the former end up under the parliament dome.
In any real democratic election in Jordan, the Palestinian and Islamist majorities will win more control. While that could affect Jordan’s moderate reputation in the international arena, it also gives neighbouring Israel an excuse to make a proposition. Israel would be the first to capitalise on such a political outcome by claiming that with so many Palestinians governing Jordan, the West Bank can re-federate with Jordan and there will be no need for an additional Palestinian state. The Palestinian problem is solved without a two-state solution.
Although these are odd Israeli voices that violate every single international law, they still manage to make Jordan’s appointed leaders and Bedouin population cringe. Political reforms in Jordan may only minimal be at this stage because so much is at stake. But if the opposition continues to protest to achieve changes at the grass-roots level, then Jordan may find itself up against a real political challenge.