Jordan on corruption hunt but Islamists skeptical


Jordan’s King Abdullah II is spearheading an anti-corruption drive against figures once seen as “untouchable,” but is failing to satisfy the powerful Islamist opposition’s demands for sweeping reform.

The arrest on Tuesday of former Amman mayor Omar Maani on fraud charges, and a court’s refusal to grant bail to a man once close to the monarch and Queen Rania are seen as evidence that the anti-graft campaign is serious.

The detention of Maani, who was mayor from 2006 until earlier this year, came after the king met with senior officials, MPs and members of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission to demand swift action.

“Citizens can no longer tolerate corruption. They want the corrupt who steal public funds punished. No one is above the law,” the king told the meeting.

Pro-reform demonstrations, which the country has been witnessing since January, have not spared the king himself.

The palace recently issued a statement saying 4,827 dunums (each equivalent to 1,000 square meters) of state land were “registered to the king’s name between 2000 and 2003,” adding that “none of them has been sold.”

Parliament then formed a committee to inquire into “records of public land registered to the names of influential people.”

“The king’s involvement demonstrates political will and Jordanians will be stunned by the way corruption will be tackled,” Senate President Taher Masri told AFP.

“The popular protests have been calling for months for corruption to be rooted out, and at one point, people felt the state was not serious about that. But things will change dramatically.”

Prosecutors have summoned several former senior officials, including three prime ministers and a royal court chief, to testify in a corruption case, according to the government-owned Arabic daily Al-Rai.

Also, a travel ban has been imposed on dozens of prominent businessmen, said Anti-Corruption Commission chief Samih Bino.

The businessmen are reportedly suspected of involvement in the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.

But the measures taken have so far failed to satisfy the opposition Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.

“Preliminary steps are being taken to tackle corruption, but they are not enough at all,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the IAF’s political bureau, told AFP.

“Fighting corruption requires genuine and serious political will, which is not available now,” he added, warning against “attempts to thwart people’s demands for real reform.”

Bani Rsheid said: “Corruption files that have led to Jordan’s political and economic crises have not been investigated yet.

“Corruption in Jordan is deeply rooted and enjoys the protection of parts of the regime,” he added.

Jordan’s external debt amounts to $18 billion, more than 65% of gross domestic product. It was $7 billion in 1999, when King Abdullah took the throne.

“These are bubbles here and there. There is no real strategy,” said Mohammad Masri, a researcher at the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies.

“A clear anti-corruption law should have preceded this campaign to help to restore people’s trust in court decisions and refute claims that these measures are part of a witch-hunt.”