Jordan Islamists slam new government as ‘setback’ for reform plans


Opposition Islamists on Thursday warned that the makeup of the new Jordanian government amounted to a “setback” for the country’s reform plans, a day after the cabinet was announced.

“It is a setback for reforms. It entrenches a pre-Arab Spring mentality,” Jamil Abu Baker, spokesman of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, told AFP.

“The government itself and the prime minister prove that. This does not give hope to the people that change is coming. The prime minister is conservative and his views and position on reform are well-known.”

King Abdullah II on Wednesday swore in the 30-strong cabinet led by Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, a former premier and royal court chief in the late 1990s who took part in negotiations with Israel that led to a 1994 peace treaty.

“The designation of Tarawneh and the composition of his government show that there is no will for reform,” said Hamzeh Mansur, chief of the Islamic Action Front, political arm of the Brotherhood.

“It is a very traditional government of senior bureaucrats. At this stage, Jordan needs a government that wins the trust of people and meets their demands.”

The king appointed Tarawneh last week after the resignation of Awn Khasawneh, 62, an International Court of Justice judge who formed his cabinet last October to become the third premier of 2011.

He asked Tarawneh to form a government for “a limited transitional period” to pave the way for polls before the end of 2012, accusing Khasawneh of being too slow, as Jordan “cannot afford any delay in achieving the needed reform.”

During his six months in office, Khasawneh had tried to persuade the Islamist opposition to drop their boycott of future elections which the monarch has proposed to be held before the end of the year to accelerate Arab Spring-inspired reforms, Reuters reported.

Jordan has seen persistent Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations almost every week since January 2011, demanding sweeping reforms and a tougher fight against corruption.

Last Friday, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in central Amman, criticizing Tarawneh, saying they “want to change policies, not only governments.”

Islamists, who constitute the country’s largest political party, say election rules favor tribal East Bank constituencies and rural areas over the largely Palestinian populated cities, which are Islamic strongholds.

The government change was prompted by domestic considerations and was not expected to affect Jordan’s pro-Western foreign-policy orientation.

Tarawneh is Jordan’s fourth prime minister in 14 months. King Abdullah has often changed governments to shore up tribal support, a backbone of his monarchy, and placate protesters inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world.

Tarawneh faces an uphill battle to ease the negative effects of the Arab Spring on Jordan’s aid-dependent economy.

Politicians say King Abdullah has been forced to take only cautious steps towards democracy as the monarch’s tribal power base has pushed for a reversal of free-market reforms seen as a threat to its political and economic benefits.

They fear liberalization will erode their grip on power in favor of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, a majority of the country’s seven million population who are economically influential but are excluded from political life.

Some recent tribal protests have criticized the royal family, a rare event in a country where the king has long been revered and held to be above politics.

The unprecedented criticism from the monarch’s traditional power base who provide the bulk of manpower for the army and security forces has posed a threat to the stability of the monarchy, analysts say.