Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Jordan’s Government Shaken Up, Not Stirred

by Robert M. Danin
October 17, 2011

Awn Khasawneh (pictured on left) accompanies Jordan's late king Hussein in Amman in this photo taken in 1993 (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

On Friday, I suggested that a key indicator of Jordan’s future tranquility, in light of recent countrywide demonstrations, will be how King Abdullah addresses the issue of corruption. Today we saw decisive action: Abdullah sacked his prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, and replaced him with Awn Khasawneh, a venerated legal jurist.

General Bakhit was not the right man for the job when he was appointed in February of this year, and the chattering classes in Amman immediately recognized it. At the time, Jordanians were clamoring for a new government to tackle the country’s rising commodity prices, political stagnation, and corruption. The appointment of a military man with strong security credentials was not what was needed, and suggested that the King’s priorities were domestic stability, not change. In the subsequent eight months, Bakhit was a reluctant reformer, and his government never gained traction. That was made abundantly clear by the resumption of widespread demonstrations.

Today the king got it right. He appointed a Jordanian recognized internationally as a man of the law and in Jordan as a man of reform. With corruption and economic reform topping the Jordanian people’s priorities, Abdullah appointed a new prime minister more suited to tackle these issues. Khasawneh has been a member of the International Court of Justice since 2000 where he is currently its deputy head. A Cambridge-educated expert in law, he previously served on Jordan’s Royal Commission on Legislative and Administrative Reform. Khasawneh has also had extensive government experience, having served as the chief of the Royal Hashemite Court and in numerous top diplomatic assignments.

Lest one conclude that Bakhit was a sacrificial lamb offered up to send the protesters home, Abdullah today also sacked the head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Mohammad al Raqqad, and replaced him with a long time veteran, Feisal Shobaki, currently serving as Jordan’s envoy to Morocco. The king is quoted as having spoken this summer of a “tsunami” of change in top posts to enhance his reform efforts. My sources in Amman claim that further changes in the royal palace and elsewhere in the security establishment are under consideration but not yet a certainty.

All this suggests an activist effort to appoint a new reform-minded government that can more effectively address the popular demands for better economic conditions and a cleaner government while ensuring that the country’s security establishment is well placed to address the multiple challenges facing the country outside and from within. It all sounds good in theory. Now the hard part: making it work.

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