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Jordan on the threshold of a hot political summer

February 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan faces a very hot political summer due to the variety of crises affecting the country. Lurking in the background is the state’s use of violence and detention against university students protesting against government policies and blatant “mukhabarat” (secret police) intervention in the universities’ student elections. There have also been public protests against the new government in the city of Tafila, with demonstrations against policies that raised the prices of electricity and water last Friday.

The situation worsened with the scandalous news that Jordanian security forces were deployed to help their Kuwaiti counterparts beat protesters with batons in the Gulf State. Details were revealed by former Kuwaiti National Assembly member Musallam Al-Barrak, who showered Jordan with criticism during his trial on charges of insulting the Jordanian monarch last Wednesday.

One indication of the growing crisis in Jordan is Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour’s government making compromises to gain the trust of parliament. Ensour announced that he is going to make ministerial changes before the vote of confidence to avoid the pressure he is under from parliamentary blocs, intelligence agencies and the Royal Court, despite his previous reassurances that he would not bow to such pressure.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister confirmed that he alone would engage in the battle to win the vote of confidence from the newly-elected parliament, clarifying his refusal to resort to the Royal Palace or general intelligence services to influence the new legislators. He faces unprecedented parliamentary attack because he refused to allocate ministerial portfolios to a number of MPs and rejected their recommendations. “Former governments have given deputies many ‘incentives’ in order to receive their backing,” he said. “However, I will not resort to the same methods.” He also claimed that although the government can beat the parliament and has many means with which to do so, “it won’t”.

Speaking to the media, Mr Ensour insisted that he is planning to get to know legislators before offering any appointments and allocating portfolios, “even if this takes several months” and despite pressure from “influential circles” for quick ministerial appointments.

In the past few days, some blocs which had favoured Ensour’s nomination as Prime Minister have distanced themselves from him after some of their members announced their refusal to give the government a vote of confidence. The most prominent was that of the former Speaker of the Parliament, Abdul Hadi Majali. Moreover, Atef Tarawneh, the head of the biggest bloc, Al-Watan, hinted that his support is not guaranteed after backing Ensour for the senior role. The Islamic Centrist bloc is in the same position.

Jordan is also suffering from a difficult economic situation. It lacks energy and is dependent on foreign aid. The Prime Minister explained that a decision to raise the price of electricity is “imminent” and that it will affect everyone. The merger of two major ministries, Water and Agriculture, is also expected to create difficulties, with critics saying that the minister in question is unable to resolve any of the problems they face. At least five local municipalities experience water cuts on a daily basis.

All in all, then, the new government faces a hot political summer as Jordan struggles to overcome domestic and international crises.