Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2011 / 24 Adar I, 5771
In Jordan, King Abdullah II getting earful from tribal leaders
By Kim Murphy
Fissures are slowly beginning to take hold
m Romana, Jordan (MCT)
The king apologized for being late. He said he didn't know the tribal elders were waiting. He valued their advice. Even better, from their point of view, he unleashed the army against the militants. "A quality man, with a humane view of people," Fayez said.
Over mint tea at his desert home, he turned the conversation to the current king.
Fayez's Bani Sakher tribe this month showed its displeasure by lining up across the highway between the capital,
Although most analysts think there is little chance of a popular storm like the one that swept
Tribal leaders such as Fayez's father have never hesitated to confront the king privately, but the 49-year-old monarch has faced rare, open criticism in recent months. Since the Egyptian uprising, dissent from leftists and Islamist and labor leaders has escalated into almost-daily street protests and a public letter from 36 tribe members demanding an end to corruption and the king's near-unilateral hold on political power.
The king has responded by pledging to rewrite the election laws and expand freedoms. He fired the Cabinet and replaced the prime minister with a former military officer and tribesman.
"I want real and quick reform," the king said in a
But Jordanians, emboldened by what happened in
"These are not concessions,"
About 4,000 Jordanian protesters took to take to the streets of downtown
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only real organized opposition in
"What happened in
Privatization efforts have led to complaints that the country was getting raw deals for selling off its golden geese. A businessman with purported close connections to the royal palace landed a lucrative cell phone license for a fraction of what other companies were offering, according to widespread complaints in the local media. Critics said phosphate and potash companies sold to foreign companies quickly showed profits greater than the amount for which they were sold.
"In one year, one profited three times the sales price. This is not just corruption, it is audacious corruption," said retired Gen.
Much of the public blame seems to focus less on
Public irritation came to a boiling point in September, when the queen hosted an opulent party for her 40th birthday in the scenic desert valley of Wadi Rum. Though some villages in southern
The event raised
"Any middle-class Jordanian would have thrown a better party," he said. "And the food? I came back and had to order a hamburger because I was still hungry."
Simmering at the heart of the tribal discontent is the issue of Palestinian demography that has bedeviled the kingdom since the 1967 war with
Tribesmen of Jordanian stock from the East Bank of the
Although the Palestinian population is officially pegged at 49 percent, most observers believe it has reached 60 percent and is growing. Yet Palestinians typically hold fewer than 20 percent of the seats in the elected lower house of parliament (a figure that slipped to 12 percent in the November elections).
Analysts say true reform will almost surely erode the East Bank Jordanians' hold on power and, in the process, the massive system of public subsidies they enjoy. This is not only controversial but also may be impossible — East Bank tribesmen have traditionally formed the bulk of the army and police.
It means, in stark terms, taking away generations of perks from, as one analyst put it, "the guys with the guns — good luck."
Yet the king's decision to appease the East Bank by restoring many subsidies, raising public wages and appointing a new prime minister from the tribal old guard, many analysts say, is almost sure to slow the pace of economic reforms, crucial to new investment and jobs.
It is in many ways a no-win situation for the king at a time when winning may be a matter of survival.
Safadi insisted that the king remains popular and had made it clear he was committed to reform even before events elsewhere in the region increased their urgency.
Kamhawi, the political analyst and reform advocate, is skeptical.
"The government is not wholeheartedly for reform," he said. "The government considers it its duty now to defuse the tension. And this will not work."
"The issue is not the king, or royalty. We don't care about that. We have so far nobody at all proclaiming their intention to change the regime. But the regime has to accept that this is not an open check to say, 'OK, well, accept the regime as it is.' No. The regime has to change according to the will of the people."
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