Islamists, leftists unite over Jordan corruption

AFP , Thursday 2 Jun 2011

Political forces in the kingdom unite to fight corruption and draw up a road map for political and social reform

Shadows of people were cast on a large Jordanian national flag during a celebration to mark the country's 65th Independence Day in Amman (Photo: Reuters)

Opposition Islamists and leftists in Jordan have joined forces in an improbable partnership against corruption, as the government faces a crisis after two ministers resigned over a graft case.

Despite their different ideologies, the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist parties last week formed a National Reform Front (NRF) led by former prime minister Ahmad Obeidat.

"The NRF's priority is to create a national reform strategy to put the country on the right democratic track and to fight corruption, including in political life," said Obeidat, who is well respected by Jordanians.

"Tyranny and corruption are Jordan's main problems. Fighting corruption starts with reforming the regime itself."

Mohammad Masri, a researcher at University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies, said "all Jordanians agree on the need to fight corruption, which affects their lives that are already burdened with an economic crisis."

"It was the same situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, where corruption was a key element in creating uprisings," Masri told AFP.

The justice and health ministers resigned last Thursday after top businessman Khalid Shahin, jailed for corruption, was allowed to leave prison for medical treatment in the United States.

Shahin and three others, including a former minister, were sentenced last year to three years in jail over graft payments as part of a US$2.1-billion project to upgrade the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company, which runs the kingdom's sole refinery.

In February, the government allowed Shahin to travel to the United States -- but there was an outcry in Jordan when, in April, he was spotted in a London restaurant.

"The issue of Khalid Shahin has become a symbol of how the government deals with corruption: there is no accountability and the corrupt are protected," Masri said.

On Wednesday, journalist Alaa Fazzaa was arrested for allegedly "undermining the monarchy and the constitution". He had published a report online that accused senior officials of helping Shahin leave the country.

King Abdullah II ordered Fazzaa's release from jail, according to the palace, but it was still unclear if the case against him had been dropped.

"Jordan suffers from squandering public funds and corruption, which are two sides of the same coin," said economist and former minister Samir Tawil.

"The country's foreign debt is now $17 billion (11.8 billion euros), while it was nine billion dollars in 2003, despite revenue of four billion dollars from privatisation, and increased taxes."

Tawil added: "People are wondering what happened to the $12 billion. Those suspected of corruption must declare how they acquired their wealth."

For Masri, Jordanians "want to see the corrupt behind bars".

"There are many rumours about corruption. Everything should be investigated by a commission of senior and well-respected judges," he said.

The king urged the government last Wednesday to "protect the innocent victims of slander and hatred", including members of his family.

Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit said Thursday that "the government will take the necessary legal measures against all those who accuse officials of corruption without proof."

Since January, Jordan has been facing a protest movement demanding political and economic reforms, and an end to corruption.

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