Jordan PM faces popular revolt warning

AFP , Monday 7 Feb 2011

Jordan's new Prime Minister faces potential upheaval less than a week after appointment

A Jordanian boy holds a national flag during a protest against Jordan's new prime minister Marouf Al Bakhit and in support of the Egyptian people in Amman, Jordan, Friday, 4 February 2011. (AP)

Less than a week after his appointment, Jordan's new premier is facing potential upheaval, with the Islamist opposition refusing to join his government and key tribes warning of a popular revolt.

Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit is trying to form a cabinet tasked with pushing through reforms to counter popular discontent inspired by Tunisia's revolt and ongoing anti-regime protests in Egypt.

Bakhit has met MPs, senators, trade unions as well as the powerful Islamist movement, which said on Sunday it has rejected an offer to join the new government after questioning the prime minister's reformist credentials.

At the same time, 36 members of major tribes, which form the backbone of the regime in Jordan, condemned the country's "crisis of authority" and corruption, warning of a popular revolt.

"We did not discuss the details of the offer, but all what I can say is that taking part in this government under the current circumstances is out of the question," Hamzah Mansur, leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, told AFP.

"We are not asking for miracles. Our demands are realistic, practical and do-able. We demand early general polls in line with a new electoral law."

The tribal leaders joined the Islamists in their demands.

"We call for a modern electoral law based on consultations with all political forces in Jordan, enhancing freedoms and the formation of a national salvation government to oversee a transparent parliamentary election," they said in a joint statement.

The tribes represent nearly 40 percent of the Jordanian population, and their role is vital in the country's politics and stability.

Their loyalty to the Hashemite ruling family has been crucial in times of crisis over the past century.

The IAF, which has been pushing for more political reforms, boycotted the last general election in November in protest at constituency boundaries set up under a new electoral law, which it said over-represented rural areas considered loyal to the government.

When Bakhit was appointed on Tuesday, the Islamist opposition objected to King Abdullah II's choice, saying the premier is not a reformist. But Islamist leaders expressed satisfaction on Friday after meeting both him and the king.

Bakhit said on Saturday that his cabinet -- which he hopes to have in place by next Thursday -- would "include personalities who are credible and close to the people."

The king instructed the 64-year-old career soldier and former prime minister to undertake a sweeping programme of political and economic reforms following weeks of street protests.

Popular discontent in Jordan has led to several protests, inspired by the revolts which have ousted Tunisia's strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and threatened the regime of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

"Jordan will sooner or later be the target of an uprising similar to the ones in Tunisia and Egypt due to suppression of freedoms and looting of public funds," the tribal leaders said.

They warned against the "interference in executive decisions by those who have no constitutional powers," in an apparent reference to Queen Rania, wife of King Abdullah.

"The queen is building centres to boost her power and serve her interests, against the will of Jordanians and Hashemites," the leaders said, comparing her to the wife of ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali.

The group said the country suffers from a "crisis of authority" and growing influence of "corrupt businessmen in the entourage of the executive power, affecting political decisions and ignoring national interest."

They called for a "trial of the corrupt who have looted the country and public funds, regardless of who they are and irrespective of their rank and importance."

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