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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Jordan

JORDAN: King calls for political, economic reforms after weeks of demonstrations

_42484171_jordan_king_rania_afp203 Following two weeks of demonstrations in various cities across Jordan against high commodity prices and government policies, the country's ruler King Abdullah II said on Wednesday that it's time to bring about more political and economic reforms in the desert kingdom.

"Abdullah II insisted on the need to move forward with clear and transparent programmes of political and economic reform, which will allow the kingdom to overcome the economic challenges, and assure Jordan and Jordanians the decent future they deserve," the royal palace reportedly cited the king as saying in an apparent bid to connect with disgruntled Jordanians.

But the country's main political opposition group, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has called for fresh rallies on Friday, and previous pledges by the Jordanian government this year to create more jobs and control rising commodity prices have not stopped demonstrators from taking to the streets.

"We are at a sensitive moment in Jordan," Dr. Mustafa Abou Rumman, a political researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, told Babylon & Beyond. "It's a very important and very big [protest movement]. They think this government doesn't have the credibility in political reform ... they want the king to push harder against corruption. They want to make a turning point in the political life here."

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ARAB WORLD: Protests in Algeria and Yemen draw inspiration from Tunisia uprising

Activists in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and even Albania  took to the streets this weekend demanding democratic reforms in their countries.  

Some expressed explicit support for the Tunisian people, calling for similar uprisings in their own countries. Others were more reserved. Jordanians directed their anger at the prime minister rather than trying to oust the royal family.

The popular demonstrations drew comparisons to the Tunisian protest movement that has captivated the world. But opinions remain divided on whether these events constitute a real threat to the ruling powers in those countries.

"The regime will always look strong until the day it collapses," Nadim Shehadi, from the London-based think tank Chatham House, told Babylon & Beyond. "It cannot look weak, because the minute it looks weak it is dead already."

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MIDDLE EAST: Activists, Arab leaders on edge as Tunisia hangs in the balance

Tunisia jan16_2F

Emboldened Arab citizens are taking on their own leaderships as the region watches with anticipation to see whether Tunisia's recent uprising will successfully replace the oppressive regime of Zine Abidine Ben Ali that ruled for 23 years.

Most regional leaders have stayed silent on Ben Ali's flight into exile amid national riots, a reticence that many observers have interpreted as fear. But even staunch supporters of the Tunisian protest movement are cautious to call "revolution" too early.

"Right now the Arab regimes are annoyed, but they aren't afraid," said Munsif Ben Ali, a Tunisian expatriate in Beirut and the head of the local solidarity movement in Lebanon (he shares a last name but no relation to the ousted president).

Ben Ali spoke to Babylon & Beyond on the sidelines of a demonstration on Sunday as several hundred activists gathered in front of the United Nations headquarters in downtown Beirut to express support for the Tunisian protesters.

"Many of the symbols of Ben Ali's regime are still in place," he said. "When real change is completed, then [the Arab leaders] will be terrified."

While the official reactions have been muted, reactions to any perceived support for Ben Ali and his government have been swift and angry, and not just from secular reformists like the ones who made up most of the rally in Beirut.

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JORDAN: Thousands of demonstrators protest food prices, denounce government

2011-634306875109005254-900 In an unprecedented development in Jordan, protests similar to those that have rocked Tunisia and Algeria in recent weeks erupted in the Arab kingdom Friday.

Thousands of people took to the streets of the capital, Amman, and several other cities to protest rising food prices and unemployment, media reports say.

Aside from complaints, they also pointed rare and stinging criticism toward the Jordanian government, headed by Prime Minister Samir Rifai.

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MUSLIM WORLD: Poll shows majority want Islam in politics; feelings mixed on Hamas, Hezbollah

Meccaminihaj7 A majority of Muslims around the world welcome a significant role for Islam in their countries' political life, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, but have mixed feelings toward militant religious groups such as  Hamas and Hezbollah.

According to the survey, majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria would favor changing the current laws to allow stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion. About 85% of Pakistani Muslims said they would support a law segregating men and women in the workplace.

Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Jordan were among the most enthusiastic, with more than three-quarters of Muslims polled in those countries reporting positive views of Islam's influence in politics: either that Islam had a large role in politics, and that was a good thing, or that it played a small role, and that was bad.

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ISRAEL: More help on the way to fight Carmel fire

As more international help continues to fly into Israel to help combat the fire decimating the Carmel woodland, the worst in the country's history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed thanks for the many helping hands. He has spoken with 30 heads of state over the the last three days and says he finds the mobilization heartwarming. There is "no shame" in receiving help, said Netanyahu. "It is part of our existence in a global village.... We both receive and extend assistance."

The wake-up call was harsh and Netanyahu heard it well.  The prime minister announced his intention to supply Israel with an aerial firefighting force, "which we need in this era of global warming." Speaking Satuday at the command center set up at Haifa University, Netanyahu commented on assistance from the Palestinians, Jordan and Egypt, and said that forming and equipping the force will establish "a regional network for the benefit of our peoples." A proposal for building the force will be submitted quickly and budgeting expedited.

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ISRAEL: As fires ravage the Carmel, there are helping hands -- and some finger-pointing


Israel is burning. Since Thursday, raging flames have ravaged the Carmel, devastating one of the country's largest and most scenic forest expanses. Blown out of control by high winds that haven't let up in days, the fire has its own dynamic. And it's a violent one. The mangled, charred remains of a bus carrying prison authority officers-in-training to help evacuate the Damoun Prison stands as a silent, gruesome witness to fire's ferocity. Caught on a road at a moment the flames took an unexpected and huge leap, the cadets didn't stand a chance.

The country is in full emergency mode. That familiar sense of urgency, the wartime adrenalin, is as heavy in the air as the smoke. What's distinctly different about this situation is a feeling of powerlessness. Not only the philosophical reminder of human tininess in the face of nature, but practically speaking. Israel wasn't prepared for anything like this, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and needs help -- now.

To his credit, he recognized this immediately. Canvassing the world for firefighting capabilities, Netanyahu hit the phone. Israel, usually at the forefront of assistance to disaster areas, is now on the receiving end of massive international help. Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Russia, France, the United States and other countries flew in firefighting planes, fire-retardant agents and other gear. Egypt is offering equipment; Jordanian and Palestinian firefighters are on the ground. 

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JORDAN: An election observer's view of recent parliamentary vote


As an international observer of Jordan’s Nov. 9 parliamentary elections for the International Republican Institute, I found myself confronted with a paradox: Although the voting process can be characterized as credible, the elections unfolded within a broader political system that lacks credibility.

The Jordanian government clearly tried to improve the mechanics of elections from previous years, and deserves credit for opening up the process to scrutiny by domestic and international observers.

Carnegie logoAt the micro level, officials were well prepared and organized, sought to demonstrate meticulous compliance with procedural requirements, and tried to maintain a high level of integrity and transparency during the actual voting and counting processes.

Candidates also engaged in real competition locally, sending representatives to polling places to promptly question anything that might constitute a violation of protocol, greeting poll workers and monitors politely, and checking on turnout.

At the macro level, however, the government put much less effort into crafting an electoral law that would have been broadly acceptable within Jordan, thereby alienating the country’s principal opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, or IAF.

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ISRAEL: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to recent attacks

A rocket fired from Gaza on the Israeli city of Ashkelon, rockets fired from Sinai on Aqaba and Eilat, the Slipperyslope  Lebanese army opening fire on members of the Israeli Defense Forces along the border. The chain of seemingly unrelated recent trouble demonstrates the physics principle of connected vessels and how it applies to the Middle East. Efforts to resume direct Israeli talks with the Palestinians, the special tribunal for Lebanon and Iran's omnipresent nuclear program are bubbling away in the neighborhood cauldron that can spill in various directions when it boils over.

For the present, it suits most to contain things at a low simmer. Gaza and Lebanon are still smarting from previous wars with Israel, which hasn't entirely recovered publicly or diplomatically from the military misadventures either. Jordan and Egypt, Israel's neighbors in peace, need discreet industrial calm, each for their own reasons, and Israel too needs to conserve its energy for challenges around the corner, like the nearing end of the settlement freeze, which might entail a change in the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, are testifying next week before the Turkel commission investigating the events surrounding Israel's May 31 attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

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JORDAN: Israeli threat to expel Palestinians stokes old fears


For many Jordanians, an Israeli ruling this month expanding the state's authority to arrest and deport people in the West Bank is more than an injustice foisted on the Palestinians of the West Bank -- it is also seen as a threat to Jordanian identity.

Earlier this month, an Israeli military court amended an existing law to allow Israeli authorities to arrest, imprison or deport anyone in the West Bank lacking a recognized permit, leading rights groups to warn of the possibility of mass deportations of Palestinians.

Israel denied it is planning to carry out mass deportations, but some estimates have put the number of Palestinians at risk as high as 50,000, and Jordan fears it may be expected to take some of them in.

"[Popular opinion] is that this is a third nakba," said Basil Okoor, the editor of the Jordanian news site Ammon News, referring to the Arabic word for catastrophe which has been used to described the 1948 exodus of Palestinians to neighboring countries.

The ruling "is a new attempt by Israel to take Palestinian land by force and it's also a danger to the identity of the Jordanian nation by attempting to make it an alternative homeland for Palestinians," he told Babylon & Beyond.

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EGYPT: Mystery rockets stir speculation in Egypt, Jordan and Israel


Two rocket explosions in Aqaba, Jordan, and in the Red Sea waters near the Israeli town of Eilat on Thursday prompted conflicting reports on where they were launched and who fired them.

No one has claimed responsibility, although Israeli media reports suggest the rockets were fired either from  Egypt's Sinai Peninsula or Jordan by a terrorist group targeting Eilat. Jordanian sources said the first rocket exploded in the Red Sea, and the second hit an empty warehouse in Aqaba (210 miles south of the capital, Amman), causing no injuries or deaths.

"A limited explosion took place in the early hours of the morning at a refrigeration warehouse at the northern edge of the city that caused minor damage," said Nabil Sharif, Jordan's minister of information.

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SAUDI ARABIA: Unlike Qatar, Iran and Jordan, kingdom fails to cough up Haiti cash


Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is one of the world's wealthiest countries. But though it's generous when it comes to building Islamic religious schools and mosques throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has been rather miserly when it comes to the suffering of the people of Haiti, which was struck by a cataclysmic earthquake that  destroyed its capital and killed tens of thousands. 

Certainly, Haiti is a world away from Saudi Arabia. And it's a mostly Christian country, rather than Muslim. But that hasn't stopped other wealthy Middle East countries from pitching in.

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