June 12, 2011: King Abdullah II of Jordan, worried about the Muslim Arab Spring spreading to his kingdom, has promised democratic reforms, but has set no date. King Abdullah’s speech came during festivities that marked the anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt, Army Day and Coronation Day.
He promised Jordanians in a televised address that a “future” government will be elected; promising to establish a parliamentary majority government, a key demand of protesters calling for changes to the regime. “Today, and on this occasion, we announce our reform vision for the Jordan of the future, in which democracy and popular participation take root as a consistent approach for the sake of building the Jordanian state, in which promoting justice is a purpose, tolerance is a mission and respect for human rights is the goal,” Abdullah stated.
As part of the announced reforms, Abdullah emphasized that the new law should “guarantee the fairness and transparency of the electoral process through a mechanism that will lead to a parliament with active political party representation; one that allows the formation of governments based on parliamentary majority and political party manifestos in the future.”
The king appoints his cabinet ministers and can dissolve parliament, which is elected by the people. He stated his “opposition to chaos that leads to destruction” and warned against the “dictates of the street.”
The king also announced economic reforms, including changes to the country’s tax system in order to “raise the level of competitiveness, enhance the atmosphere for investment, secure work opportunities for youth and maintain the state’s active, observatory role in an open market economy.”
He also promised more rights for women. “In terms of social reform, I stress the importance of accelerating efforts to abolish all forms of discrimination against women in the legislative system through the political and representative institutions that emanated from our vision for a new, reformed Jordan,” he told the people.
His promises represent the first time he has outlined concessions to Jordanians, many of whom have demanded that he surrender much of his power. There have been few calls, for the time being, for the demise of the Hashemite monarchy, which is widely respected in the country.
Jordan’s economy has been hit hard by the global downturn and rising commodity prices, and youth unemployment is high. In his speech Sunday, Abdullah sought to paint Jordanians as one family, “and as head of the family, I favour no one individual or group … or differentiate between them. “I am one of you, and I am all for you,” he stated.
His promised reforms are aimed at staving off the spread of the rebellions that have toppled or threaten the heads of the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. Even the radical Muslim Brotherhood has stated that King Abdullah is a “stabilizing influence,” but has called for reforms to “avoid the tragedies taking place in the region.”
Jordan already has faced several protests in the kingdom, where most of the population is comprised of Bedouin and other Nomadic Arabs. Most of them, unlike demonstrators in Arab countries that have seen uprisings, have not been seeking regime change but changes to the regime. Jordan and not Israel, is the natural home of the Palestinian Authority, although King Abdullah has thoroughly rejected the idea.
In February, Abdullah fired his prime minister and cabinet and instituted a number of economic measures and promises of political reform in an effort to appease those demands. But the protesters’ list of demands grew longer as many Jordanians felt emboldened by the popular uprisings in the region.