Jordan’s King Abdullah Replaces Prime Minister Amid Protests

Jordan’s King Abdullah replaced his prime minister following street protests and asked former premier Marouf Bakhit to form a new government that will launch a “genuine political reform process.”

Abdullah told Bakhit that he should put the country on the path “to strengthen democracy,” and provide Jordanians with the “dignified life they deserve,” the Royal Court said in an e-mailed statement.

Islamic and leftist groups have held demonstrations every Friday since a revolt in Tunisia forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on Jan. 14. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak today said he won’t run for another term after hundreds of thousands of people rallied against his regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the culmination of a weeklong uprising that has left more than 100 people dead. There have also been protests in Algeria and Yemen.

“The king of Jordan has traditionally used the government as a pressure valve to alleviate some of the stresses on the regime,” said Ali Al-Saffar, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. He called the changes “a pre-emptive move to protect the monarchy from criticism.”

Jordan’s king has replaced prime ministers 15 times since 1990.

“The regime in Jordan is under pressure,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “They are trying to respond in some way. It’s just that their response is not matching the gravity of the situation.”

‘New Process’

Hamzah Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, said his group wants “an entirely new process, we don’t want new names.”

He called for “real reforms like the manner in which the government is formed, the way lawmakers are elected and the issue of taxes.”

The Front, which hasn’t called for regime change, is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in Jordan.

“There are protests in Jordan, however, they are not like those in Tunisia and Egypt,” said Mohammad Masri, a researcher at Jordan University’s Center for Strategic Studies. “What you have in Jordan are protests organized by political parties and social groups, it’s not a popular uprising.”

Former Premier

Bakhit, who replaces Samir Rifai, was previously an ambassador to Israel and served as premier from 2005 to 2007 in the wake of terrorist attacks in Jordan that targeted several hotels in the capital, Amman.

The king “has more legitimacy than Mubarak and Ben Ali had,” Al-Saffar said. Abdullah “has tangible support from tribes. Ben Ali was very tyrannical, Jordan is not. It may not be necessarily a full-fledged democracy, but at the same time people have the right to voice displeasure, so it doesn’t get pent up in the same way it got in Tunisia.”

Jordan, one of the smallest economies in the Middle East, imports more than 90 percent of its oil and relies on foreign investment and grants to finance its budget and current account deficits.

The country’s economy grew 2.3 percent in 2009. Economic growth may accelerate to as much as 6 percent this year from an expected 3.4 percent in 2010, outgoing Finance Minister Mohammad Abu Hammour said in a Jan. 22 interview.