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King Abdullah II of Jordan sacks government amid street protests
King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his government on Tuesday as he sought to appease street protests and avoid his country becoming the next Egypt or Tunisia.King Abdullah II of Jordan pledged to embark on an immediate programme of democratic reform Photo: AP
5:40PM GMT 01 Feb 2011
The king became the first Arab leader to announce political concessions from a position of relative security as he sought to pre-empt opposition-led demonstrations inspired by Egypt's attempted revolution against President Hosni Mubarak.
He followed up the dismissal of Samir Rifai, his popular prime minister, and the entire cabinet, with a pledge to embark on an immediate programme of democratic reform.
But the king's choice of Marouf Bakhit, widely seen as a conservative resistant to reform, as Mr Rifai's successor immediately drew more criticism than praise.
A former general, Mr Bakhit was accused of failing to deliver on a promised liberalisation agenda during his previous term as prime minister in 2005-2007.
"This is not a step in the right direction and does not show any intent towards real political reforms," said Sheikh Hamza Mansour, leader of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition group.
Protests led by a coalition of Islamists, secular opposition groups and retired army generals have brought thousands onto the streets of Amman, the capital city, and other parts of the country.
Although far smaller than the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, they have caused considerable disquiet even though none of the protesters have demanded the abdication of Abdullah, who assumed the throne in 1999.
Instead, they demanded the dismissal of Mr Rifai's government and a change in electoral law to allow the Jordanian people to vote for their prime minister, a position presently selected by royal appointment.
They also called for the dissolution of parliament, elected in a general election last November that was widely seen as heavily flawed.
Royal aides said the king has instructed his new government to reform the unpopular electoral law and insisted that he had met most of the protesters' demands by paving the way for Jordan's transformation from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
"The king has been urging reforms for a while," Ayman Safadi, the outgoing deputy prime minister and a leading royal adviser, told The Daily Telegraph. "His Majesty is not a politician. He is doing what he thinks is right for Jordan, which is to institute gradual but tangible reform." Leaders of the protests insist that their respect for Abdullah, whose Hashemite dynasty was granted rule over Jordan by Britain after the First World War, remains undimmed.
Like in other Arab states that have been swept by unrest, Jordanians complain of rising prices, widespread unemployment and a low standard of living.
So far at least, their anger has been directed at Jordan's politicians, who are viewed as corrupt, undemocratic and unaccountable.
But observers warn that a failure to address such discontent could ultimately threaten the survival of the monarchy.
Like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, King Abdullah is considered a vital US ally even if his kingdom lacks the economic and energy clout of many of its neighbours.
Following Egypt's lead, Jordan became the only other Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel and the king is regarded as an important moderate voice in the Middle East.
Israeli officials have privately expressed concern that a power vacuum in Jordan, which has considerable uranium reserves, could lead to the rise of the Islamic Action Front, an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood that is hostile to Israel.
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