Jordan cabinet reshuffle strengthens king’s control
Jordanian King Abdullah II reshuffled the country’s cabinet, bringing in five new ministers but keeping Prime Minister Hani Mulki in his post as the country faces an increased risk from the Islamic State (ISIS) and resistance to planned austerity measures.
The two most notable changes January 15 were the appointment of former police chief Ghaleb Zubi as Interior minister and the selection of royal family adviser Ayman Safadi as Foreign minister.
The other three new ministers are Mamdouh Abbadi as minister of State for Prime Ministry Affairs, Omar Razzaz as minister of Education and Hadithah Khreisha as minister of Youth.
Bisher Khasawneh, who was minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the previous cabinet, was given the post of minister of State for Legal Affairs.
The reshuffle came as the country is facing a rising threat from attacks by ISIS amid public criticism of the security services’ ability to counter such dangers.
ISIS claimed the December 18 attack in Karak province in which 11 members of the security forces and three civilians, including a Canadian tourist, were killed. The kingdom has been hit by number of ISIS attacks in the past year.
Former Interior minister Salamah Hamad narrowly avoided a vote of no-confidence in parliament but lost his job in the cabinet reshuffle.
King Abdullah II fired the head of the Public Security Directorate, Major-General Atef al-Saudi, over his handling of the Karak shootings. He was replaced by Major-General Ahmad Fatih, who was reportedly urged by the king to improve the skills of those under his command.
The Religious Affairs Ministry said it dismissed 15 mosque preachers and disciplined seven others for refusing to take part in nationwide memorial prayers for the Jordanian troops killed by ISIS in Karak.
Observers say the dismissal of the former Foreign minister Nasser Judeh, who had been the country’s top diplomat since 2009, was designed to enable a more direct role in diplomacy to be played by the Royal Court, via Safadi.
They add that Khasawneh’s former post as minister of State for Foreign Affairs was created so the Royal Court could exert influence on the country’s foreign policy when Judeh did not see eye to eye with the king.
As the new minister is the king’s man in the cabinet, there was no longer a need for Khasawneh’s former post. However, he assumed a new ministerial role.
The cabinet changes came during the implementation of the government’s unpopular austerity measures to cut public debt, as part of economic reforms mandated by the International Monetary Fund. The man overseeing those measures, Finance Minister Omar Malhas, kept his job in the reshuffle.
The government has toughened its crackdown against critics of its austerity programme. The country’s state security court charged eight people, including a former member of parliament and a retired major-general, with incitement after they allegedly joined social media protests against expected price increases.
Tourism Minister Lina Annab, who retained her job, said the country’s tourism sector fared better in 2016 from the previous year despite several terror attacks.
“It’s business as usual and the cancellations have been minimal. Unfortunately, as for danger there is no place that is 100% safe,” said Annab.
Jordan has reportedly attracted larger numbers of tourists from Gulf Arab states in recent years, making up for the drop in package tours by European operators. Tourism, which is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency, constitutes about 10% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Amman has also appealed to donor countries for $7.6 billion through 2019 to deal with the effects of the crisis in neighbouring Syria. Jordan hosts 650,000 Syrian refugees.
Mamoon Alabbasi is an Arab Weekly contributing editor based in London. You can follow him on Twitter @MamoonAlabbasi
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