Time for reforms running out: Arab Spring knocks on door of Jordan

Democratic transition has not began yet

The Arab Spring, that is still blowing over the Middle East a year after it began, has had a limited impact on Jordan where a "siege mentality" is hindering much-needed reform, analysts say.
The International Crisis Group said Jordan is "dallying with reform," triggering debate among analysts in the kingdom, but the government insists the process "is on the right track."
"The season of Arab uprisings has not engulfed Jordan, but nor has it entirely passed the nation by," the ICG, a Brussels-based think-tank, said in a report it issued last week.
"Pillars of the regime are showing cracks, and it ultimately will have to either undertake sweeping change or experience far-reaching turmoil."
Analysts as well as the powerful opposition Islamists agree, saying the country's rulers lack the political will to introduce reforms.
"It is true. Decision-makers in Jordan are stalling and hoping that pro-reform movements will fade away. They are prisoners of a siege mentality," political analyst Hassan Abu Hanieh said.
"At the same time, protests in the country are not strong enough to impose required change... thanks to the feared security services, which have a key role on the political scene."
Jordan has seen relatively small but persistent Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations almost every week since January last year, demanding sweeping reforms and a tougher fight against corruption.
"I do not think things will significantly improve here, which shows that there is no political will for reform," said Abu Hanieh.
"Should we wait until protests sweep all parts of the country, and then start reforms after losing control?," he asked, adding: "Decision-makers need to be careful."
"So far, only cosmetic steps have been taken. The authorities are watching developments in neighbouring Syria, thinking that if the situation there takes a long time, popular demands and expectations will be limited."
Parliament has passed more than 40 constitutional amendments as well as legislation on an independent electoral commission, while Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh is now discussing a proposed electoral law with opposition parties before sending it to MPs by the end of this month.
"Jordan is not dallying with reform and it is not trying to buy time. We are on the right track and reforms are as planned and on schedule," information minister and government spokesman Rakan Majali said.
"The government has approved laws on political parties and the constitutional court. MPs are currently debating the laws. Some think we have magical solutions, but we do not. The reform process takes time."
But Islamists assert that the changes are only superficial.
"Officials are still not doing what needs to be done on reform. Democratic transformation has not even started yet," said Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of policy at the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood.
"Demonstrations will continue because the government is procrastinating. If Jordan wants reform, we need to have elected governments and empowered parliament."
Bani Rsheid warned that Jordanians are "starting to run out of patience."
"The people have given the authorities several chances, but it is now clear they are not serious about introducing genuine reforms and that they have no political will," he said.
In its report, the ICG urged "credible electoral reform that provides fairer representation of urban centres, coupled with increased government attention to rural socio-economic needs," saying this "would be a huge start."
It echoed opposition calls for "ensuring accountability for corruption and human rights violations, granting genuine powers to parliament, establishing an elected senate, and ending -- or at least dramatically reducing -- the political role of unelected bodies, the security services prime among them."
In December, King Abdullah II launched an anti-corruption drive against figures once seen as untouchable, in an effort to satisfy opposition calls for graft to be wiped out.
Two months later, former spy chief Mohammad Dahabi was arrested and charged with money laundering, abuse of power and embezzlement following a central bank complaint against him.
But Jordanians are still protesting almost weekly against the security's tight grip on the country, demanding an end to interference in daily life.
"Security agencies are in charge, and opportunities for reform have been intentionally wasted. Small-time corruption issues have been dealt with but the big issues remain untouched," political analyst Labib Kamhawi said.
"People's frustration and anger are growing, while the authorities are getting aggressive and fed up with popular movements and want to put an end to them.
"If the two sides do not resort to reasoning, there will be no common ground for dialogue," Kamhawi warned.