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Jordan's King Abdullah II ousts prime minister, cabinet in wake of mass protests

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Jordan's Royal Palace says the king has sacked his government in the wake of street protests and has asked an ex-army general to form a new Cabinet. (Feb. 1)

The opposition also is demanding that the prime minister, who currently is appointed by the king, instead be elected. And protesters want to amend of the election law, which critics say is designed to underrepresent opposition elements in the legislature.

Abdullah's response so far has been "just a public relations campaign that doesn't solve the crisis," Bani Irsheid said in an interview Sunday, two days before Rifai's dismissal. "The regime wants a solution without paying the price, and it is offering cosmetic changes. We told them that what was acceptable yesterday is not acceptable today, and what could resolve the problem today may not be a solution tomorrow. Delaying and hesitation will only complicate matters."

Critics such as Hattar say the king's policies, and accompanying corruption, have only widened the gap between rich and poor and exacerbated Jordan's economic ills, which include a rising national debt and high levels of unemployment and poverty.

Ali Habashnah, one of the retired generals advocating reforms, said that public resentment has spread to rural areas dominated by Bedouin tribes that have been the traditional backbone of the monarchy and its security forces. It was the first time, he said, that members of that segment of Jordanian society had joined with other groups in demands for change.

But the generals, who published a manifesto with other retired officers last year outlining their positions, have asserted their loyalty to King Abdullah and say they are seeking reforms under the monarchy. The ruling Hashemite family, Habashnah said, is the only force able to unite a nation made up of disparate tribes and other groups.

"The Hashemites are the symbol of the unity of the state," he said Sunday, before adding words of caution. "If things go on like this," he said, "there's no telling what can happen."

Ordinary Jordanians, too, seem loyal to the king. Tarek alMasri, a Jordanian lawyer who studied in Egypt, said he has followed the upheaval there with mixed emotions: happy that the Egyptians finally have risen up against an oppressive ruler but worried about a power vacuum in the streets.

But regarding protests in his own country, where the authority of the monarchy is an article of faith, there is one line that he will not cross.

"I'm upset by the social problems, the economic problems, the political problems, and the parliament doesn't represent the people," Masri said. At the same time, he added, "I cannot imagine the country without the royal family. They strike a balance between the people and the government. I trust them."

Greenberg is a special correspondent.


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