King Abdullah II of Jordan fired his government Tuesday in the wake of street protests and asked an ex-prime minister to form a new cabinet, ordering him to launch immediate political reforms.
The Jordanian news agency Petra announced the move after several large protests across Jordan — inspired by similar demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt — calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, who is blamed for a rise in fuel and food prices and slowed political reforms, according to the Associated Press.
The Jordanian news agency Petra announced that the king had replaced Rifai with Marouf al-Bakhit, a former general and ambassador to Israel and Turkey. Bakhit served as Jordan's prime minister from 2005 to 2007 and is widely viewed as clean of corruption.
Abdullah instructed Bakhit to "undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms, which reflect our vision for comprehensive modernization and development in Jordan," a palace statement said.
Abdullah asked Bakhit for a "comprehensive assessment ... to correct the mistakes of the past." He did not elaborate. The statement said Abdullah also demanded an "immediate revision" of laws governing politics and public freedoms.
Jordan is a largely stable country, with well-developed security and intelligence operations. Its human rights record is generally considered a notch above that of Tunisia and Egypt. Although critics of the king have been prosecuted, they are frequently pardoned and some have even been appointed to government posts.
But Jordan has a fundamental vulnerability in the large number of Palestinians, according to the New York Times.
Refugees arrived in large numbers from the West Bank and Jerusalem after the war in 1967, and more arrived from Kuwait after Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded in 1991. They and their descendants make up nearly half the country’s population of 6 million.
The demonstrations in Jordan were the first serious challenge to the decade-old rule of King Abdullah, a crucial American ally in the region who is contending with his country’s worst economic crisis in years, the Times wrote.
When he ascended to the throne in 1999, Abdullah vowed to press ahead with political reforms initiated by his late father, King Hussein, according to the Associated Press. Those reforms paved the way for the first parliamentary election in 1989 after a 22-year gap, the revival of a multiparty system and the suspension of martial law in effect since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
On Friday, thousands took to the streets of the capital, Amman, and in other cities, shouting: “We want change,” and carrying banners decrying high food and fuel prices and demanded the resignation of the prime minister, appointed by the king.
Direct criticism of the king is banned, so the focus has been on his government.
It was not immediately clear when Bakhit would name his cabinet. Bakhit, a moderate politician, holds similar views to Abdullah in keeping close ties with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994 and strong relations with the United States, Jordan's largest aid donor and longtime ally.