x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US diplomat visits Jordan to 'prod' it towards reforms

Fear that trip by Michael Posner will be seen as as foreign meddling, with debate about reforms in the Middle East and Jordan better developing domestically and without international intervention.

AMMAN // A US diplomat who promotes democracy and human rights finished a two-day visit yesterday aimed at prodding Jordan towards reforms as the country continues to endure street protests.

Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, met King Abdullah II, prime minister Marouf Bakhit and other Jordanian officials and civil society members that focused on the importance of democratic reform, civil society, women's rights, the role of an independent media, the protection of ethnic and religious minorities and labour.

Mr Posner was there to emphasise "American support for King Abdullah's call for a sustained, serious, and comprehensive programme of political and economic reform", said Karl Duckworth, spokesman for thee US Embassy in Amman.

After the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak last month, the US is fretting about unrest destablising Jordan. In the past eight weeks Jordanians have been calling for constitutional amendments that would curb the king's powers. Many Jordanians want their king to reign and not rule and want to elect their own prime minister and a parliament.

Jordan remains a key player in the region as diplomats seek to jump start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Jordan also shares the longest border with Israel, with whom it signed a peace treaty in 1994.

Mohammed Momani, a professor of political science at Yarmourk University, warned that Mr Posner's visit could be construed by some as foreign meddling.

"Given our previous bad experience with reforms dictated from the outside, I think the timing of the visit will be viewed as negative and unconstructive," he said. "It is better to have the debate about reforms in the Middle East and Jordan develop domestically and without international intervention."

Last month, King Abdullah sacked Samir Rifai as prime minister and appointed Mr Bakhit, a former army general, telling him to hasten the pace of reforms.

Mr Bakhit's government vowed to amend the electoral law by the end of this year. Critics say the law favors politicians who support the king by drawing voting districts that hamper challengers.

Mr Bakhit's government also has sent a bill to parliament that would allow Jordanians to demonstrate without getting permission from the administrative governor.