Jordan's king acknowledges reforms have stumbled
AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday acknowledged that reforms in the country have "slowed and stumbled," and urged to the nation's Muslim opposition to work with the new government to give the people a greater say in politics.
The appeal comes a day after the powerful Muslim Brotherhood rejected an offer from the country's newly appointed prime minister to join his Cabinet, saying the new premier is the wrong person to introduce reforms.
The Royal Palace said in a statement that Abdullah, who is under growing public pressure to give Jordanians a greater voice in public life in the wake of the upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt, told leaders of the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups that he wanted "everyone to work together to achieve needed progress in the political reform process and increase the citizens' participation in decision-making."
"Political reform in Jordan has slowed and stumbled," Abdullah said. He said the lack of progress has "cost the country lost opportunities because some had put their personal interests ahead of Jordan's own interests."
Jamil Abu-Bakr, a senior Brotherhood leader, said the king did not try to persuade the Islamist group during Thursday's meeting to reconsider its refusal to join Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit's new Cabinet. "This matter was not brought up at all," he said.
Abu-Bakr told The Associated Press the Brotherhood pressed its demands for constitutional amendments to curb Abdullah's power to name prime ministers and instead allow Jordanians to elect them by popular vote.
Jordan's constitution gives the king the exclusive powers to appoint prime ministers, dismiss parliament and rule by decree.
He also said the group also asked Abdullah to change a disputed election law it claims gerrymandered districts in favor of the government's supporters. The Brotherhood boycotted last November's parliamentary elections to protest the law.
"The king was forthcoming and took our demands seriously," he said. "He stressed that he was serious about reforms and that the upcoming period was the dawn of a new era."
"I'm optimistic and we hope that real change will happen," Abu-Bakr added.
But he insisted the Brotherhood will still stage a protest planned for Friday "to press our demands and make sure that the government receives our message loud and clear."
Brotherhood leader Hamza Mansour said the group turned down an offer to join the government late Wednesday. "We are looking for a reformist government that will bring about real change," Mansour said. He added that al-Bakhit, an ex-army general, is a "military man incapable of introducing needed reforms."
Jordan's king fired his government Tuesday and named al-Bakhit to head a new one. Abdullah ordered al-Bakhit to implement reforms to boost economic opportunities and give Jordanians a greater say in politics.
The outgoing government had been widely accused of failing to expand public freedoms and reduce unemployment, inflation and rising prices of food and fuel.
Al-Bakhit is holding talks this week with political parties, including leftist opposition groups, as he tries to cobble together a new Cabinet, which is expected to be announced in the coming days.
In a meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, al-Bakhit said: "We will have a plan to present to parliament and will carry out democratic changes."
"We will try to improve economic conditions so that our citizens can feel results soon," he added.
Jordan's closest Western allies — the United States and Britain — have expressed concern over Abdullah's lack of progress implementing reforms.
WikiLeaks documents published Thursday in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten cited a cable by the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Stephen Beecroft, in 2009 as saying that Abdullah "as a progressive reformer, often fails to match up with his actions on the ground."
British Foreign Office Minister David Howell said in a statement Thursday that the U.K. was closely monitoring events in Jordan. He said it was "important that Jordan continues its program of political and economic reform," and pledged assistance from Britain's government.
Meanwhile, about 150 Jordanians and Egyptians protested in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Amman calling on President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Some protesters raised banners reading "Mubarak, the killer, should stand trial," and "Down with Mubarak."
Associated Press writers Dale Gavlak and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman contributed reporting