Egypt/Lebanon/Jordan Videos and Articles Frequent Updates. This Blog Will Grow
Michael D. Tobin
Fox Video Stuart Shepherd and Live Correspondent http://news.yahoo.com/video/world-15749633/24048517#video=24056861 Between 10-11PM Cairo Time 2-2-11 Military/Pro and Anti-Mubarak Supporters. 8:02min. video
"Extraordinary And Deeply Saddening" 10:57 PM Cairo Time 2-2-11 More Anarchy On The Streets http://news.yahoo.com/video/world-15749633/24048517#video=24056857 3:59min. Video
Lebanon Keeps An Eye On Egypt http://news.yahoo.com/video/world-15749633/24048517#video=24053725 2:14min video From Beirut, Lebanon
Abdullah, a key U.S. ally, has come under pressure in recent weeks from protests by a coalition of Islamists, secular opposition groups and a group of retired army generals who have called for sweeping political and economic reforms.
The weekly demonstrations, which have drawn momentum from the unrest in the region and were joined Friday by thousands across Jordan, reflect growing discontent stoked by the most serious domestic economic crisis in years and accusations of rampant government corruption.
Demonstrators protested rising prices and demanded the dismissal of Rifai and his government. But they have not directly challenged the king, criticism of whom is banned in Jordan. The demonstrators have been peaceful and have not been confronted by the police.
It was not immediately clear whether the opposition would be satisfied with Tuesday's ouster of Rifai and members of his cabinet, who had been lightning rods for criticism. Opposition critics say they personally profited from the sale of state companies as part of the king's policy of privatization and free-market reforms to attract foreign capital.
"It's a club of businessmen serving their financial interests," said Nahedh Hattar, a veteran opposition activist. "The king is a member of the club."
In an attempt to defuse tensions, Rifai earlier announced a package of new subsidies for fuel and basic goods, as well as pay raises for civil servants, an increase in pensions and a job-creation initiative.
The king met with members of parliament and the appointed Senate, urging reforms. Officials say he has talked to representatives of various groups, including unionists and Islamists, to hear their grievances, and even visited poor areas of the country to get a firsthand look at people's needs.
In his meeting with parliament members last week, Abdullah said that more should be done to address the concerns of ordinary Jordanians, and that "openness, frankness and dialogue on all issues is the way to strengthen trust between citizens and their national institutions," according to a palace statement.
But leaders of the protests said Sunday that the king had failed, so far, to take substantial steps to address mounting public resentment. They warned that unless genuine changes were made, the unrest could worsen.
Zaki Bani Irsheid, head of the political department of the Islamic Action Front, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest opposition group, said its main demands were dismissal of the government by the king, the dissolution of parliament - elected in November in a vote widely criticized as fraudulent - and new elections.
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.
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."
"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.
Jordan's Islamists say new PM must step down
Also, Jordan's King Abdullah II made a surprise visit to an impoverished northern village. It was his first such trip since the unrest broke out in neighboring Egypt, and appeared to be an attempt to defuse popular anger over the country's troubles and portray himself as a caring leader.
On Tuesday, Abdullah named Marouf al-Bakhit prime minister, bowing to public pressure from protests inspired by those in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak.
Hamza Mansour, a leader of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, rejected al-Bakhit's nomination, saying he "is not the right person for the job."
"Al-Bakhit is a security man, a former army general and ex-intelligence official. He doesn't believe in democracy," Mansour told The Associated Press. Instead, he said the country needs "a national figure who can tackle Jordan's serious economic and political crisis."
Jordan is grappling with a soaring foreign debt estimated at $15 billion, an inflation rate which has swelled by 1.5 percent to 6.1 percent in December and high unemployment and poverty rates — set at 12 and 25 percent respectively.
Mansour also criticized al-Bakhit for signing off on Jordan's first casino, which the Brotherhood strongly opposed on the grounds that it violated Islamic principles and encouraged vice. The project was later canceled.
On Tuesday, King Abdullah, facing public pressure inspired by the revolt in Tunisia and Egypt, sacked his government and named al-Bakhit as prime minister, ordering him to move quickly to boost economic opportunities and give Jordanians a greater say in politics.
Al-Bakhit, 63, is a former ambassador to Israel who supports strong ties with the U.S. and Jordan's peace treaty with Israel — policies which the Brotherhood and the leftists oppose. The fundamentalist Brotherhood advocates the introduction of strict Islamic sharia law, close relations with Muslim nations and Israel's destruction.
Many Jordanians see al-Bakhit as a tough enforcer of security, which goes against their calls for greater democratic freedoms. Al-Bakhit is an ex-army major general who also served as the chief of Jordan's National Security Agency in the last decade. He is credited with maintaining Jordan's stability following the 2005 triple attacks on hotels in Amman, claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq.
At a small protest Wednesday near al-Bakhit's office, leftist activist Hadi Khitan said al-Bakhit was no different from deposed Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
"We want to change government policies, not change prime ministers," he said. "We want a real political change and this message should reach the king."
King Abdullah made his surprise visit to the northern village of Ghoret Qassim near Mafraq, 120 kilometers (75 miles) away from Amman.
State television showed Abdullah shaking hands with jubilant men and children as women ululated. Mobs surrounded the monarch as he walked through the village unescorted. In one clip, Abdullah was shown sitting on a floor mattress, taking notes of people's grievances, which included improved sewage and roads.
"I promise you I will do my best to help improve the infrastructure in this village," he said to loud applause.
Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman contributed reporting.