(for the other 95% of America)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Will Replace Egyptian, Tunisian, Bahraini, Jordanian, Syrian, and Yemeni Tyrants? Democracy, If You Can Keep It

Protests in Tahir Square, Cairo, Egypt

Over the past month, US officials seem to have one central, overarching theme in their message to the people of the Middle East: “we will ambiguously and half-heartedly support your democratic aspirations.” When it is politically easy to support protest movements, like in Iran, we will show our support. When it seems we have no choice, we will do the politically expedient thing and begrudgingly throw our lot behind the people, like in Tunisia and especially Egypt. But when it isn’t politically expedient and some sort of national security or business interest stands in the way, we keep our mouths shut, like in Jordan, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. While it is frustrating that freedom and democracy take a backseat to oil and counterterrorism, a more serious concern for democracy-enthusiasts is the fragility that these new governments are often built upon.

Consider this statement by political scientist Jack Snyder: “The experiment with democracy in [the Middle East] is just the latest chapter in a turbulent story that begun with the French Revolution.” Now, that was written in 2004 with regards to Iraq, but the basic context of a nascent democracy and rival groups pulling the country into discord can apply to almost any country that has seen unrest over the last month. While nobody disagrees that the French Revolution was a noble cause, or that democracies are essentially good, getting there is often turbulent, violent, and in no way pre-determined.

Snyder continues to say that, “More fundamental, emerging democracies often have nascent political institutions that cannot channel popular demands in constructive directions or credibly enforce compromises among rival groups.” The lack of political institutions alone could be devastating for the new Middle Eastern democracies. NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote yesterday about the lack of development in the Arab region over the last 30 years, which does not bode well for their chances of keeping democracy. “The United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report,” he writes “stated that the Arab world is suffering from three huge deficits — a deficit of education, a deficit of freedom and a deficit of women’s empowerment. A summary of the report in Middle East Quarterly in the Fall of 2002 detailed the key evidence: the gross domestic product of the entire Arab world combined was less than that of Spain. Per capita expenditure on education in Arab countries dropped from 20 percent of that in industrialized countries in 1980 to 10 percent in the mid-1990s. In terms of the number of scientific papers per unit of population, the average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants was roughly 2 percent of that of an industrialized country.” This report reveals that there will be many hindrances to a strong civil society that democracies demand, and in some respects 19th century France was in a more conducive situation for democracy than the 21st century Middle East.

Another hindrance, especially to countries with multi-ethnic societies is that “Countries transitioning to democracy… are more likely than other states to get into international and civil wars. In the last 15 years, wars or large-scale civil violence followed experiments with mass electoral democracy in countries including Armenia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Russia, and the former Yugoslavia. In part, this violence is caused by ethnic groups’ competing demands for national self-determination, often a problem in new, multiethnic democracies” (Snyder again). Americans know all-too-much about how deep sectarian fault lines run in this region, as our war in Iraq nearly exploded in civil war between the outgoing Sunni government and the ingoing Shia government. Even more devastating is the countries ruled by an ethnic or religious minority groups (think Bahrain, Syria, and Jordan). These are also, perhaps not surprisingly, countries that the Obama Administration is publicly treading cautiously with in regards to supporting the democratic movements over the tyrants who suppress them.

No one is rooting for the success of Arab self-determination more than I am, although, if history is any guide, this will be an extremely difficult process -- one in which I will probably be still cheering for in my old age. It reminds me of that Ben Franklin quote, when he responded to a woman asking what kind of government had been decided upon in America, he said “A republic, if you can keep it.” The truth is, nobody knows what the outcome in the newly emerging Arab governments will be. They could be like the French Revolution of 1789, or 1848, or maybe 1879, when the French Republicans finally wrested control of the government from the Monarch. What is clear is that things will never be the same.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

White House Backpedals in Support of Democratic Transition in Egypt

Just a week ago, White House Officials made a stunning policy decision to reverse decades of support for brutal dictator and strategic ally, Hosni Mubarak. Many commentators, myself included, were elated that after 30 years of collaborating with the Egyptian government, America might finally cast itself on the right side of history.

But, in a de facto 180-policy reversal, Hilary Clinton and other US officials have begun to backpedal from their initial decision to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure over the last few days. Mrs. Clinton claimed on Sunday that removing Mubarak too hastily would threaten the country’s transition to democracy, since there’s not enough time for the opposition to prepare and for government election policies to be revamped. The White House seems to be getting closer and closer to Frank Wisner’s comments that Mubarak should remain in the picture a while longer, even though officials have distanced themselves from the former diplomat’s remarks.

The sincerity of US statements regarding the future Egyptian government will, unfortunately, only be determined by time. For now, though, the mixed signals from public officials can only cause doubt with regards to whether or not we expressed our support of the Egyptian people because it was politically expedient, or because we truly do stand behind the democratic aspirations of all people (which is what Obama claimed in his State of the Union). Maybe we are beginning to see why that speech was utterly lacking in specifics.

Last weeks remarks were markedly different from this week. I was initially proud of Obama’s speech last Tuesday, when he said, “an orderly transition [in Egypt] must begin now.” And if that wasn’t enough, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs the next day clarified that “’now’ started yesterday.” It seemed that the US was truly ready to radically alter our approach to the Middle East and support the idea that the Egyptian people’s future, and the future of all people, should be up to the people themselves.

Perhaps the most conspicuous part of Mrs. Clinton’s speech Sunday was this: “’It’s striking that in Tunisia, Ben Ali, who’d been in power so long, got out of town,’ she said, referring to…the ousted president. ‘He didn’t have the depth of support within the institutions of his government that would have enabled him even to attempt to hang on, so he left.’ Other Arab leaders, she said, believe they can ride out the unrest by taking steps to improve the lives of their people. King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Saleh of Yemen appeared to fit that description. Mrs. Clinton did not say in which category Mr. Mubarak fit.” (Reported by the Washington Post; italics are mine.)

Last week, my reporting was filled with optimism that, not only would Egyptians soon experience democracy, but also that Obama would finally bring the United States onto the right side of history in the Middle East. I received several comments saying that it was naïve thinking since Islamic Fascists would probably hijack the process anyways – which is, admittedly, stupid and devoid of the facts on the ground. But what I realize this week is that I was naïve, but only because I believed the US had the courage to actually live up to the values we profess to uphold. I can now only wait lamely in hope that the US will sincerely press for change, and not just a façade of change.

Further Reading:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Banks Phase Out Free Checking in Response to Financial Reforms

The era of free checking accounts is officially over, may they rest in peace. Originally started by Washington Mutual in the mid-1990’s and later adopted by major banks in the early 2000’s, banks are now preparing to phase that out, and start charge customers roughly $100 dollars every year in monthly installments to maintain a checking account -- if you don’t regularly have anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars, depending on who you bank with.

Claiming that new financial regulations regarding the use of ‘hidden fees’ (credit card payment and overdraft fees) will cost them billions of dollars a year, the new checking account fees will partly make up for the loss. Basically, it is another way banks have managed to put even more strain on their least-profitable customers – the poor, even in the face of growing public scrutiny. But, alas, gone are the days when banks can rake in hundreds of billions of dollars a year by essentially praying on and exploiting the weakest members of our society. Critics called the fees ‘hidden’ because the most successful firms that put these fees into place were the ones that most successfully hide the extra fees from consumers.

The bigger story here is this: a company makes profit by producing a product that will somehow make peoples lives better, and, ipso facto, people will buy the product. GE produces appliances, Apple produces computers, and Tropicana produces juice; people need these things, and they buy them. Right?

But a hidden fee is not a product. Nobody is rushing to the stores because they just really need some hidden fees. There were no ‘innovative’ ideas that would make people’s lives easier or more efficient. It’s just a way banking executives can line their pockets with fat bonuses. The worst part is that the fees predominantly hurt the most vulnerable members of our society, many of which have already stopped using banks altogether, and have resorted to using check cashing stores – which in many ways are even more predatory towards the poor.

The bottom line is that commercial banking should be boring, as Joseph Stiglitz put it. If you want to make multi-million dollar bonuses than you should work for an investment firm or a hedge fund. Or, try this: actually come up with a good idea! The success of any sector should be decided by the benefits to our society. Money, instead of being a means to an end, has become an end in itself.

Further Reading:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

House Republicans Unveil Plans to Boost Greenhouse Gases, Leaving Mandate on Jobs and Economy Behind

Representative Darrell Issa, from California

House Republicans yesterday unveiled draft legislation yesterday that bans the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The legislation, which will easily pass in the House, is another sharp rebuke to the Obama Administration, just days after Representative Darrel Issa reportedly was asked by the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) to attack decades of regulations and consumer protections.

Perhaps the more scary part of this story is that Democratic lawmakers might just go along with it. Already a handful of Senators are supporting plans to impose a two-year moratorium on EPA attempts to, essentially, do its job. It's almost as if Republicans, so intent on proving that government is inefficient, will go to the extraordinarily length of sabotaging efforts to take practical and necessary steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, just to prove their point.

Daily Kos author Jed Lewison pointed out today that, "Conservatives can claim climate science is a hoax until they go blue in the face, but that won't change the immutable fact that dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere traps solar energy."And while he's completely right, there is another reason why conservatives should be going blue in the face -- this bill would also be bad for the economy. In fifty to a hundred years from now, there simply won't be much oil or gas to go around. With the explosion in the use of energy, especially in China and India, it's imperative that we continue to capitalize on the benefits that clean energy will give us now, but more importantly in the future.

China already understands this, and in many respects they are already ahead of us. Reversing decades of energy policy is not only bad environmentally, but economically as well. But I suppose it's not news that Republicans are proposing yet another bill that has nothing to do with their mandate on jobs and the economy.

Further Reading:

Huffington Post: House GOP Readies Severe New Restrictions on EPA
Daily Kos: GOP Unveils Pro Greenhouse Gas Legislation

Health-Care Repeal Fails in Senate, Next Course: Incrementally Defeat Individual Sections of Health Care -- Promising Long, Drawn-Out Debate

We all read yesterday that the Senate struck down the bill to repeal health care reform, which, of course, was not really news. The House vote to strike down job-killing Obamacare was largely a symbolic measure. The real news came out today, which is that after weeks of wrangling about a bill that actually has a negative impact on the economy, House Republicans announced they will dedicate many more weeks and possibly months attempting to incrementally defeat the most unpopular elements of the bill.

Americans are, according to polls (poll analysis), increasingly flocking towards the President as Republicans continue to bungle their mandate to focus on jobs and the economy. Obama’s approval ratings are the highest they’ve been for years, largely due to an increase in support from independents (36% approval rate last July, compared to 48% now). Not only are Republicans over-focusing on the outright repeal of health care, they're also focusing more on ‘family values’ issues like abortion. Just today Republican lawmakers, after massive outcries from women’s groups and days of dragging their feet, finally removed the term “forcible rape” from the antiabortion bill being debated in Congress. Critics argue that rape is by definition forced, as it seemed lawmakers were trying to make some cases of rape except – like in cases where the victim is unconscious.

But back to health care, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, prepared Americans for a long fight on repealing individual parts of the law, saying “These are the first steps in a long road that will culminate in 2012. We will continue to expose flaws and faults in this legislation… and the courts will continue to review it.” Democrats and Republicans alike are both hoping the Supreme Court will quickly take up the case to put an end to the debate.

Also coincidentally in the news today Virginia’s attorney general announced that he wanted to bypass the lower court system by asking the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of the health care law on a more expedited basis. But, historically at least, Democrats have a lot more precedents to point towards in arguing that the health care law is constitutional. As Senator Richard Lugar, Democrat of Illinois, said, “This is not the first major law that’s been challenged in the courts, even challenged successfully in the lower courts.” He then cited the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Federal Minimum Wage law – all of which were challenged, sometimes successfully in lower courts, and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.

Further Reading:

CS Monitor: Health-care repeal fails in Senate
NY Times: VA. to ask supreme court to rule on health law

Does Egypt Need Twitter?

Here's Malcolm Gladwell's take on the importance, or lack of importance, of social networking with regards to the unrest that is transforming the Middle East.


As Egypt is One Step Closer Towards Democracy, Western Officials Fear Favorable Outcome for Muslim Brotherhood

As Egypt seems to get closer and closer to a transition to democracy every day, many commentators are deploring the growing role Islamist Parties, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, may play in the newly formed government. In essence, commentators are stuck in the bind of supporting a democratic process, but not the outcome of that process. We just cannot have our cake and eat it too.

The Bush Administration also grappled with this paradox as it fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish democracies there, yet at the same time condemned the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2005. We basically seem to have a policy of supporting free societies just up to the point where the we find the people elected don’t really seem to jive well with the status quo balance of power in the Middle East.

The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s unrest and the recent majority Hezbollah gained in Lebanon has reignited this debate. There are, to be fair, serious concerns about balancing an Islamist Party with democracy, the biggest being the establishment of Shariah Law versus an independent judiciary. Islam is the only organized religion with its own set of judicial laws that run directly counter to Western notions of freedom and liberty. But Americans don’t seem to have a problem of continuing their precious support for Saudi Arabia, which is probably the biggest hotbed of Anti-Western and anti-Jewish sentiment in the region. So why the disconnect?

So what if Egyptians want to elect an Islamist Party? Why should we stop Egyptians from doing what they want? Is it not their country? If they want to be a theocratic state (which seems highly unlikely), then let them! If they want to wear Hawaiian shirts on Friday, then why not? If they want to wear their underwear on their heads, why not? Aren’t they a ‘free people’ now? Egypt should be for Egyptians.

If President Obama truly wants to stand with the democratic aspirations of all people, like he said in his State of the Union, he will simply have to accept the fact that the outcome may not be favorable to the US. We have for many years purchased stability at the cost of democracy, and we should recognize that we simply cannot have it both ways anymore. President Obama should take steps towards recognizing democratically elected Hamas and Hezbollah, and also towards bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into the newly formed Egyptian government. In order for these groups to shed their fundamentalist nature, they will have to eventually come out of the shadows – and we should do everything we can to facilitate that process.

There are, of course, many risks that we take in supporting the democratic process, but there are arguably even more risks that we have seen unravel over the past week from hedging our bets against the democratic aspirations of the Arab people.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Al Jazeera in Tunisia and Egypt: the Next Radio Free Europe?

Al Jazeera English’s ratings from the past weekend have the American media abuzz about the Qatar-based network’s increasing popularity. The LA Times called it the media sensation’s “CNN moment’ (whose popularity catapulted after their Gulf War coverage), and reported it may even result in the channel becoming part of a premium cable package here in the US. Huffington Post author Tom Watson wrote today “let’s hope it spreads to our sets like democracy activism through the Middle East.” Out of the network’s four million viewers last weekend, 1.6 million of them were American.

Yet despite the importance Al Jazeera plays in offering Americans a chance to re-connect with events happening on the other side of the world, it plays an even more prominent and historically important role in the Middle East as it capitalizes on the lack of unfettered journalism in the region. Especially during the Tunisian uprising a few weeks ago and the current Egyptian unrest, dissidents there must have access to information outside of the state-dominated news agencies, which have a strong bias towards the regimes that fund them.

The importance of the freedom of information that alternative news sources can provide has many precedents in history, but perhaps the most recent and most tangible to Western observers is the role that Radio Free Europe played in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, “where the free flow of information [was also] banned by government authorities or not fully developed (link).” Much like the Egyptian unrest, it was critical that Czechs could be fully informed in order to fully partake in the protests that led to the transition to democracy. Czech Ambassador Zderek Lycka recounts, “how did a demonstration start? Always with information from radio stations The Voice of America or Radio Free Europe about time and place (link).”

Mr. Krichen, the anchor on Al Jazeera English, told the New York Times “I think we should be careful – I mean we shouldn’t think that our role is to release the Arab people from oppression… But I think we should also be careful not to avoid any popular movement. We should have our eyes open to capture any event that could be the start of the end of any dictator in the Arab world.”

Further Reading:

Tea Party Influence Present in Highest State and Federal Courts

Judge Roger Vinson

Judge Roger Vinson, of Federal District Court in Penasacola, Florida, released a 78-page legal opinon on the ruling to strike down health care reform on Monday. But while the outcome of the ruling is not surprising, what is drawing a lot of attention is what seems to be a deliberate nod to a political movement and perhaps an instance of political bias by one of the state's highest court judges. "It is difficult to imagine," the opinion read, "that the nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place." Some commentators are even referring to the document as the 'Tea Party Manifesto." It is unclear so far how much damage this will do to the chances of health care repeal getting admitted to the Supreme Court, and that, in turn, depends on how much bad press the opinion gets.

But this is not the first time Americans have heard of radical Tea Party members peddling influence with the some of the most prestigious courts in America. Just last week it was reported that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers. While it is proper for justices to interact with Congress, like any other job it requires an obligation on the judges part to at least act like they are being impartial. Jonathan Turley wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post Sunday about this, saying that "If justices come to personify political movements, the law appears to be merely an extension of the personalities -- and the politics -- of the bench."

Also recently in the news Virginia Thomas, Supreme Court Clarence Thomas's wife, has for decades worked for and received money from conservative think-tanks and political groups, but Justice Thomas has not reportedly made public where the money is coming from. Mrs. Thomas is the founder and head of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called Liberty Central, and because of the 501(C)(4) status she does not have to publicly disclose any of the contributors. But, the New York Times reported, "A federal law requires justices to recuse themselves in an number of circumstances where real or perceived conflicts of interest could arise, including in cases where their spouses could have a financial interest. But the decision to step aside is up to each justice; there is no appeal from the nation's highest court."

While Judge Vinson's ruling may not be taken up by the Supreme Court and very well could soon be invalidated, there are still serious questions remaining about the ability of justices who serve in state and federal courts to dissociate themselves with political groups when deciding upon matters that are to be influenced by the law, and only the law. How did we even get ourselves into this pathetic state of affairs?

Further Reading:

NY Times: Justice Scalia to Speak to Tea Party...
NY Times: Activism of Thomas's Wife Could Raise Judicial Issues
NY Times: Tea Party Shadows Health Care Ruling
Huffington Post: Florida Judge Rules Health Care Reform Unconstitutional

2012 Roadmap to Obama Victory: Compete in Historically Republican South

Obama's Chief Political Advisor, David Axelrod

In a bold effort to define the roadmap to victory, the DNC announced yesterday that Charlotte, North Carolina will be the site of the Democratic National Convention in 2012. North Carolina, along with Virginia, went Democratic in the last election for the first time since Jimmy Carter, and basically since leftist politicians passed the Civil Rights Act. But thanks to more robust economies, more social and racial diversity, and large voter turnout among blacks, some Southern states are once again turning into political battlegrounds. David Axelrod highlighted the importance of states like North Carolina on Monday, saying “[T]he mistake we make in this town is often to sit on the back of the truck and look at what just happened and extrapolate from it and assume that the next election is going to be just like the last one."

But as Democrats are working to be more competitive in historically Republican regions, the electoral map is beginning to reflecting that. The Midwest was another region that voted more democratic in 2008 than in had over the past decade, where Obama carried states like Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa (all of which went for George Bush in 2004). But Obama’s team is, at least for now, paying less attention to this region since the revival of the auto industry is proving to be essential to these states economic recoveries. Obama is right to think he can win in those states without too much extra attention, with success stories like the GM revival to point towards. Just a week ago GM sold more vehicles in China than the US for the first time, showing it can be a successful global competitor. Dana Rouse, chairman of the United Automobile Workers, told the New York Times “Less than two years ago, we didn’t even know if we were going to have a company,” in response to the Ford Motor Company announcing their decision to add 7,000 jobs to their plants in Flint, Michigan by 2012.

Not only is it a shrewd choice to choose North Carolina to remain competitive in that state, but Democrats should aggressively take on the rest of the Southern states as well. This is, in essence, Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy in 2006 of competing in every single state no matter how uncompetitive it seems.

Many people are still critical of trying to win states like South Carolina and Georgia. Huffington Post Author Howards Fineman wrote yesterday “the interior border states are trending Republican. West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri used to be competitive. They no longer really are.” But although it’s true that these states have historically gone Republican, we cannot deny that Democrats have made dramatic gains in the South over the last two elections. Dems lost Virginia in 2004 by 10%, but won by 6% in 2008. They lost NC by 10% in 2004, but won in 2008. Even states where Obama still lost in 2008 have seen many more people vote democrat than in the last few decades. Dems lost Georgia by 20% in 2004, but lost by only 5% in 2008. They lost SC by 20% in 2004, and 10% in 2008. They lost West Virginia by 23% in 2004, but lost by 13% in 2008. The gains are subtle but undeniably there, and by choosing North Carolina as the first major stop on the President's roadmap, Obama is making a very bold move to take on Republicans right at the core of their base. 

And it may just work.

Further Reading:

                           Axelrod Outlines the 2012 Map

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Iraqi Government Follows in US Footsteps: Secret Detention Facilities, Torture, and Indefinite Detention

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

Human Rights Watch uncovered information today that indicted the Army's 56th Brigade and counter terrorism service, both under the direction of Prime Minister Maliki, of operating secret detention facilities and using torture on detainees right in the heart of Baghdad. "Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that the only country who could exercise any influence in Iraq is the United States, and we of course use all of these detention tactics that run counter to international law, and run counter to any sense of moral dignity in general.

Further Reading:

Human Rights Watch: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad
Washington Post: Human Rights Watch: Maliki's secret forces abusing detainees at secret sites
CS Monitor: Secret prison in Iraq raises fresh concerns over torture

Mubarak Agrees to Step Down Eventually - Protesters Say Too Little, Too Late

effigy of Mubarak (photo credit: Victoria Hazou/AP)

In the face of the largest protest in Egypt yet (several hundred thousand people gathered at Tahir Square in Cairo alone) and increasing lack of support from Mubarak's biggest beneficiary, the United States, the president agreed not to run in the elections next fall. In his lackluster remarks, the aging dictator actually claimed at one point that he was going to retire soon anyway, saying "In all sincerity, regardless of the current circumstances, I never intended to be a candidate for another term."

In all sincerity my foot.

Mubarak's concessions are too little, too late, and it's far from certain that the protesters intend to renounce their demands of immediate resignation. It seems like everyday there is a desperate, last-ditch effort by the Egyptian government to disperse the protests. On Wednesday and Thursday the police in Cairo tried to break up the protests through violence -- it didn't work. Friday the regime tried to intimidate the demonstrators with the military presence throughout the city -- it didn't work. Over the weekend the regime tried to incite unrest by using plainclothes police officers to start looting and encourage others to join in the 'mob mentality' -- it didn't work. Also over the weekend Mubarak made an effort to instill fear in the crowds by flying US made helicopters and fighter jets low over the ground, and guess what -- it didn't work.

Protesters have demanded that Mubarak step down by Friday. At the rate of the Egyptian President's current failures to quell the unrest, they could very well have their wish.

Further Reading:
NY Times: Mubarak Says He Won't Run....
Huffington Post: Mubarak Tells Egypt He Will Not Seek Re-election

Jordan Gives in to Protester’s Demands of Reform – US Should Help Ensure This Reform Takes Place

King Abdullah II of Jordan

As the wave of popular protest throughout the Middle East seems to be reaching its crest, King Abdullah II of Jordan is attempting to capitulate to demonstrator’s concerns before Egyptian-like protests erupt in his country as well. Today the king fired Prime Minister Samir Rifai and replaced him with former general and ambassador Marouf al-Bakhit in an effort to bolster more support for his monarchic regime. The new Prime Minister is widely seen as untainted by corruption, and also an American ally because of his work in crafting a peace agreement with Israel, giving it an air of legitimacy to two key constituents.

Mr. Bakhit’s first task as the new PM is to “[take] steps to start a political reform process… [To] bolster democracy [and] nation building that opens the scope for broad accomplishment to all dear sons of our country and secure them the safe and dignified life they deserve,” states the official announcement of transition. The New York Times reported, “Reactions among protest leaders were cautiously positive. Nahed Hattar, a leftist activist, said in a telephone interview that he considered the change a good move but that he wanted to see the government program before rendering a judgment.” Indeed Jordanians should ask themselves why King Abdullah, like President Mubarak, would bring about democratic reforms that would spell an end to his rule. But, at least for now, the people of Jordan are only calling for economic reform and more government accountability.

The US should aggressively work with their Jordanian counterparts to ensure this reform takes place. If we have learned anything from Egypt and Tunisia it is that ‘our dictators’ in the region are clearly not as stable as we thought. We should continue to use the leverage of military aid to tell these dictators, and perhaps more importantly their generals, that they must proceed with reforms if they expect our financial support, like we have done in Egypt. President Obama was right in his State of the Union to say that “The United States of America supports the democratic aspirations of all people,” but he should follow up on that by taking concrete actions, before the momentum is lost.

Further Reading: