Jordan's king swears in new cabinet after protests

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King Abdullah with the new Jordanian cabinet in Amman, 9 February (Jordanian Royal Palace handout)
Image caption,
The foreign, interior and economy ministers have all retained their posts

King Abdullah of Jordan has sworn in a new cabinet after nationwide protests inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Last week, the king sacked PM Samir Rifai over the slow pace of reform and appointed Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general and ambassador to Israel.

The new 26-member cabinet includes an Islamist and five leftists.

Opposition Muslim Brotherhood members have refused to take cabinet posts, but said they would wait to see if real reform results.

Thousands of Jordanians have taken to the streets over the past five weeks, demanding better employment prospects and cuts in foods and fuel costs.

The protesters also demand more say in the political process and to be able to elect their prime minister. At present, King Abdullah appoints and dismisses them.

The new prime minister, Mr Bakhit, has chosen a rainbow coalition of leftist unionists, seasoned establishment politicians, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, and two women, including distinguished women's rights activist Haifa Abu Ghazaleh.

The ministers of foreign affairs, interior and finance have retained their posts. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh advocates maintaining close ties with the United States and Israel.

It remains to be seen if the finance minister, Mohammed Abu Hammur, will be able to juggle demands from the US and the World Bank with popular appeals from Jordanians to tackle soaring inflation and unemployment.

Jordan's economy is weighed down by a record deficit of $2bn and unemployment tops 12%.

The Brotherhood's political arm - the Islamic Action Front (IAF) - said the cabinet's composition is not as important as the implementation of far-reaching change.

"This cabinet is like previous ones, but what matters is whether the new ministers will deliver on promises of quick reforms," said Hamza Mansour, leader of the IAF.

The IAF wants a new election law to replace one the group claims has reduced votes among its followers.