Jordan Islamists demand speedy political reform

AMMAN Fri Feb 4, 2011 1:32pm EST

1 of 5. Protestors from opposition parties hold up a sign during a demonstration against Jordan's government and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak outside the Egyptian embassy in Amman February 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ali Jarekji

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Hundreds of Jordanians, inspired by demonstrations in Egypt, protested Friday against King Abdullah's government reshuffle saying it did not meet their calls for political reform.

Protesters, drawn mainly from Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, said the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding an immediate end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule were charting a road to freedom and democracy for all Arabs against autocratic rulers.

Abdullah Tuesday asked Marouf Bakhit, a conservative former premier with a military background, to head the government after accepting the resignation of Samir Rifai, whose dismissal was demanded in protests across the country.

But the appointment of Bakhit angered the main Islamist opposition as his last government oversaw 2007 local and parliamentary elections seen as marred by vote-rigging that left them with a handful of seats in a pro-government assembly.

"No to Rifai; No to Bakhit. We want an elected prime minister," chanted the mainly Islamist crowd, joined by scores of left-wing protesters and activists.

Sheikh Hamza Mansour, head of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, said: "We want changes in policy and laws. It is not about changing faces."

But Bakhit's appointment seems to have calmed many tribal and rural Jordanians, backbone of support for the Hashemite monarchy, who have mobilized the protests in rural areas in the past weeks against what they see as cuts in state jobs and subsidies since the global financial crisis hit Jordan.

Many of them prefer Bakhit to Rifai, who spearheaded free market reforms cutting state support which they depend on.

Many protesters Friday said real change would be by having broader political representation and a more democratic parliament. The king appoints cabinets, approves legislation and can dissolve parliament.

Thursday, Abdullah met leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood during which he said the pace of political reforms in recent years had faced hurdles and pledged to fight corruption.

The Brotherhood -- an opponent of Israel, with which Jordan has a peace treaty, and the United States -- said its leaders raised long-standing demands for wider freedom and an end to laws that curb civil liberties.

"We want seriousness and reforms on the ground. We want initiatives now where people feel they are partners in decision making," Sheikh Mansour, who attended the meeting with the monarch, told protesters Friday.

(Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi, editing by Janet Lawrence)

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