Jordan’s PM reshuffles cabinet to soothe anger over poor economy

Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki reshuffled his cabinet on Sunday. (Supplied)
Updated 25 February 2018
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Jordan’s PM reshuffles cabinet to soothe anger over poor economy

AMMAN: Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki reshuffled his cabinet on Sunday and appointed the king’s chief of staff as his special deputy for economic affairs in an apparent bid to soothe widespread anger over rising hardship and flagging growth.
Mulki’s reshuffle, his sixth since coming to power in May 2016, comes three days after hundreds of protesters in the city of Salt, 30 km west of the capital Amman, demanded his resignation and called for the Jordanian king to force the government to roll back price hikes and end high-level corruption.
Earlier this month Mulki avoided a vote of no-confidence in parliament after deputies sought to bring down the government over the price hikes that raised taxes on most consumer and food items and some fuel items. This was followed by a doubling of the prices of subsidised bread.
Jafar Hassan, chief of staff of the office of Jordan’s King Abdullah, takes up the post of deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs, a role that had been left vacant in Mulki’s previous cabinet.
Hassan, a former Harvard educated planning minister, will be leading the ministerial team overseeing a tough three-year program agreed with the International Monetary Fund of long delayed structural reforms to cut public debt to 77 percent of national output GDP by 2021 from 94 percent now.
Earlier this year, Mulki imposed steep IMF-mandated tax hikes to cut rising public debt that have hit incomes of ordinary Jordanians, causing his popularity to plummet.
Finance Minister Omar Malhas kept his job in the reshuffle.
Ayman Safadi, a long-time adviser to the royal family, who took up the post for the first time early last year and has been leading the kingdom’s talks with Washington over its Middle East policy remains as foreign minister.
Politicians and economists say the tough fiscal consolidation plan and the price hikes, the widest in range in recent years, worsen the plight of poorer Jordanians.
Removing subsidies has triggered civil unrest in the past. Unlike previous hikes, only a few scattered protests have taken place, but slogans carried by demonstrators in the rally in Salt were the most critical so far.
“We will wage an intifada (Uprising) until prices go down. There are limits to our patience,” protesters chanted. Some indirectly blamed the monarch. On Friday the authorities sent gendarmerie reinforcements to Salt.
The government has said cash transfers to low income citizens had mitigated the impact of price rises.
In recent years Jordan’s economic growth has been hit by regional conflicts weighing on investor sentiment and as consumer demand generated by Syrian refugees staying in Jordan has receded, according to the IMF.
Real GDP was revised downwards to 2 percent in 2017 about one percent lower than anticipated at the start of the IMF program and was expected to hover around 3 percent, almost half the levels it attained a decade ago.


Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

Updated 22 September 2018
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Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

  • Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Cessation dashed any hope that Gamal Mubarak could run for public office.
  • Mubarak’s two sons are currently on trial for insider trading.

CAIRO: Egypt's highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their conviction on corruption charges.
The ruling by the Court of Cessation, Egypt's final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, dashed any hope that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and one-time heir apparent, could run for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of Egypt's current president had recently suggested that banker-turned-politician Gamal may have been contemplating the move.
The Mubarak trio was sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces but which they spent on upgrading or building private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. They repaid the funds, a total of 125 million pounds (about $7 million).
Mubarak's sons are currently on trial for insider trading. They are free on bail after a judge on Thursday overturned a surprise Sept. 15 ruling to detain them. The case's next hearing is on Oct. 20.
The rejection of their appeal Saturday and Gamal Mubarak's subsequent ineligibility to run for office came in the wake of recent comments by the chief editor of state-run Al-Akhbar publications, Yasser Rizq, who suggested that frequent public appearances by the younger Mubarak could be a prelude to a future presidential run.
Rizq first warned Gamal Mubarak against harboring presidential ambitions in an article published in May. He repeated the warning in a television interview aired earlier this week.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Rizq said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained. He said it was not improbable that he would strike a political deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to secure the group's return to politics in exchange for its support in a presidential bid in 2022, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi's second term ends.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the main drivers of a 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule, as well as the military's support for it. The years that followed saw Mubarak regime heavyweights tried on corruption or abuse of power charges. Most have since walked free, while second-string regime loyalists found their way back to public life under El-Sissi.