Mixed reaction in Jordan over amendment to expand king’s power

Jordan’s Parliament has been presented with 30 constitutional changes. (Reuters/File Photo)
Jordan’s Parliament has been presented with 30 constitutional changes. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 28 November 2021

Mixed reaction in Jordan over amendment to expand king’s power

Jordan’s Parliament has been presented with 30 constitutional changes. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Political activist: Reforms ‘reassure public that we are moving closer and closer to elected government, which will change the way Jordan is run’

AMMAN: Jordan’s Parliament has been presented with 30 constitutional changes that aim to reform electoral law while also increasing the powers of the king within the executive branch.

MP Salah Armouti, former head of the Jordanian bar, and Mamdouh Abadi, former Amman mayor and deputy prime minister, were among those who voiced criticism against what they described as “unnecessary amendments.”

Among the changes is the “constitutionalizing of the National Security Council with wide-ranging political and security powers.”

The new council, headed by the king, will include the prime minister, army chief, directors of the security forces, foreign and interior ministers, as well as two other members that the king will appoint.

The concern is that the council will “create a new body that will be parallel to that of the executive and legislative branches of government.”

Jordan’s monarch will also be able to appoint and fire the chief justice, head of the Sharia court, the general mufti, the head of the Royal Hashemite Court and advisers, adding to existing control over the chief of the army, head of the gendarmerie and head of the intelligence service.

In the past, all these appointments were made based on the recommendations of the prime minister.

Samar Mhareb, director of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, told Arab News that there is “no justification” for the amendments.

“These amendments will deepen the lack of trust with government and will propel the palace into the unilateral decision-making process on the account of sovereign bodies that are supposed to carry out issues of national accountability,” said Mhareb.

The message behind these amendments is that the elected bodies are not able to take such important decisions, he added.

“As civil society activists, we reject these amendments, which reflect a paternalistic attitude in terms of who can decide on important security and foreign relations issues.”

However, Haytham Ereifej, a lawyer and a political activist, told Arab News that he welcomed the constitutional amendments, which he said have “a single goal.”

He added: “The goal is to prepare for the creation of elected governments while issues of security and foreign affairs stay clearly in the hands of the king.

“The elected prime minister will have local powers in areas of economics, health and education, as well as in other areas,” said Ereifej.

He believes that the amendment “sends messages of comfort and reassures the public that we are moving closer and closer to an elected government which will change the way that Jordan is run.”

Saad Hattar, a former BBC reporter and an investigative journalism trainer, told Arab News that the amendments are “not needed” and “will weaken democratic reform efforts.

“By ceding powers from the government to the palace, the amendments will put the king in a vulnerable position, because on the one hand he is immune from criticism, but now that his appointments will not require recommendations from the government, it will be difficult to uphold his immunity if things don’t turn out well,” Hattar said.

Etaf Roudan, manager of Radio Al-Balad and a member of the MENA region WAN/IFRA gender committee, told Arab News that the amendments “have not been available for discussions among the public.

“Some argue that these amendments came because of the weakness of the government, but it is important to remember that the decision to appoint and remove prime ministers is in the hands of the king.”

Ahmad Awad, the founder and director of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, told Arab News that those behind these amendent “did not consider the dangers on the operations of the government and the effects that they will have on the king as a unifying symbol of the country.”

Awad said: “I think this will trap the king into administrative issues even though according to the constitution, he is not accountable. I believe that the king should stay above reproach by means of upholding the current constitutional checks and balances.”

The Jordanian government responded to critics through Minister of Political Affairs Musa Maaytah.

The minister said that the constitutional amendments will create a national security council “that will help coordinate between the military and civilian institutions of the country.”

Responding to a question in parliament on Tuesday, Maaytah said: “The recent challenges such as armed conflicts, wars, terrorist acts and drugs are all issues that affect the national security of the country and this is what caused the push to come up with this idea and to constitutionalize it.”


Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
Updated 56 min 38 sec ago

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
  • State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5

The Iranian army has given some details — but not the exact location — of an underground base for its military drones, state media reported on Saturday, amid simmering tensions in the Gulf.
State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5, which it said were fitted with Qaem-9 missiles, an Iranian-made version of air-to-surface US Hellfire.
“No doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful,” army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said. “Our capability to upgrade drones is unstoppable,” he added.
The Iranian state TV correspondent said he had made the 45-minute helicopter flight on Thursday from Kermanshah in western Iran to a secret underground drone site. He was allowed to take blindfolds off only upon arrival at the base, he said.
TV footage showed rows of drones fitted with missiles in a tunnel, which it said was several hundred meters underground.
The TV report came a day after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf, in an apparent retaliation for the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel.
The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.


Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province crumbled on Monday

TEHRAN: Iranian police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters in the southwestern city of Abadan where a tower block collapse killed 28 people, local media reported on Saturday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday in one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.
It was the third night of protests in Abadan and other cities of the province which borders Iraq, local media reported.
Security forces in Abadan “used tear gas and shot in the air near the collapse site” on Friday night to disperse hundreds of protesters, who were mourning the lives lost and demanding justice for the perpetrators of the incident, Fars news agency said.
A number of people shouted “death to incompetent officials” and “incompetent officials must be executed,” similar to calls in protests on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it added.
Elsewhere in Khuzestan another protest, in the city of Bandar-e Mahshahr, saw people chanting while banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals, images published by Fars showed.
People also took to the streets further afield including in the central Iranian cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Shahin Shahr on Friday to express sympathy with the victims of the tragedy, Fars news agency said.
On Thursday night, a shop in Abadan belonging to the family of the building’s owner “was set on fire and destroyed by unknown individuals,” Tasnim news agency reported earlier.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is in Abadan, said on Saturday that “two more bodies were recovered” and sent for identification, raising the death toll to 28, according to state news agency IRNA.
Officials, however, have not announced how many are people still trapped under the rubble.
The number of suspects has also risen.
Khuzestan’s provincial judiciary said on Saturday that 13 people have now been arrested in relation with the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, IRNA said.
In a statement posted on his official website on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for those responsible to be prosecuted and punished.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told state television that “widespread corruption existed between the contractor, the builder, the supervisor and the licensing system.”
In January 2017, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the 15-story Plasco shopping center in Tehran.


Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
Updated 28 May 2022

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
  • Rached Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has imposed a travel ban on the speaker of the country’s now-dissolved parliament, a court spokeswoman said.
The interdiction against Rached Ghannouchi is part of an inquiry into alleged obstruction of justice in connection with the assassination in 2013 of two left-wing figures, the court spokesman said on Friday.
The travel ban was imposed on “34 suspects in this case, including Rached Ghannouchi,” Fatima Bouqtaya, spokeswoman for the court in the Tunis suburb of Ariana, told AFP.
Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics.
Ghannouchi, 81, is a fierce critic of President Kais Saied who in July 2021 suspended the Ennahdha-dominated parliament, sacked the prime minister and assumed executive powers.
Saied then dissolved parliament in March this year. His moves have stoked fears of a return to autocracy in a country where a revolution in 2011 triggered the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement in the wider region.
Tunisia’s judiciary in January opened an investigation against the suspects for allegedly “concealing information” linked to the killing nine years ago of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
The Daesh group claimed both killings but Ennahdha critics including a brother of one of the victims accused the party of having “manipulated and slowed down” the case.


US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation
Updated 28 May 2022

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation
  • In the event of an oil spill, the cleanup alone is expected to cost $20 billion

The US and the Netherlands support UN efforts to address and avert the economic, environmental, and humanitarian threats posed by Yemen’s Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea region.

Dutch Ambassador to the US André Haspels hosted a meeting joined by US Special Envoy Lenderking, Yemeni Ambassador to the US Mohammed Al-Hadrami and representatives from the diplomatic community in Washington, on Friday.

They stressed the importance of raising $144 million to fund the UN’s operational plan, which includes $80 million for an emergency operation to offload the oil from the decaying tanker to a temporary vessel, an official joint statement said.

At a pledging event co-hosted by the UN and the Netherlands earlier this month, nearly half the funds required for the emergency operation were raised, but more was urgently needed to move forward.

Safer is a rapidly decaying and the unstable oil tanker that could leak, spill or explode at any time and could severely disrupt shipping routes in the Gulf region and other industries across the Red Sea, unleash an environmental disaster and worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

By October, high winds and volatile currents will make the UN operation more dangerous and increase the risk of the ship breaking apart. In the event of a spill, the cleanup alone is expected to cost $20 billion.

“We urge public and private donors to consider generous contributions to help prevent a leak, spill, or explosion, whose effects would destroy livelihoods, tourism, and commerce in one of the world’s vital shipping lanes,” the statement read.

Last month, Lenderking and Dutch Ambassador to Yemen Peter Derrek Hof joined UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly on a trip in the Gulf to increase awareness of the imminent risks the Safer poses to the entire region.

“The international community, private sector included, must take action now to address the imminent threats posed by the Safer,” the statement said.


Turkey captures the new leader of Daesh in Istanbul raid

Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2022

Turkey captures the new leader of Daesh in Istanbul raid

Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
  • Ankara aligning with Western security priorities to remind NATO allies of common terror threats, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkey captured the new leader of the militant group Daesh in a raid in Istanbul, local media claimed on Thursday.

Turkish dissident news website Oda TV claimed Abu Al-Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi was caught in an operation directed by Istanbul’s police chief, Zafer Aktas, after days of surveillance and preparation, though no official statement has yet been made.
According to Turkish press reports, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to unveil details of the operation in the coming days.
The previous leader of Daesh, Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, was killed in northwestern Syria on Feb. 3 by US forces.
In recent months, Turkish police have systematically carried out raids against Daesh cells across the country. Earlier in May, a prospective suicide bomber allegedly linked to the group was arrested in Urfa on the Syrian border, while three more people were detained the same week in Bursa.
On Thursday, another Daesh member was shot dead by police while allegedly trying to blow himself up in front of the police department in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
Experts note that this most recent operation could be used as leverage by Ankara to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts.

It is not a coincidence that Ankara allegedly captured the top figure of Daesh amid ongoing debates about NATO enlargement and Turkey’s accusations against some Nordic countries about their alleged support of terror groups.

Soner Cagaptay, Analyst

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, thinks that the timing of the operation in Istanbul is telling.
“It is not a coincidence that Ankara allegedly captured the top figure of Daesh amid ongoing debates about NATO enlargement and Turkey’s accusations against some Nordic countries about their alleged support of terror groups,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Turkey is aligning with Western security priorities and trying to remind its NATO allies that it helps them against common terror threats.
Turkey is also part of the large international coalition of nations that has spent years fighting Daesh.
During the latest ministerial meeting of the coalition in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also brought up Turkey’s own concerns, saying the fight against Daesh cannot be won with the help of other terror groups.
This was widely interpreted as a reference to Kurdish groups such as the People’s Protection Forces, or YPG, which has received some support from Sweden, which is applying to join NATO — a move Turkey is, as a result, opposing.
“This latest operation in Istanbul is instrumental for Ankara to urge the Western alliance that it is now their turn to understand Turkey’s domestic terrorism concerns that cover not only Daesh but also other terror groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — PKK — and its Syrian offshoot YPG,” Cagaptay said.
The reported capture of Al-Qurayshi also coincided with the gathering of the National Security Council, chaired by Erdogan, on Thursday, where details of Turkey’s impending operation against YPG militants in northern Syria was discussed.   
“The operations currently carried out, or to be carried out, in order to clear our southern borders from the threat of terrorism, do not in any way target the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our neighbors and they pose a necessity for our national security needs,” the meeting’s final communique said.
Ankara believes it faces security threats from Manbij, Ain Al-Arab and the Tal Rifat district of Aleppo, which it considers bases for hostile groups.
Erdogan announced on Monday that he would launch the offensive into northern Syria to push back the YPG, and secure a 30 kilometer safe zone to settle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
However, a potential military operation — after three previous offensives — does not seem to have received approval from the US for the time being.
“We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border, but any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and put at risk US forces and the coalition’s campaign against ISIS (Daesh),” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on May 24 in a press briefing.
Colin P. Clarke, director of research at The Soufan Group, thinks that anti-Daesh operations in Turkey can have a significant impact on the group’s presence in the region.
“Even when Daesh still held its territorial ‘caliphate,’ it was dispatching operatives to Turkey to lay the groundwork for financial and logistical support networks. Those networks have paid off for Daesh, as it’s allowed the leadership consistent access to money,” he told Arab News.
According to Clarke, the Turkish government should be incentivized to crack down even harder on Daesh, but there is some concern about a backlash, including terror attacks inside Turkey.
Daesh members have carried out a number of attacks across the country, including at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings, and four armed attacks, which have killed 315 people and injured hundreds of others to date.