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Jordan's King Sacks Cabinet After Protests

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Jordan's King Sacks Cabinet After Protests

Middle East

Jordan's King Sacks Cabinet After Protests

Jordan's King Sacks Cabinet After Protests

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In Jordan, King Abdullah has appointed a new prime minister. While the protests in Egypt are gaining the most attention, smaller protests in the Hashimite Kingdom called for lower food prices and an end to corruption. Host Robert Siegel talks to Amman-based reporter Dale Gavlak about the new prime minister.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Following protests in Jordan, King Abdullah has dismissed his cabinet and named a new prime minister. The king's choice is Marouf Al Bakhit. He's a former army general who served as prime minister from 2005 until 2007. King Abdullah said Al Bakhit will carry out what he described as true political reforms. But Islamists in Jordan are described as unsatisfied.

Reporter Dale Gavlak joins us from the Jordanian capital, Amman. And, first, Dale, this evidently comes in response to protests. How big have the protests been and what are the protestors' demands?

Ms. DALE GAVLAK (Reporter): The protests in Jordan have reached into the thousands. I mean, 6,000 people have protested nationwide. Now, that's small in comparison to Tunisia and Egypt, certainly. But this is significant for Jordan because people normally don't take to the streets.

I've attended a number of the protests and I've met people from all political stripes: Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Action Front, leftists, trade unionists and university students. And they're all asking for the same thing. They got it today. They saw Prime Minister Samir Rifai resign.

But now they're also asking for other political reforms like for the possibility for Jordanians to be able to elect their prime minister and cabinet ministers. And right now, that's the prerogative of the king, King Abdullah, as the absolute monarch of Jordan.

SIEGEL: Dale, I gather some of the complaints of the protestors have been about the state of the Jordanian economy, the degree of unemployment, the high prices. Is there any sense of what economic steps Jordan might take now, or the new prime minister, if he's to take office, might take that would address those problems?

Ms. GAVLAK: Yeah. That has not been really clear what move he's going to take. Now, there are some Jordanians who have expressed an interest in seeing the reintroduction of a so-called supply ministry to regulate prices of local commodities. And people who are advocating this say that it would help to curb sharp price rises under Jordan's nascent open market policies.

You know, Jordan, like, Egypt and Tunisia and so many other places have been affected by rising global food prices. And what makes it more difficult here is that in Jordan's case, it's weighed down by a record deficit of $2 billion. And unemployment is topping 12 percent.

SIEGEL: Do Jordanians look at what's happening in Egypt, or for that matter, in Tunisia before it, and say, that's the same thing that could or perhaps should happen here in Jordan? Or are they more likely to tell you what's different about Jordan than what's similar to those countries?

Ms. GAVLAK: Jordan, like Egypt and Tunisia, have very young populations. The majority of the population is under the age of 25. A lot of people graduate from university and they find difficulty in locating work. So it shares that. But, again, for the most part, Jordanians see King Abdullah as sort of being above the political fray.

They tend to blame the problems, economic and political problems, on whoever is the prime minister and his cabinet at the time. But it's a question of whether they're going to continue to view things that way.

SIEGEL: It's my understanding is they're really not allowed to criticize the king, are they?

Ms. GAVLAK: Well, there is a law against defaming the king and the royal family. So you could land in jail for doing so.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dale.

Ms. GAVLAK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Dale Gavlak, speaking to us from Amman, Jordan.

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