Jordan king swears in new govt after protests

Jordan’s King Abdullah swore in a new government on Wednesday, led by a former general who has promised to widen public freedoms in response to anti-government protests inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

US ally Abdullah appointed Marouf Bakhit, a conservative former premier drawn from the ranks of the powerful security establishment, last week to replace Samir Rifai, who was dismissed after just over a year in the job.

Bakhit has spent the last week holding broad-based consultations with civic groups opposition groups and labour and business leaders. He has said his government will ease censorship and curbs on political activity and public freedoms.

Before the cabinet was sworn in, Bakhit visited parliament and met deputies.

He has even offered the Islamist opposition who boycotted last November’s parliamentary elections seats in his government. They refused, saying they would only join a government that was popularly elected not one appointed by the monarch. The cabinet line-up is expected to include technocrats but it’s composition will be dominated by conservative politicians as opposed to Western-leaning pro-business reformists who held sway in previous administrations, political sources said.

The new government is expected to slow the pace of Jordan’s IMF-guided free market reforms and widen a subsidy programme to rural and provincial tribal areas, away from the cities that are the bedrock of support for the monarchy.

The cabinet is also expected to maintain traditional support for US policies in the region, analysts say.