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Discontent in the Middle East

Jordan’s royals face unprecedented criticism

Stephen Beard Feb 16, 2011
Discontent in the Middle East

Jordan’s royals face unprecedented criticism

Stephen Beard Feb 16, 2011


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The unrest sweeping across the middle east has so far toppled two dictators. Now one of the most stable — and popular — regimes has also been affected by the winds of change. The Jordanian Monarchy has been shaken by allegations of corruption.

From Amman, Jordan — Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: “Bread, Freedom and Justice,” chant the pro-democracy protesters in Jordan. But they are not calling for the king’s head.

PROTESTER: We’re asking for reforms of the political parliament, this kind of thing.

BEARD: You don’t want the king to go?

PROTESTER: No! He’s a factor of stability for the country. I am sure he’s a kind of stability for the country.

But while no one is calling publicly for King Abdullah to step down, his critics have been hitting him hard — where it hurts.

QUEEN RANIA: I’m truly honored.

His wife, Queen Rania.

QUEEN RANIA: For me, the Tech Awards are the perfect combination of ingenuity and compassion.

Only two months ago, the glamorous queen was receiving this Global Humanitarian Award. Today, her name has been sullied by allegations of corruption. Thirty-six so-called tribal leaders in Jordan said she’d helped her family get land for free.

Randa Habib of the AFP news agency wrote up the story.

RANDA HABIB: The importance was not so much the content as much as the fact that they dared criticizing a queen in a country where you can go to jail for three years for the crime of attacking any member of the royal family.

The royal court furiously denied the story. But other damaging material has appeared on the Internet accusing the queen of corruptly enriching her parents’ family to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chris Davidson is professor of Middle East politics at Durham University, England. He says belonging to a ruling family in the Arab world is usually profitable.

CHRIS DAVIDSON: Any businesses, especially any foreign businesses, need to have some local partner and if you and your family members and cronies are at the top of that pyramid, as it were, then you’re best placed to take advantage of these business deals.

All this is common knowledge, he says. But in the present climate of revolution, these revelations are toxic. Any more, he says, and the popularity of the Jordanian monarchy will surely wane.

In Amman, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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