Following the resignation of Prime Minister Abdur-Ra’uf S. Rawabdeh in mid-June, King Abdullah selected two-time Industry and Trade Minister Ali Abul Ragheb, aged 54, to form a new government. Jordan’s economic team, led by Finance Minister Michel Marto and credited with guiding the country through demanding economic and financial reforms, will remain intact. Ragheb, who for the past year has chaired the Lower House Financial and Economic Affairs Committee, should work closely with Marto to carry forward the process of liberalizing the Kingdom’s economy. Among the new cabinet faces are Jawad Hadid, general manager of the Arab Banking Corporation, who is the new Minister of Planning and Wasif Azar, director general of Al Ahli Bank, who is the new Minister of Trade and Industry.
Rawabdeh’s capitulation marked the end to a strained 15-month tenure in which his authority was frequently challenged. Earlier in his term, the former Premier faced charges that he knew of bribes solicited by his son, Issam. Mahmoud Kharabsheh, head of the House Legal Affairs Committee, alleged that Issam had demanded a $21 million bribe from two Gulf nationals who sought to invest $100 million to construct a tourist village near Queen Alia Airport.
Back in April, more than 50 parliamentarians sent a letter to King Abdullah II accusing Rawabdeh of nepotism, corruption, and failing to deliver on his promises of economic and political reform. While Abdullah publicly backed Rawabdeh at that time, the former Premier’s latest opposition to the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (SEZ) precipitated his demise. Rawabdeh felt that the SEZ, a project headed until recently by the new Prime Minister, would convert Aqaba, the Kingdom’s sole outlet to the sea, into a smuggling hub and eliminate its Jordanian identity. Such an attitude was in essence a slap in the face of King Abdullah, who aggressively seeks to attract foreign capital to his resource-poor country.