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French Version

ICG: Jordan needs reform to avert terror

International think tank says popular discontent fuels attacks

An international think tank has urged Jordan to push through democratic reforms in order to avoid a repeat of the triple hotel suicide bombings this month, saying terror attacks are fueled by popular discontent. "To minimize the risk of future terror attacks that feed on simmering public dissatisfaction, Jordan should implement long-promised political reforms," the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report published late Wednesday.

"Putting off long-promised reforms would be a serious mistake. The attacks should be seen as a wake-up call," it said.

The November 9 bombings killed 60 people, including more than a dozen people at a hotel wedding party, and were claimed by Al-Qaeda's Iraq front man in Iraq, the Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Authorities identified the assailants as three Iraqis and arrested the wife of one bomber who gave a televised confession.

Jordan, regarded as one of the most stable and safe countries in the volatile Middle East, also arrested 12 suspects after detaining dozens for questioning, most of whom it said had past links to Islamist groups.

"Further crackdowns in response to the bombings could backfire unless the problems that are driving popular dissatisfaction with the regime are taken on with equal vigor," said Joost Hiltermann, ICG Middle East director.

"The regime has the public's support right now because of everyone's outrage over the casualties, and it should use this small window of opportunity to deliver long-promised reforms," Hiltermann said.

The report came as a national panel submitted to King Abdullah II a 2,500-page document for across-the-board political and socio-economic reform over the next 10 years.

The king also received a report on plans to overhaul local government as part of efforts to increase public participation in the kingdom's affairs.

According to the ICG, "Jordan is far from being a brutal police state. Still it features disturbing autocratic tendencies that can only alienate its people."

This includes a centralized government, control by the security and intelligence services, limits on freedom of expression, the lack of an effective political arena and corruption, it said.

"The last few years in particular have seen growing public criticism of a leadership that allied itself with the West at a time of intense anti-Americanism and failed both to deliver anticipated economic dividends to anyone but the elites and to implement promised political reforms," it said.

The Brussels-based think-tank's recommendations included the creation of a new electoral law and the formation of a "broader, more inclusive government coalition incorporating opposition tendencies."

The ICG also called for economic measures including job creations and assistance to small entrepreneurs.

"The regime is caught in a vice between an unpopular alliance with the United States and deteriorating economic conditions. Its most promising option is to implement a strategy that ... focuses on reducing unemployment and poverty and gradually opening up the political system," it said.

It also urged Jordan to promote a tolerant image of Islam in schools and provide "for credible, competent, independent preachers and religious teachers who denounce violence."

"The lack of a functioning political opposition and a low tolerance for criticism of the regime have turned mosques into privileged forums for expressions of dissent," it said.

The Daily Star

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