Acting to prop up his two-year old throne, Jordan’s King Abdullah, has strengthened his top security team and created a new post which is a novelty in the Arab world: national security director and adviser to the monarch, who is also supreme commander of the Jordanian armed forces. General Sa’ad Khair, chief of general intelligence since 2000, has been promoted to field marshal and given the appointment. He is replaced in intelligence by his assistant General Samih Asfura, a career intelligence officer and a US-trained expert on counter-terrorism.
The king has won praise from President George W. Bush for his ambitious and experimental program of democracy, whose stages DEBKA-Net-Weekly has tracked extensively in recent months. But this program has also sent currents of disaffection running through the Hashemite dynasty’s most constant mainstay, the Bedouin tribes. Most of the trouble centers in the south, spearheaded by the Majali tribe. They see his key plan to devolve substantial parliamentary powers from the national legislature in Amman to four new regional governments and parliaments as robbing them of their traditional privileges as the political and security backbone of the throne. Most of all, they see their powers slipping away to other population groups, especially the Palestinians.
Their apprehensions mounted when last month Abdullah named Bassam a-Wadallah, a Palestinian and close confidant, as finance minister. Abdullah tried to temper the opposition by the non-political appointment of Adnan Badran, as prime minister, but this further incensed the anti-reform groups in parliament, including Muslim radicals.
Now, the Bedouin tribes have organized a 45-member bloc in the 110-seat house and threaten to bring the government down with a no-confidence vote should the king press ahead with his plan.
The king hopes the appointment of Khair, a Circassian, will stiffen the king’s authority and subdue disaffection. As national security adviser and royal deputy, he will effectively outrank Jordan’s chief of staff and its secret services heads.
Although the top brass will not dare utter a word of complaint against the royal step, they will not relish it and the bitter pill will leave a bad aftertaste, storing up more resentment against Abdullah.
To partly offset ill-will, Abdullah has promoted General Abu Aitan, national security director, to field marshal, while at the same time informing him that his service was from now on subordinate to Khair’s authority.