A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jordan: New PM Samir al-Rifa‘i Continues a Family Tradition

You'll recall that Jordanian King ‘Abdullah II recently dissolved Parliament; now he has replaced Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi with Samir al-Rifa‘i.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because his grandfather, also called Samir al-Rifa‘i, served as Prime Minister in 1944-45 and again in 1947, 1956, 1958-59, and 1963, under Emir/King ‘Abdullah I and King Hussein; the new PM's father, Zaid al-Rifa‘i, served as Prime Minister 1973-76 and 1985-89 under King Hussein (the longest tenure of any Jordanian Prime Minister), has also served as Foreign Minister and in various Royal Court positions, not to mention President of the Jordanian Senate since 1997.

The youngest Rifa‘i, age 43, educated at Harvard and Cambridge, has served as Secretary-General of the Royal Hashemite Court, Minister of the Royal Hashemite Court (the prime link between the Court and the Government), Advisor to the King, and Chief Executive of Jordan Dubai Capital, a Dubai-based investment fund in Jordan. This is what you'd call a good résumé. At least in a monarchy.

I don't pretend expertise about Jordan, but I know a King's Man when I see one. Among the handful of prominent families who have been close to the Hashemites from the beginning, the Rifa‘is have been among the most prominent. Only a handful of other families, some like the bin Shakirs with blood ties to the Royal Family, have three generations of Prime Ministers or senior officials among them. We now have the third generation of a Rifa‘i in the Prime Ministry. I would also refer you back to Marc Lynch's post about the dissolution of Jordan's "lousy Parliament": the King is trying to bring about reforms but has been stymied by his Parliament: now he brings in a King's man who has the confidence of the conservative establishment (that's my reading, not Lynch's).

Note too that the Jordan Times lead story, at least on their website, doesn't have a picture of Rifa‘i: it has a very large picture of the King. (For a pic of Rifa‘i, see above left.) That same article also notes Rifa‘i's credentials, educational, professional and genealogical. The official letter of appointment emphasizes the need to reform the electoral law before the new elections, a point addressed in Lynch's post cited above. You might also take a look at this article by Alistair Lyon and note the final quote from Rami Khouri: "Jordan is a model that works, whether we like it or not."


Andrew Farrand said...

Interesting news that sheds some light on the way politics works in Jordan.

As someone who's spent only a few months there, I'm no expert on Jordan either, but I would like to take issue with Rami Khouri's quote. I think it's wrong to say that "Jordan's model works". A more accurate phrase would be "Jordan's model is working" - but only today. Allow me to explain:

Fundamentally, the Jordanian monarchy is not much more democratic than many of the autocratic republics in the region. The only difference is its leader - King Abdullah. It is the benevolent nature of the King's benevolent dictatorship that is allowing Jordan to "work", not the fact that the political architecture is substantively superior to that of its neighbors. Without this particular king, Jordan might look a lot more like an Egypt, or even an Algeria or Tunisia.

This king won't be around forever, so let's not confound the system with the man, lest the Jordanian people someday end up being ruled by a less gracious leader. There is still much progress to be made.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


I certainly agree, but I also think Jordan has benefited from two fairly wise kings in a row -- Hussein had his flaws to be sure, especially in the personal realm, but managed to steer a careful course -- and even, if we dismiss Talal as a transient exception, three in a row counting the first Abdullah. True, their luck might not hold forever. But given where they are and how many enemies they've had, the mere fact that the Hashemites are still there is rather impressive.