This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 005692
USTR FOR NED SAUMS CAIRO ALSO FOR FAS ASIF CHAUDRY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2012 TAGS: PREL ECON EINV EAGR PINR JO SUBJECT: MINOR CABINET RESHUFFLE UNLIKELY TO RESULT IN ANY POLICY CHANGES
Classified By: AMBASSADOR EDWARD W. GNEHM FOR REASONS 1.5 (b) AND (d)
------- SUMMARY -------
1. (C) The Palace announced a minor Cabinet reshuffle on September 26 involving five portfolios. Amman had been rife with rumors of a reshuffle since the King's August 15 announcement that elections were postponed until the Spring. In recent conversations with the Ambassador, several young, progressive Cabinet members--including Bassam Awadullah, Fawwaz Zo'bi, and Saleh Bashir--spoke heatedly about what they perceived as the real reason for the reshuffle--an attempt by the PM to undermine them and their reform efforts. While some outgoing ministers may be on the outs with the Prime Minister, several will likely be re-appointed to other positions within the government. The Cabinet reshuffle portends no major policy change. End Summary.
CABINET RESHUFFLE: MOSTLY ECONOMIC PORTFOLIOS
2. (C) King Abdullah and Prime Minister Ragheb instituted a minor Cabinet reshuffle on September 26. The following are the new ministers:
Minister of National Economy: Samer Tawil (former Secretary General of the Ministry of Trade and Industry), replacing Dr. Muhammad Halaiqa.
Minister of Social Development: Dr. Ruwaida Ma'ita (former President of the al-Hashimiyeh University), replacing Dr. Tammam al-Ghoul.
Minister of Health: Dr. Walid al-Ma'ani (former Minister of Higher Education), replacing Dr. Faleh al-Nasser.
Minister of Higher Education: Mohammad Hamdan (former Secretary General of the Higher Council for Science and
SIPDIS Technology), replacing Dr. Waleed al-Maani (who moved to the health ministry).
Minister of Agriculture: Trad al-Fayez (former Senate member), replacing Dr. Muhammad Duwairi.
3. (C) The Cabinet reshuffle had been rumored since the King's August 15 announcement that elections would be postponed until Spring. The most important portfolio that changed hands was likely the Ministry of National Economy, whose main responsibility has been to deal with investment issues. The Prime Minister replaced old hand Mohammad Halaiqa, who had shepherded Jordan's accession to the WTO and FTA negotiations with the United States. His influence and effectiveness had declined over the past year, probably because of personality conflicts with Abul Ragheb. His replacement, Samer Tawil, is personally close to the Prime Minister, but he does not enjoy particularly close relationships with other members of the economic team -- including trade minister Saleh Bashir, for whom he worked as deputy in the Ministry of Industry and Trade -- or with the King. Tawil, an accountant and businessman, is well know to the embassy as a competent problem-solver. He has the same pro-reform inclinations as Halaiqa, but he does not have Halaiqa's stature in the community. It remains to be seen if Tawil will be more effective than his predecessor Halaiqa in addressing investment climate concerns.
4. (C) In a private conversation with the Ambassador before the reshuffle was announced, Minister of Planning Bassam Awadullah mentioned increasing friction between Halaiqa and the PM. According to Awadullah, the PM had purposefully marginalized Halaiqa and Halaiqa had become passive in meetings of the Council of Ministers. Awadullah told the Ambassador that the King favors Halaiqa and will probably re-appoint him to another government position. Awadullah also predicted a similar reassignment for Tammam al-Ghoul, the former Minister of Social Development, who despite her ousting during the recent shuffle was still considered "solid" by both the Cabinet and the King. Her replacement at the Ministry of Social Development, Ruwaida Ma'ita, is well-connected, but also well respected in the academic community as a serious professional.
-- RESHUFFLE REFLECTS INTERNAL POLITICS IN CABINET
5. (C) While the Cabinet reshuffle may not lead to any major policy changes, it has underscored the division in the Cabinet between the ambitious, young reformers (who tend to be close to King Abdullah), and those members who favor a more cautious, gradual approach to reform. PM Abul Ragheb leads the latter, while Halaiqa was seen as a leader of the former. In discussions over the past two weeks, several Cabinet members complained to the Ambassador that the PM's real motive for the Cabinet reshuffle was to undermine the influence of the young reformers. Good sources report that initially the PM tried to drop Awadullah from the government but was told firmly by the Palace that that would not happen. The PM then focused on Saleh Bashir. Bassam Awadullah told the Ambassador that he lobbied the King directly for Bashir to remain and the King agreed (reversing his earlier decision). Bashir told the Ambassador that the PM had offered him Halaiqa's position as the Minister of National Economy. Bashir refused, saying he preferred to stay where he was or return to the private sector rather than go to a position, where he had seen Halaiqa marginalized. Tawil, who now had no job, was given Halaiqa's position.
6. (C) While the King checked the PM's ability to cleanse the Cabinet of progressives, the PM has replaced Halaiqa with fiscally-conservative Minister of Finance Michel Marto as the Cabinet's chair of the Economic and National Development Committee. This is a blow to progressive Cabinet members, whose initiatives and reform agendas clash with the mandate of the fiscally-conservative Marto. For example, Zo'bi on several occasions has charged that Marto and the PM are opposing his efforts to liberalize the IT sector. According to Zo'bi, the PM had recently warned him not to directly lobby the King in favor of broad band. However, following the King's strong endorsement of the IT sector--seen this week by his high-profile involvement with the Information and Communications Technology Forum--the PM called Zo'bi to congratulate him on his efforts at the conference and to express his desire to discuss the broad band issue. Perhaps, said Zobi, the PM's political instincts will help turn the PM's conservative attitude on the IT sector.
7. (C) Despite the larger internal politics at play with the reshuffle, we believe that one of the PM's motives for the reshuffle was to get rid of several ineffectual ministers (some would even put Bashir, who has yet to be identified with a major policy initiative, into this category). We are also hopeful that the changes at the Health and Agriculture Ministries will put more effective individuals in charge of these politically sensitive portfolios. Dr. Waleed Maani has some prior business experience in the health field. This is in contrast to his predecessor, who tended to take populist positions on IPR and drug pricing issues. Dr. Faleh al-Nasser had also been blocked by the massive health ministry bureaucracy in making badly needed reforms in the sclerotic ministry.
8. (C) Trad Fayez, an ex-diplomat, replaces an agricultural scientist at the agriculture ministry. Despite an apparent personal lack of agriculture experience, Fayez's family is very involved in Jordan Valley farming. We understand his replacement of the ineffectual Dr. Duwairi signals a commitment by the King and government to implement tough new agriculture reforms under a new national agriculture strategy that will be announced later this month (septel).
9. (C) The tension between the younger and more progressive ministers, those eager for change, and the more conservative PM and other ministers has been on the rise. The PM saw the reshuffle as a chance to reduce the influence of the younger progressives but he was ultimately checked by the King, whose affinity lies with this younger group. That being said, for the moment, the PM and the conservatives seem to have the upper hand. The King and the government are focused on regional difficulties they expect to face in the months ahead -- both in Iraq and Palestine. Their eye is on elections in the Spring. We may, therefore, see a hiatus in the economic reform process to which the King, and we believe even the Prime Minister, are committed. While there may be few, if any, major new reform initiatives over the coming months, we do not expect backtracking on reforms already made or in the works.
10. (U) Bios on the new ministers will follow in septel. GNEHM