Jordan security chiefs sacked in backlash against heavy-handed crackdown
The recent resignation of Jordan's interior minister, the powerful General Hassan Hazaa al-Majali, has come as a surprise to many.
Majali has strong links to the royal court, and is credited with playing a central role in suppressing the protests that erupted in Jordan in the wake of the Arab Spring. He served as head of public security from 2010 to 2013, making him the ideal candidate to become interior minister in March 2013.
While his resignation, announced on Sunday, was indeed surprising, his sacking has recently become a popular demand.
Alienating the kingdom
Majali alienated many in the kingdom with his drive to reassert state prestige with an iron fist, which frequently brought public security officers and the gendarmerie into direct confrontation with citizens.
|The prime minister took advantage of tension in Maan to sack the minister by rallying the centres of power against him.
- Unnamed source
This perhaps explains why the minister's resignation happened in parallel with the reportedly forced retirement of Public Security Director-General Lieutenant-General Tawfiq Tawalbeh and the chief of gendarmerie, Lieutenant-General Ahmed al-Swelmin. The timing is indicative of clear anger over current security policy, with Jordan's government moving quickly to avert a popular reaction.
The sacking of the minister, portrayed in official media outlets as a "resignation", was announced in a breaking news segment aired on Jordanian state television. Unlike the conventions usually followed with official resignations, Majali did not receive a letter thanking him for his service and effort.
Instead, Abdullah Ensour's administration railed against the former minister, issuing a strongly worded statement criticising what it called the dereliction of the security administration represented by the Public Security and the Gendarmerie services, which were both under the sacked minister's control.
Sources say the prime minister was in favour of sacking the powerful interior minister. The government made sure Majali would not have a dignified exit by making veiled accusations against him of "deviating from the principles of the rule of law and security for all, of showing complacency towards entities seeking to destabilise the kingdom, and of not assaulting the properties of the state and citizens".
But the official statement said that, "out of commitment to coordination among all security agencies protecting the homeland and the citizen, and to working as one team under the law and the constitutions... the Royal Administration accepts the resignation of His Excellency the Minister of Interior".
The source, who asked not to be named as they had not been authorised to speak to the press, said the prime minister had taken advantage of tensions in the southern city of Maan to sack the minister, rallying the centres of power against him.
"Particularly so when he is accused of causing and fuelling the tension as a result of his violent security policy in the city - which celebrated the sacking of the minister and security leaders until the early hours of the morning," he added.
|The Royal Administration accepts the resignation of His Excellency the Minister of Interior.
- Official statement
Celebrations were not confined to Maan, where activists said nearly 13 people had been killed during security raids under Majali.
Most cities in Jordan appeared to be pleased to hear the news of the minister's sacking, as no place had been spared the harsh treatment meted out by Majali's men.
The most recent incident, two weeks ago, claimed the life of a 20-something reportedly being tortured at the Irbid security headquarters north of Amman during his detention by anti-narcotic police.
The general's departure took place a day after his most recent visit to Maan, during which he pledged to impose order and arrest all "fugitives". The sacking seems to have headed off a formal complaint from the city's notables and elders to the king against the conduct of the security services in Maan.
They also wanted to call for development-centred solutions instead of security solutions to the city's problems, as confirmed to al-Araby al-Jadeed by Mohammed Abu Saleh, head of a committee following up on Maan-related affairs.
Abu Saleh said the "message arrived before it was sent", pointing out that the sacking of the interior minister and the police and security chiefs was a positive step and proof of their failure to deal with the crisis in the city and elsewhere.
Yet Abu Saleh was keen not to express too much optimism. He said the sacking of the security leaders needed to be followed by a change in government policy on the crisis in Maan and the kingdom in general.
A tribal leader in Maan, Adel al-Mahamid, stressed the need for development-centred and political solutions to the city's crises, especially after the security approach had proved its failure. He said the security approach in tandem with economic pressure on people could lead them to erupt.
He said he believed the sacking of the minister and security chiefs was meant to head this off.
It is not yet clear who will succeed Majali. According to informed sources, a retired military officer is the most likely option, possibly a former interior minister. Meanwhile, it is expected that the Public Security and Gendarmerie services will be merged into one directorate.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.