Condi Rice went to Jordan and Egypt the other day.
The good: in Egypt, she called for free elections, urged transparent procedures which gave opposition candidates full access to the media and full opportunity to campaign, and met with (non-Islamist) opposition figures, including Ayman Nour, Munir Fakhri Abd al-Nour, Hisham Qassem (all from Hizb al-Ghad), and Bahi al-Din Hassan (from the Cairo Center for Human Rights). Al-Arabiya reports that George Ishaq of Kefaya was invited to meet with Rice but sent his regrets.
Al-Arabiya also reports that "Rice did not invite opposition groups which call for political reform but reject American intervention." Fair enough, except that as I understand it neither Hizb al-Ghad nor Kefaya have been particularly welcoming towards American foreign policy. "Reject American intervention" seems to be code for "Islamist," with al-Arabiya interpreting Rice's meetings as a gesture of support for those favoring a reform process which excludes the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera, whose story relied on the same wire reports, left out this part, making me wonder whether al-Arabiya was editorializing here (by inclusion) or al-Jazeera was (by exclusion).
That was the good. Not outstanding: no clear, firm public rebuke for the transgressions during the May 25 referendum (although I do notice that al-Jazeera is playing up a comment by Rice about the attacks on protestors that "that should be a crime in any country", so maybe more credit is due here); no clear criticism of the stringent rules being established for the elections which will likely strip them of any real democratic significance. But at least she expressed a clear American preference for continuing reforms, met with opposition figures, and kept reform on the top of the US-Egyptian agenda.
Wish I could say the same about Jordan. If Rice did tolerably well in Egypt, she did less well in Jordan. Here's what she said in her press conference with the Jordanian Foreign Minister:
I am delighted to be here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan because we have no better friend than Jordan, a good friend and a strategic partner in a shared vision of peace and stability and, increasingly, a shared vision of reform in this region.
We value the friendship of the Jordanian people and our shared interest in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, as well as the emergence of a free Iraq. And I would just note that in a letter to His Majesty, the President underscored this, noting that the people of Jordan and the country of Jordan have important interests at stake in any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and in the emergence of a free Iraq, and that the United States Government views Jordan's security and prosperity and territorial integrity as vital and will oppose any developments in the region that might endanger Jordan's interests.
And so we have had an opportunity to talk about the many issues that we share in common. Jordan is a strategic partner in the region in the fight against terrorism and the search for peace, but also a place that is making a lot of very important reforms, political and economic reforms. We laud King Abdullah's January 26th announcement on the formation of several developmental regions with directly elected councils. These and other measures, including the development of a ten-year national agenda, will ensure broad political participation and strengthen grassroots democracy here in Jordan.
In other words, Rice said, as clearly as it is possible for a Secretary of State to say: Jordan is so useful to us as a strategic partner that the King can do whatever he wants domestically. The developmental regions with elected councils are seen as rather a joke in Jordan, with many Jordanians noting that Jordan is not Saudi Arabia: they have had direct national elections for decades, and don't need training wheels to learn how to cast ballots. And it's hard to interpret the "ten year agenda" as anything other than a way to avoid immediate, concrete democratic reforms - in other words, business as usual for the Arab autocrat.
Now, to be fair, Rice's complacence isn't as terrible as it would have been three months ago, before Abdullah dumped the contentious Faisal al-Fayez government and brought in Badran. The Jordanians can now plausibly claim to have a reformist Prime Minister in place, with the genuinely liberal and much-repected Marwan Muasher running the reform show. Badran has made all the right noises about revising the controversial draft laws, and has made efforts to reach out the professional associations and civil society. Now that the showdown over his government is (presumably) over, maybe he can even deliver on some of these promises. Maybe. But will he?
Here's the problem: Rice did absolutely nothing in her public statements to suggest that this is a high American priority, or that she much cares whether the Jordanian regime matches its carefully tailored public relations campaign with reality on the ground. The King was positively glowing during his meeting with Condi, suggesting that he is quite satisifed with the American reception for his "reform" efforts. If external pressures (real or imagined) were as important to the King's governmental change as has been reported, then this visit tells the Jordanians that they don't in fact need to worry about American pressure. It's hard to imagine a worse message.