Jordan's King Abdullah visits Al Salt, where hospital deaths sparked unrest in 2021

Monarch urges implementation of reform plans announced in second half of this year

King Hussein Hospital in Al Salt, Jordan. Amy McConaghy / The National
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Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday urged economic and administrative reform as he visited the central city of Al Salt, where hospital deaths last year sparked anti-government demonstrations across the kingdom.

The official news agency said the king “affirmed that the measure of progress and true success lays in implementing the modernisation plans”.

The king was referring to a plan announced by authorities in June to improve the economy, which has been stagnant over the past 12 years. Unemployment in Jordan is officially about 22 per cent and foreign investment fell from a $3.6 billion peak in 2006 to $726 million last year.

In July the government announced another plan to reform the bureaucracy, saying that no employees would be sacked.

The king told tribal figures in Al Salt that he was waiting for the government to start reforms.

Al Salt's Covid-19 crisis

Al Salt witnessed one of the biggest public sector scandals to hit Jordan in recent years, laying bare the tension between the authorities and the country's powerful clans.

A government hospital in the city ran out of oxygen in March 2021, causing the deaths of 10 coronavirus patients. Security forces arrested hundreds of people who took part in subsequent demonstrations demanding the downfall of the government.

The king visited the hospital immediately after the incident and sacked the health minister.

On Wednesday, he visited a cultural centre in Al Salt as well as an old house that was converted into a restaurant.

Al Salt is one of Jordan's most scenic cities. It boasts Ottoman-era buildings that the government has been seeking to preserve with western help. It is hoping to attract tourists who usually go to the country's more ancient sites.

The city is also surrounded by hilly farmlands that overlook the West Bank. During Ottoman rule it was Jordan's largest city and was administratively linked with Palestinian areas across the Jordan valley. The city's population is now a fraction of Amman's.

The news agency said the king “affirmed the importance” of tourism and farming to the area and pointed out government efforts to encourage investment in agriculture.

It said that the king had instructed Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh to visit Al Salt soon to “respond to citizens' needs.”

Updated: September 07, 2022, 5:25 PM