Street Anger of Jordanians

Photo Source: Sky News

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Jordan has witnessed its worst political unrest in five years, in May 2018. The public anger sums it all, which reflects a prolonged frustration. There were chantings of local folklore and slogans, similar of what was heard during the 2011 Arab Spring such as "the people want the fall of the government" and "I strike today to live tomorrow."

This fury of protestors has prompted King Abdullah II to oust the current Prime Minister, Hani Mulki through a decree from the royal palace.

The main difference between 2018 protests and the protests in 2011 is that during the Arab Spring, the far-flung tribes were at the centre stage in holding the protests. This time around, city dwellers coming from Irbid, Aqaba, Al-Zarqa and Salt, in addition to the capital have recorded a high participation.

Omar Razzaz will replace Mulki, a Harvard educated former World Bank Official previously based in Lebanon, who formerly taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for four years. Al-Rai, a Jordanian newspaper, was one of the first to disseminate the news of leadership change in the country.

The protests had spread and continued massively for five days after Mulki announced new austerity measures and tax increases (from 4.5 per cent to 10 per cent). 

Critics argue that it has increased the price of bread, fuel, electricity and other commodities.

Jordanian Government, however, argues that the new tax law will affect the wealthy and will leave the poor unscathed.

The protests were called by a political group known as ‘Hirak Shababi’ ( Youth Movement in Arabic), as well as thirty-three other civil society groups and associations including Jordanian Engineer’s Association and Jordanian Teachers Syndicate – both groups have a combined membership of 300,000.

The monarch called for an extensive review of the tax system. He has urged the government to produce a new tax bill, in coordination with parliament, unions and other stakeholder groups.

Since the last eight years, the income tax law in the country has been changed around four times and the rancour about it reflects in the minds of the people. It is because they believe there has been no genuine answerability from the government. 

Every now and then, they accuse the government of frittering away the national exchequer in corruption.

In Jordan, the King has a final say on all issues. He also has the discretion to review any political or economic changes made by the government. It also reflects a cold shoulder of the monarchy against a grassroots movement. The protestors, in turn, have been demanding the dissolution of the parliament.

Common Jordanians have long complained of paying burdening taxes for poor services offered by the government. The new tax proposal, it seems, is unfair towards the middle class and the poor living in the country. For quite a while, watchers in the country have complained of poor welfare measures in education and healthcare sector. The salaries have failed to keep up as well.

Jordanian political analyst, Helmi Asmar, who writes for the regional newspaper, Ad Dustour believes: “We have no reasons to be optimistic right now. Will Razzaz be able to hold the country together with the old system and the old machinery? It remains to be seen.”

A one-day strike had been called, after thousands of people gathered near prime minister’s office for seventh consecutive street protests. The police have detained around sixty people so far. Around 42 policemen were injured, mostly by fireworks.

Jordan is a major western ally. Its economy depends on foreign aid. But in recent years, the aid and foreign investment have declined. In 2016, Jordan received a $723 million aid from International Monetary Fund. Economists argue that it has been the main reason for the price hike in food and other services. The state debt remains constant around $37 million.

In Amman’s old central market, the cart sellers and small vendors line up to sell their fruit stocks on makeshift tables. The market is known for cheaper rates than the supermarkets. The demand of consumers remains always high. But on the other hand, Jordanians have been unhappy to make a living in one of the Arab world’s most expensive cities. The worry of a price rise always afflicts them because salaries are either low or diminishing.

An Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, claims that US and its allies in the region such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates have escalated the protests in Jordan because the kingdom has refused to let down its Palestinian cause for a while. 

According to Middle East Eye : “eyewitnesses saw most shops and businesses shut in downtown. Central markets did not receive the usual fruit and vegetable deliveries, and butchers and supermarkets were not supplied with fresh meat and poultry, as farmers and food catering traders joined the strike. Final exams were still administered despite the participation of the 140,000-strong Teachers Association, whose members joined pharmacists, garment traders and contractors among others.”
Due to prolonged conflict in Syria and Iraq, a large influx of refugees has entered the country. The unemployment rate has swelled up to 18 per cent. The jobless youth make the highest tally.

For workers, it seems to be a redundant affair.


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