Jordanian teachers went on strike Wednesday, hours after the government increased fuel prices in a bid to qualify for much-needed international aid.
Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced the decision to cancel fuel subsidies – and therefore raise prices to consumers -- during a Tuesday evening TV newscast. At midnight, the price of gasoline was raised by as much as 14 percent and cooking gas by 50 percent. Within minutes of the announcement, protesters crowded the streets in Amman and cities across Jordan chanting slogans and calling for the government’s downfall.
Amer Sabailah is an Amman-based political analyst who says the anger was hardly unexpected. Jordanians, who have been demonstrating quietly for months, are running out of patience.
“The government has been ignoring the many signals Jordanian people have been sending about their discomforts, about their problems, about their recent misery,” says Sabailah.
It isn’t just the fuel issue that incited the latest anger, says Sabailah, but the cumulative effect of years of bad policies that, he says, “have destroyed the country, destroyed the economy, destroyed the lives of the Jordanians.” He cites high inflation, corruption and a government that repeatedly promises but fails to deliver reform.
“We are, in Jordan, maintaining the state, because basically the state lives on the taxes we pay. They have so many taxes; there are even taxes that have no name.”
Jordan’s economic woes
Jordan’s population of 6.5 million has an average per capita income of about $6,000, and the country’s national debt amounts to roughly 10 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Unemployment, officially cited at 12 to 14 percent could be as high as 30 percent. With few resources, Jordan is forced to rely on U.S. and European aid. But the government says that the cutting of subsidies is necessary in order for the country to secure a $2 million International Monetary Fund loan and help bridge Jordan’s $3.7 billion budget deficit.
Mahmoud Al-Zawawi is the former chief of the VOA’s Arabic Service and is now based in Amman, where police were forced to use water cannons to disperse the protesters.
“What the government did was to announce its decision regarding the subsidies only four hours before they took place,” Zawawi said. “Governments tend to operate under certain assumptions, that if you give people very short notice, they will not react.”
Zawawi said the announcement should not have come as much of a surprise to Jordanians - the government has been warning the public about the pending move for months.
Additionally, Zawawi said that in making his televised announcement last night, Jordan’s prime minister explained that 70 percent of the Jordanian people will not be affected by the price increases because they will be paid compensation if the family income is less than around $1,100 a month.”
In fact, under the new policy, each individual of a household consisting of six members or less with qualifying income will receive just under $100 in compensation.
Jordan’s King Abdullah has struggled in recent months against a growing opposition, particularly the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood, which is said to be meeting today to discuss developments.