Although few people have been taking part in protests against price hikes in Jordan, analysts believe the public movement could still make a difference.
Protesters are seen in front of parliament in Amman, Jordan, Feb. 1, 2018. The sign reads “Don’t raise prices.”
Jordanians are taking to the streets in protest of price hikes involving hundreds of essential goods, including bread, which came into effect at the beginning of February after parliament approved a controversial 2018 state budget. But unlike 2011, when Jordanians held large demonstrations across the kingdom calling for political reforms, this time the protests are few and far between. Every week following Friday prayers, small crowds would gather in downtown Amman, Salt, Kerak, Ma’an and Madaba calling on King Abdullah to sack the government and dissolve parliament. The protests are mostly peaceful, although there were confrontations with police forces in Kerak on Feb. 8 that led to a number of arrests.
But despite bitter attacks on the government’s economic policies by a number of Lower House deputies, Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki survived a no-confidence motion Feb. 18 submitted by the Islamist-led Al-Islah parliamentary bloc. The outcome of the vote is expected to increase public denunciation of both the government and parliament.
The government says the sales tax increase on essential goods and the lifting of bread subsidies are part of its agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure the economy and reduce expenditures. In an interview with Jordan television on Feb. 13, Mulki said the country would have gone bankrupt had it not been for recent economic measures that saw subsidies lifted on several commodities. But he also blamed populist policies and unwise public spending by previous governments for the decline in economic performance. He said the economy would “exit the bottleneck by mid-2019.”
Mulki’s comments have failed to lift the public mood. On social media, Jordanians were skeptical of Mulki’s promise that their suffering would end by mid-2019. Some pointed to the fact that Jordan had been bowing to the IMF’s orders since the early 1990s. Others blamed the current conditions on the government’s inability to fight corruption and for relying solely on “citizens’ pockets” by levying and collecting taxes.
With the official unemployment rate standing at 18% — it is higher among young people and women — and a third of the population living below the poverty line, many Jordanians are doubtful that recent economic measures will improve their livelihoods. The undersecretary of the Finance Ministry, Izziddin Kanakrieh, was quoted by Ammon News as saying that 6 billion Jordanian dinars ($8.4 billion) of the 9 billion Jordanian dinars ($12.6 billion) state budget for 2018 will be spent on salaries and pensions and servicing the kingdom’s debt while only 1 billion Jordanian dinars ($1.4 billion) will go to capital expenditure.
Trust between the public and the government has reached a new low after the recent price hikes. Adding to the government’s growing unpopularity is the fact that the IMF declared Feb. 15 that it has never recommended lifting bread subsidies or increasing taxes on medicines, adding that economic reforms should not constitute a burden on the poor.
But despite the high disapproval of recent government measures, which included an increase in the electricity tariff and the price of fuel, pundits have been surprised by the low-key public reaction so far. Hassan Barari, a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, told Al-Monitor that successive government policies have put Jordanians under unbearable pressure. “People will take to the street as they are now convinced that it’s not the fault of a single government but the failure of an entire economic policy,” he said.
“The solution is in the hands of the king and it is no longer an issue of blaming the government or replacing it. When it comes to the inability to put food on the table, the concept of social security collapses and this threatens the legitimacy of the regime itself,” Barari added.
While Barari said he could not predict how Jordanians would react in the future, he believes the street is reaching a boiling point. He pointed to a new phenomenon that appeared a few days before price hikes went into effect. Between mid-January and the first week of February, a number of armed bank heists took place in Amman, mostly ending in failure. In addition, there were reports of robberies involving gas stations, pharmacies and post offices. In most cases, the perpetrators were young Jordanians with no prior criminal records.
Barari and other pundits warned of the relationship between worsening economic conditions and the rise in crime and social violence. Al-Ghad newspaper columnist Fahd al-Khitan told Al-Monitor that Jordanians are right to be angry over the difficult economic phase and have the right to protest. “These protests must remain peaceful and we should be wary of attempts to revive radical slogans from the days of the Arab Spring demonstrations,” he said.
“As for the phenomenon of armed robberies, we should look at the reasons behind the rise of such incidents and their effect on social peace,” Khitan added.
One explanation for the worsening economic conditions came from Abdullah, who told university students Feb. 1 that Jordan was paying the price of its political stand over Jerusalem without divulging the identity of those putting pressure on the kingdom. But Barari told Al-Monitor that to say that Jordan is paying for its position on Palestine is not convincing. “The suffering of Jordanians has been going on for a while and it’s about bad economic policies and not political stands,” he said.
While the flow of foreign aid from the Gulf countries has slowed down considerably, the United States remains Jordan’s biggest financial supporter. On Feb. 14, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an agreement that guarantees Jordan nearly $1.3 billion in annual assistance for the next five years. The agreement saw an increase in annual US aid despite Jordan’s criticism of President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem in December.
In a country where political parties are weak and parliament is comprised mostly of government loyalists, Jordanians have limited venues to express their anger and distrust of the political system. While public protests have been surprisingly small, observers believe the street remains unpredictable.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told Al-Monitor that the return of protests is linked to the confidence crisis between citizens and governments. “There is a lack of political will to fight corruption and people are feeling this. There is no drive to instill political reforms because there are no reformers,” he said.
“In fact, there is an attack on reformers and I am convinced that we cannot create economic reforms without carrying out genuine political reforms first,” Muasher added.
We all know that the midterm elections are different this time around. They are usually like “all politics,” namely local. But this time around they’re different. They are all presidential, all about Trump, as most everything is. And for the anti-Trump crowd — I’m talking about the political commentators and “analysts” — any and all things bad are held to be Trump’s fault. This is presumably because they believe that their condemnations of Trump will result in a Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives.
A new book explores how graffiti artists in Beirut skirt limitations on expression to share political criticism in the streets.
A photograph of the book “Drawing Lines” by Tamara Zantout, taken at the launch of the book at Beit Beirut cultural center, Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 25, 2018.
BEIRUT — Beirut’s alleyways and streets are peppered in bright, detailed and provocative graffiti. Street artists use the medium, which exists in a legal grey area, to express their identity and give voice to political frustrations.
On Tuesday, San Francisco will become the largest city in the nation to allow noncitizens to vote, and the city has spent $310,000 on a “new registration system” specifically aimed at illegals. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the plan is the first in the state and follows Proposition N, a 2016 ballot measure allowing votes by noncitizens over the age of 18, reside in the city, and have children under age 19.
By the count of the Chronicle, only 49 noncitizens have signed up to vote on Tuesday, which works out to $6,326 for every illegal voter, but there’s more to the story. City officials are worried that voting could expose illegals to ICE, who might come looking and possibly deport somebody. So supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a backer of Proposition N, urged the city to spend $500,000 to warn the illegals.
At first Sabbath service after massacre, shooting survivors are blessed; rabbi says to those who condemned Trump’s visit: ‘No one tells me how to welcome a guest in my own home’
On November 3, 2018, a joint communal Shabbat prayer service at Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom Conservative synagogue following the massacre a week prior which saw 11 Jewish community members killed. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A week after an anti-Semitic shooter massacred 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the community embraced each other in prayer on Saturday.
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.” He sees this trend creating a surge in “xenophobic populism.” Writing in Politico, Katy O’Donnell agrees: “Nationalist parties now have a toehold everywhere from Italy to Finland, raising fears the continent is backpedaling toward the kinds of policies that led to catastrophe in the first half of the 20th century.” Jewish leaders like Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, sense “a very real threat from populist movements across Europe.”
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.”
We’ve been told for a long time that the ceasefire is on the way. It had many names in the past, such as tahdiah, hudna, and most recently—”an arrangement.” On Friday, once again, reports started emerging that an agreement has been reached. Several hours later, southern Israel was hit with a barrage of rockets. What happened?
And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for No Human Being shall see Me and live.” — Shemot 33:20
Faith is deeper than knowledge. While scientific data is absorbed only in the brain, faith permeates all parts of the human personality. Nothing is untouched, all spiritual limbs quiver, and everything is transformed. It is thus more difficult to acquire faith than knowledge, and faith has a more radical effect on the human being.
A Catholic archbishop recently touched on an unspoken but highly subversive phenomenon: How anti-Christian forces exploit Christian teachings to empower those who seek to dismantle Christian civilization, Muslims being chief among them.
In an interview published last summer by the Italian outlet IlGionarle.it, Catholic Archbishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan said:
The King of Jordan, not some lowly clerk, announced that Jordan will not extend the currently existing leases renting two parcels of land to Israel. One is the so-called Island of Peace in the northern Naharayim area and the other located in the southern Arava, near Tzofar, an agricultural cooperative village (moshav). Jordan was entirely within its rights to decide not to renew the leases