Mass protests in the Kingdom of Jordan have shattered years of consensus and underlying tensions over the weekend.
For four days, thousands of Jordanians have protested in Amman against an income draft law, but also against rising prices and economic problems. Anger over the economy has been percolating for years but these protests shed light on rising social concerns as the public is being encouraged to blame Prime Minister Hani Mulki.
On Tuesday, Mulki resigned and the king tapped Harvard-educated economist and Education Minister Omar al-Razzaz to replace the embattled prime minister.
The mass protests are a rare sign of popular dissent in a country that has attempted to remain stable amid regional turmoil. By replacing Mulki, King Abdullah hopes to stem the protests. Razzaz worked at the World Bank previously and his background should provide confidence.
The Jordan Times editorial on Monday said protesters “took to the street in a civilized democratic manner to express their rejection of the government measures and to demand that their voices be heard.” The editorial went on to note that people are angry over officials receiving “luxury cars” and high salaries while people shoulder a heavy burden with a weak economy. “They get to travel to unneeded conferences and they get per diems for doing so, they send their children to expensive private schools, rather than poorly equipped government schools.” This is strong and unusual criticism.
The parliament also recommended that Abdullah convene parliament for an extraordinary session.
The spark for the protests was an income tax draft law that would have increased taxes on employees by 5% and on companies as well. It was part of a group of reforms proposed as part of a $723 million credit line from the International Monetary Fund.
When the loan was approved in 2016, local press expressed concerns it would lead to price increases on fuel and basic products, and that the poor would be affected the most.
Abdullah shook up his cabinet in January 2017 due to economic concerns over the “unpopular IMF mandated reforms.” At the time, Mulki was kept on despite the challenges, and defended the arrests of some critics, saying: “Freedom of speech does not mean agitation or chaos.”
The protests come after years of concerns in Jordan about security and the rising cost the kingdom has faced in dealing with almost a million refugees from Syria. Even before the recent issues, there were protests in 2012 when the government cut fuel cost subsidies. Since then tourism in the kingdom has nosedived and the country faces other struggles.
On June 1, the king froze fuel and electricity price hikes that were supposed to start last Friday.
According to reports, 33 associations and unions have taken part in the protests. Hashtags on social media have driven the protests as well. One is called the “fourth strike” and “fourth circle” referring to the location of the strike. Protesters have appeared in the capital, the northern city of Irbid, Jarash, Zarqa and elsewhere.
Dismissing the prime minister could stem the protests. Many youth on social media have expressed excitement for the events. Photos also show that many turned up to the protests as a kind of social event, bringing water-pipes to smoke and snapping photos. Because Jordan avoided the instability of the Arab Spring of 2011 many young people have expressed feelings that now is their time to speak out. University students posted photos of them giving speeches to crowds. Women played a role at the forefront as well.
“Finally, we broke our silence, this is the way to freedom,” tweeted Tamara Othman.
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