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Protests in Jordan: Bread or politics?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

“The Arab Spring returns to the Arab streets” and “What’s happening in Jordan refutes the narrative that royal regimes are spared from the street’s revolutions.” These are some of the quick reactions to the participation of thousands of Jordanians in protests.

However, the Fourth Circle in Amman is not Tahrir Square in Cairo. Jordan’s protests are not a political spring, even though Muslim Brotherhood groups among others, and Qatari television stations picture the protests against taxes and prices as protests against the political regime.

My impressions are direct, because I was in Amman for two days the day before yesterday and I met with some of those concerned with the local situation. Jordan’s problems are economic and not political, and they’re related to prices, jobs and taxes.

Managing crises in Jordan is based on the “street’s pulse,” i.e. via dealing with the protests before they begin and if they already begun, dealing with them before they escalate. Eliminating the prime minister is the Jordanian way of dealing with crises when they worsen

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Pragmatic leadership

There is a pragmatic political leadership in Jordan that’s close to people and ready to throw the government out of the window when it fails in its relationship with the streets. This is what happened to the government of Hani Al-Mulki. Mulki refused to scrap the new tax bill so he paid the price, and Omar al-Razzaz was appointed as the new prime minister.

There are differentiating opinions. Someone told me that Razzaz and Mulki are both originally Syrians from Hama. Another told me that Mulki brought Razzaz and a third said the reason is in the conflicts within the government. However, the problem is clear. The majority is against the taxes and the unemployment rate that reached more than 18 percent, and are angry about the decline of human capabilities and decrease in foreign support.

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Managing crises in Jordan is based on the “street’s pulse,” i.e. via dealing with the protests before they begin and if they already begun, dealing with them before they escalate. Eliminating the prime minister is the Jordanian way of dealing with crises when they worsen.

The other options available to the Jordanian command are limited, especially that the reasons behind the people’s anger are out of its control. The World Bank, for instance, refuses to give Jordan loans without lifting subsidies and decreasing government spending. Aid has also declined due to the decreasing incomes of oil-rich states. The economic factor is the engine of political aggravation.

Let’s not forget that Jordan has been the refuge of people for half a century now. There are the Syrian refugees who were preceded by the Iraqis who were preceded by the Palestinians. The Jordanians themselves are less than half of the population.

And although the majority took to the street to protest living conditions, the tax hike and lack of jobs, some with loud voices had political motives, but these are a minority.

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Based on the pragmatic approach that’s common in Jordan, conciliatory solutions have been proposed, which will probably mitigate tensions. However, solutions aimed at calming down the streets will not resolve the chronic problem. Jordan’s resources are scarce compared to its neighbors, Iraq, the Gulf and even the Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel.

Declining state

The infrastructure is relatively good in Jordan in terms of the airport, ports, hospitals, water and highways. The country’s living conditions are better than others, as for example Amman is cheaper than Beirut and according to the quality of life index, rent in Jordan is cheaper.

Power goes out in Beirut for hours during the day while in Amman there is power 24/7. The quality of infrastructure, however, does not put food on the table. It does not increase jobs or improve a family’s limited income. The government is incapable of creating additional resources, and is failing in decreasing bureaucracy as many investors still complain about the long procedures and the slow progress.

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The Jordanians are Jordan’s greatest wealth, which has limited natural resources and only has phosphates. Compared with other countries in the region, education I known to be the best. It’s what enabled many Jordanians to get jobs in the Gulf, Europe and the US as engineers, technicians and accountants as well as jobs in the legal field. This helped them support their families back in Jordan.

King Abdullah II personally handles the task of marketing Jordan and getting support from international governments and organizations. The government, however, is an expenditure center as the different levies they collect are not enough to spend on municipal, healthcare and other necessary services.

It has invested in tourism and made it the pillar of its economy, but it quickly collapsed because of terrorism and regional wars. It tried building a chain of industries but it was faced with the restraints of the region’s countries and the competition of cheaper states in Asia.

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Even exporting skillful workers, which Jordan is distinguished for, can become the victim of politics as Qatar blackmails Jordan with the 45,000 Jordanians who work there in case there is rapprochement with Saudi Arabia or if it (Jordan) obstructs its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood there.

Countries that suffer from the Dutch Disease, lack of resources, are in more need of an efficient administrative system and more focused and specialized programs. They need a serious fight against corruption and also need high transparency. Correcting the performance of the state and institutions applies to all countries but Jordan, Tunisia and similar countries need this more than others.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.