Alwaght- Over the past few days, Jordan has been a scene to massive protests. Despite the resignation of Prime Minister Hani Mulki of the small Arab monarchy, the rallies did not stop, pushing the government to use force to put them down.
The roots of public discontentment
Jordan conditions are now very similar to those of pre-revolution Tunisia. The death rates are 20 percent and the youth unemployment rate is 40 percent. The country is locked in the heart of several geopolitical disputes, a situation making Jordan’s native population be outnumbered by the population of the Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees fleeing the war.
Struggling with worsening economic conditions and budget deficit, the Jordanian government has been making economic reforms necessary to get the International Monetary Fund’s $723 million loan. Amman signed a deal with IMF to create new finance sources and cut expenses. Accordingly, Jordan is expected to decrease the debt-GDP ratio from 96 percent to 77 percent by the end of 2021. Tax and price hikes have been part of a PMF-proposed package to help press down the government spending.
But the deficit is huge now, accounting for over 10 percent of the GDP. Government debts almost doubled since 2007. The ordinary Jordanians are feeling the pinch because financial reforms so far led to several-time fuel prices increase. Moreover, electricity prices has risen 55 percent.
The farmers last week sparked the protest move with their demonstrations against new taxes on agricultural produces, arguing this will make production costs surge.
But the farmers were not alone to protest the higher costs and taxes. Several cities in Jordan over the past few days have been a theater to demonstrations against the government’s cutting the bread subsidies and doubling prices to help state finances. Other goods and services including internet, electricity, software, drinks, and cosmetics also did not survive the price pickup.
Jordanians arranged similar anti-government protests on the heels of North Africa and Arab uprisings in 2011, continuing throughout 2012. Now, they are repeating their demands. Free access to social media, job creation, fighting systematic corruption and increasing poverty are part of their demands.
Ostensibly constitutional but absolute rule
Jordan has a constitution, dual-house parliament, political parties, and elections but many home and foreign experts refuse to label its rule democratic. Constitution grants broad powers to the king, without devising mechanisms for questioning his actions. The king picks the prime minister, members of House of Representatives, and the top judges. The legislatures need his signing for finalization. He has the power to suspend or dissolve the parliament and announce snap elections. He is the commander-in-chief.
Legislation process comes in this way: The king-installed cabinet offers bills to the majorly pro-king House of Representatives. The majority of the lawmakers are pro-regime, all entering the parliament via largely engineered elections. So, the parties in Jordan only offer a legal shield to the monarchic regime.
This makes the popular protests to call for a mix of genuine political reforms and fight against unemployment, deteriorating living conditions, and corruption. When in 2011, the year that marked the Islamic awakening period, the anti-regime protesters took to the streets, King Abdullah II, fearing people-led ouster like Egypt and Tunisia’s rulers, pledged constitutional and electoral changes. But January 2013 parliamentary elections disclosed the government’s lack of seriousness and resolve to meet its promises. The major opposition groups, Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election for fraud concerns and protests against the new election law, and the regime was the victor. The remaining contestants were pro-regime and thus occupied the parliamentary seats. In fact, the new election law more than ever frustrated hopes of real reforms. The law, many argued, was against the king’s promise of movement towards the parliamentary system. So, today’s demonstrations are in fact fire under the ashes of the unfulfilled vows.
Palestinian crisis and foreign backing to government’s repression
Various factors have been causing the world to show sensitivity to the protests in Jordan.
On the one hand, King Abdullah, an ally of the US, is under Washington’s pressures to maintain the status quo. The US moves against any destabilizing factors that endanger the existence of the Jordanian monarchy. From the American viewpoint, any increase in the role of opposition groups, whose main body is the Islamist parties, in the governance puts at risk Jordan’s peace accord with the Israeli regime, something quite detrimental to Tel Aviv’s regional security and position. In fact, the experience of Egypt, a country that ousted its pro-Western president Hosni Mubarak and brought to rule through healthy elections the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mohamed Morsi, exhibited to Washington how dangerous to its interests is to allow democratic changes to take place in its Arab allies. Responding to widening protests in 2013, the US dispatched to Jordan in the same year 200 military advisors, whose job was ostensibly to help prevent violence but really to block any pro-democracy efforts. Beside the Western support, the Persian Gulf Arab states back the ally Jordan government to help it survive the severe economic circumstances. In 2011, Riyadh’s aids to Amman outstripped Washington’s by $1 billion. Moreover, Saudi Arabia asked Jordan, and Morocco, to join the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council.
Still, the fresh protests bear some differences from those of the past. Thousands of Jordanians took to streets on December asking the government to cut ties with Tel Aviv and expel the American ambassador over the US embassy relocation to Al-Quds (Jerusalem). They continued through January and it was clear that the protests gravitated towards embassy move and the government approach to it rather than the economic hardships.
Demographically speaking, Jordan’s population is 50 percent Palestinians, 30-35 percent native Jordanians, 15-20 percent Iraqis, and the rest are ethnic and refugee groups, according to a 2010 census.
Fear of revolution by the majority of Palestinians pushes the Jordan leaders to grow concerns about the US recognition of Al-Quds as an Israeli state’s capital. Trump administration, on the other side, cut funds to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aids to Jordan-based Palestinians. This built up pressures and fueled opposition to a several-year policy of normalization with Tel Aviv as a pathway to peace and return of the displaced Palestinians. Now, Jordan’s rulers witness the state sliding in dire straits, a predicament unlikely to heal by the change of PM or making new promises of reforms.