Jordanians are finding common cause in protests against the government's economic policies

Jordanian youth holding the Jordan flag amidst the protests. Photo by Raad Adayleh. Used with Permission.

Jordanians are coming together across political, economic and gender divides to protest against a new tax law and increases to electricity and fuel prices, and have seen their efforts so far result in the resignation of the prime minister.

Participants have gathered after Iftar (breaking fast during the month of Ramadan) at the Fourth Circle, which is where the Prime Ministry is located in the capital Amman, and stayed until Suhoor (the time when fasting begins again), which means approximately six continuous hours.

The timing has allowed the country to function normally by day, causing no damage to the already hurting economy, while still sending a clear and effective message by night.

“We’ve had no time to sleep except for two or three hours a day during this week, but this is the only way we can do the country no harm and still practise our rights,” said Ahmad Jalal, one of the protesters, to Global Voices.

The protesters have mostly stood in front of the ministry, shouting anti-government slogans, singing nationalist songs, and holding signs with the hashtag “#Maanash” which translates into “We do not have.”

The gatherings have largely been peaceful, and much attention has been paid to the friendliness between police and protesters, with each party giving the other water and dates during the long hours of the night. A video that went viral shows protesters hugging officers before going home on the second day of the protests:

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Participation of women has been high too, which is a first in conservative Jordan.

Higher taxes and higher prices for an already struggling public

The law that sparked the protests is meant to increase revenue by broadening the tax base and cracking down on tax evasion committed by both companies and citizens, and is part of a series of measures instituted since Amman secured a three-year credit line of 723 million US dollars from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

That loan, intended to support economic and financial reform, has the long-term objective of reducing Jordan's public debt from about 94 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 77 percent by 2021.

The law would lower the taxable income for individuals to 8,000 Jordanian dinars (about 11,300 US dollars) and above and for families to 16,000 dinars (about 22,500 dollars) and above, imposing a rate of between 5 and 25 percent.

Moreover, citizens above the age of 18 would be required to pay 100 dinars a year (about 141 dollars), with the amount doubling the year after if the individual fails to pay. The tax is required regardless of their income.

As for companies (specifically banks, insurance companies, electricity and water providers), taxes will range from 20 to 40 percent.

A week after the tax law was revealed, the government announced that electricity prices would rise by 23.5 percent and fuel derivatives between 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent.

This comes at a time when Jordanians are enduring high rates of unemployment and inflation, as well as low wages.

Shortly before the protests began, Amman was rated the most expensive Arab city and the 28th most expensive city internationally, a figure which is disproportionate with individuals’ income and government-provided services.

In addition to that, the geopolitical circumstances in the Middle East has had serious repercussions on Jordan’s resources and governmental policies, with Jordan one of the frequented hosts for refugees.

Although the income tax law would only seemingly affect wealthier classes and companies — the average monthly income of an individual in Jordan stands at 637 US dollars, below the minimum — many fear that customers will end up eating the price hikes if the companies react by raising their fees, as happened in the past with telecom companies.

“The audacity and lack of respect for the people can be seen in the government's behavior of passing two unreasonable laws within a week regardless of the people's reactions,” Mohsen, a member of the lawyer's union who preferred to be identified by his first name only, told Global Voices.

“We want to change policies, not names”

The first step of action regarding the tax law was a union strike held on Wednesday, May 30. Protests took a more serious turn after the government’s decision to raise prices was announced.

Although King Abdullah II immediately froze the rise in prices for the month of Ramadan, there's no guarantee that it won't come to pass eventually, so the protests have continued.

Unions and lay people have taken the opportunity to protest all taxation policies that have been issued during the past few years that they consider unreasonable. The protests have also come to encompass non-government related issues, such as parliamentary corruption.

On June 4, in response to the mobilization the king asked the standing government to resign, and he allocated the forming of a new one to Omar Al-Razzaz, the former minister of education, who is well-respected by many Jordanians.

In addition to that, officials claim that Jordan will ask the IMF to give it more time to implement reforms.

However, reactions on social media regarding the resignation were split. Some were happy with the decision and optimistic that a new government will find solutions to the country’s debt.

Others thought of the move as ineffective, using the words, “We want to change policies, not names.”

A member of the AlHerak AlShaabi (a political party that was one of the main organizers of the protesters) told Global Voices, “Changing the government means nothing, because it changes every two years anyways. We want real reform. We want real change. We do not need a different man telling us the same story.”

Some political parties and unions are still calling for more protests to be held, while others are holding them off to give the new government a chance.

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