In Jordan the biggest protests since the Arab Spring have toppled a Prime Minister and forced King Abdullah to suspend IMF-mandated tax increases and price hikes. The week-long protests were joined by students, workers, the poor, professionals and young people. Thirty professional associations and trade unions went on strike, representing medical professionals, lawyers, journalists, pharmacists, engineers and others.
After an initial strike about tax increases spilled over into three days of nationwide protests, King Abdullah II was forced to issue a decree suspending price hikes. Shortly afterwards parliament refused to pass the proposed tax reform bill. Within five days of the first major strike the king accepted the resignation of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, in a major victory for the protests.
Jordan is facing severe economic crisis. Unemployment is at over 18 per cent and poverty rates even higher due to low wages and a high cost of living. Living standards have been declining for years thanks to neo-liberal “reform” including cuts to subsidies, privatisation and the withdrawal of welfare and other social services. These are the same issues that drove the Arab Spring in 2011—and remain unresolved all across the Arab world.
With government debt at $50 billion, almost equal to Jordan’s annual GDP, IMF lenders are demanding savage cuts in exchange for credit. The proposals that sparked the protests included plans to increase income tax on workers by at least 5 per cent and on business by 20 to 40 per cent. A wide range of items would see sales tax increase to 10 per cent. Electricity prices would increase by 19 per cent and fuel by at least 5 per cent.
The protests have temporarily forced the government into retreat, but Jordan’s rulers have certainly not abandoned the plans for austerity. The new Prime Minister appointed by King Abdullah II, Omar al-Razzaz, is a former World Bank official. He has promised “talks” about the austerity plans but has said nothing about rejecting the cuts demanded by the IMF.
Regional conflict has also fed into the crisis. Gulf States withdrew $1 billion in annual aid last year to punish Jordan for failing to join Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in cutting trade and diplomatic ties with Qatar.
Smaller strikes and protests continued after the appointment of the new PM and many are determined to keep the pressure up.
As one protesting university student told Reuters, “We will stay in the street until all our demands are met. We want justice, dignity and bread”.
By Adam Adelpour