Has France’s yellow vest fever reached Jordan?

Six months into the new Jordanian government term, angry protesters take to the streets to demand economic and political reforms.

al-monitor A demonstrator gestures during a protest against the government's tough austerity measures in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 13, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.
Mohammad Ersan

Mohammad Ersan


Topics covered

protests in jordan, economic reform, austerity, activism, international monetary fund, demonstrations, yellow vests

Dec 14, 2018

Along the lines of France’s yellow vest demonstrations, Jordanians took to the streets donning red keffiyehs as part of their weekly rallies near Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s office. The demonstrations began Dec. 6 and call for political and economic reforms and pressuring the new government to renege on a tax reform bill and austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund.

The weekly protests, which are organized every Thursday, have been held under the slogans Maanash (We are broke) and Mesh Satkin (We will not remain silent).

Protesters chanted “Mulki is gone and now Razzaz is here, but nothing has changed,” in reference to the fact that the new government is similar to the previous ones. They also called on the government to resign.

These same angry protesters led Razzaz, who previously served as minister of education, to the office of the prime minister in June following the protests, which were the largest Jordan had seen in years and which led to the resignation of the country's previous prime minister, Hani al-Mulki.

Razzaz was popular when he first took office, promising political and economic reforms. His popularity began to decline as soon as he passed a new income tax bill, which was slated as an edited version of the law enacted by the outgoing government.

Riyadh Adnan, who is a member of a group of activists calling themselves Herak Watan (A Nation’s Movement), told Al-Monitor that the protesters have many demands, mainly “to stop arresting activists, decrease the sales tax on basic commodities by half, reintroduce subsidies on bread, adopt a global standard for the pricing of oil derivatives, reduce electricity bills for lower social classes, develop an income tax that would reduce economic burdens on the middle and poor classes, and a political transition toward an electoral law that would allow the election of the government by the people.”

Raghda Khalil, another protester who took part in all the rallies near the prime minister’s office, told Al-Monitor, “I took to the street as a Jordanian citizen and a journalist who believes in the legitimacy and nature of these demands. I also believe that reform will happen only under the people’s pressure. Jordanians do not wish to see another Mulki.”

“The only difference between Mulki’s government and the new one is that the latter is carrying on with its show, belittling the people’s minds without providing anything concrete toward real reform. The government is giving mere talks about political and economic reforms and is barely talking about corruption,” Khalil said.

Alaa al-Fazza, a Jordanian journalist residing in Sweden, seemed to concur with Khalil. Fazza was very active during the 2011 Arab Spring but left Jordan in 2013 after what he called “security harassment.”

In a statement to Al-Monitor, Fazza described the Razzaz government as “a government of public relations, providing soft policies for the same economic and political approaches.”

“Since 2011 — when Jordanians first took to the street as part of the Arab Spring wave, demanding reforms — until this moment, nothing has changed. People did not see any real efforts for reform, on the contrary, problems have gotten worse with bigger debts and deterioration of the living situation. This government has failed to provide anything to the citizens,” Fazza concluded.

The Jordanian government, on the other hand, accused what it calls opposition forces outside the country of inciting the unrest.

“This suspicious scene is linked to [dozens] of those who call themselves the ‘opposition abroad,’ and Jordanians should be aware of this,” government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said in a Dec. 13 press conference.

“We must pay attention to those who try to distort the civilized image of protests in Jordan and push it toward a suspicious path that harms the homeland, its security and its stability,” she added.

In a preemptive move before the weekly rally on Thursdays, Jordanian security services carried out an arrest campaign and apprehended 24 people, according to the National Forum for the Defense of Freedoms, an alliance of activists, unionists and political parties.

Saeed Dhiab, secretary-general of the left-wing Jordanian Democratic Popular Unity Party, told Al-Monitor that party member Bashar Assaf, 29, who participated in the protests, was “brutally arrested.”

“He was intercepted by two cars on his way back home Dec. 9. It was more like arresting a terrorist than an activist. Our comrade was handcuffed and taken to an unknown location, and we found out later on that he was held at the General Intelligence Service office,” Dhiab said.

Dhiab described Razzaz as “week” for not “being able to deliver on his many promises [or] confront the deep state forces and bureaucracies in Jordan.”

In a move to defuse tensions, Razzaz met some of the protesters in his office Dec. 12; others refused to meet him until the release of political detainees.

The prime minister promised to release the detainees as soon as possible and said, “The expression of opinion and peaceful protests are rights guaranteed by the constitution and the law. We, as a community and institutions, have to accept the opinions of others.”

“The government realizes the heavy burden and deep sense of frustration of citizens about economic issues and political reform. The nation has gone through exceptional conditions, which have led to the current economic situation. We now have to face this situation,” Razzaz said.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah ordered the government on Thursday to draft a general amnesty law to pardon thousands of people jailed for charges ranging between misdemeanors and embezzlement. "This will contribute to easing pressures facing citizens," the king was quoted as saying in a royal palace statement.