Jordan's Opposition Vows Protest Over Food and Fuel Subsidy Cuts

Jordan's opposition lawmaker threaten protests against the government’s debt-reduction proposals, which include ending subsidies on gas and basic commodities or devaluing the national currency, Tamer Samadi reports.

al-monitor Women hold signs with bread taped on them in a demonstration against food prices in Amman, Jan. 14, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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protests in jordan, protests, food

Nov 3, 2012

Over the past two days, the Jordanian government suggested some economic options that appeared to be “tough” and “exciting” for public opinion. These options are intended to cover the nearly $21 billion budget deficit.

On the eve of the [Muslim Eid] al-Adha holiday, the government proposed either ending gas and basic commodity subsidies or reducing the value of the Jordanian dinar.

This has created an exchange of warnings between opposition and government forces. Prominent opposition figures such as Ahmad Obaidat, Hamza Mansour and Leith Shbeilat — and other prominent government figures including former ministers and MPs — contributed to these warnings.

Yesterday [Oct. 31], on behalf of the government, Finance Minister Suleiman Hafez suggested new options — which politicians and economists deemed to Al-Hayat to be “worrying” — in the event that oil and basic commodity subsidies are maintained.

Hafez said that the government was examining the possibility of returning to a system of odd/even rationing [in which vehicle owners with license plates ending in an odd number receive a subsidy one day, followed by even license plate vehicle owners the next]. This policy was applied during the Gulf war in the early 1990s to counter threats to energy sources.

Following the Eid Al-Adha holiday, Hafez suggested another option, which Jordanians are not accustomed to. This option is reflected in the programmed electricity cuts on roads and in neighborhoods, after electricity companies bills reached an unsustainable level, according to the minister.

However, politicians and economists … believed that these scenarios aimed to justify the government’s obligation to enforce the International Monetary Fund’s program, which mandates commodity price increases in exchange for budgetary support.

A senior official source explained to Al-Hayat that there were other options yet to be announced, such as installing gas meters inside homes. The source confirmed that the government intends to approve an austerity package of gradually reducing subsidies, shortly before the elections are held at the beginning of next year.

These statements have coincided with a heated political atmosphere, particularly after Jordan’s King Abdullah II settled the issue of parliamentary elections. In his speech on Tuesday [Oct. 30], the king stressed that the elections would be held despite the boycott threat from the opposition — namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, the Jordanian opposition — which is represented by the National Front for Reform led by former Prime Minister Ahmad Obaidat,  and the Brotherhood — hastened to escalate tensions by threatening to resort to public [demonstrations] one day after the Eid holiday had ended, and warned against ending subsidies and holding elections “without a national consensus.”

The Brotherhood’s second-in-command Zaki Bani Arshid didn’t hesitate to link political decisions to economic ones, and warned of fresh protests. He added that the first demonstration will be organized on Friday [Nov.2], in Amman’s city center.

Arshid told Al-Hayat: “No wise political entity that is aware of what is going on around us would insist on engaging in two adventures at once,” in reference to ending subsidies and holding elections.

He added: “There is no longer a realm that brings the people together. Rather, there is a people who have demands and politicians should listen to the people’s will and demands.” 

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