To avoid the collapse of the economy, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour is likely to take harsh decisions in the coming period, starting by raising electricity prices, which would surely go beyond the gradual cancelation of subsidies on bread and other commodities. This is seen as an attempt to obtain a financial loan worth $2 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, these decisions that have yet to be announced reflect the deep trouble Ensour is likely to face in the coming period. Ensour has an economic mindset. He was educated in the United States and France and his reputation has yet to be tarnished with accusations of corruption.
The biggest challenge facing the government — mired in economic and political complexities — is the bloody violence that has been gripping the city of Maan in southern Jordan for four days. Protesters set fire to the government headquarters as well as public and private cars, in protest of the death of two wanted men, who were shot dead by the police last week, according to official statements. This has prompted the government to send extensive reinforcements to the desert city.
Ensour has previously made several decisions to raise fuel prices, sparking violent disturbances lasting for days in rural areas, which have been [most] affected by the cancelation of subsidies.
Ensour said that shifting from the extensive support system to the monetary support system is aimed at helping the poor, as it will provide more effective forms of aid. He added that this is the only option to avoid a financial crisis.
While the Jordanian prime minister continues to raise prices, many have raised their voices accusing him of undermining the critical situation in the enraged southern city. Work has stopped, and schools, bakeries and pharmacies have closed, after angry citizens declared open civil disobedience, and demanded the resignation of the ministry.
The Public Security Directorate in Jordan said the dead “were two dangerous wanted men, who were killed in the clashes with police after having broken into quarries in the southern province of Aqaba.” However, the videos posted by activists on social networking sites show that these two men were killed by normal people for revenge reasons.
In Al-Hussein bin Talal University, a public university in Maan, violent acts erupted a month ago, resulting in the deaths of four young men and injuring dozens of others, following a bloody conflict between students affiliated with Maan clans and others hailing from the southern desert.
There is no doubt what is happening in Maan reflects the accumulated crisis between the state and society, fueled by unprecedented tension due to the deteriorating political and economic conditions.
Yasser Abu Hilala, a journalist from the same city, told Al-Hayat that aggravating violence and the increasing number of casualties “will lead to a different turn of events and will not jeopardize the fate of the government alone but also the state and its future.”
He said that Maan has seen heated protests “in response to the death of the two citizens, whose bodies were mutilated, amidst the confusion of the authorities and security service, which have been issuing contradicting statements about the matter.”
“Over the past years, the southern city has seen bloody incidents in which citizens were killed at the hands of police. Perpetrators were not properly held accountable for their acts in the eyes of the public,” he added.
He also said that “there is an unhealthy relationship between the state and society, which is due to the fact that the security apparatus does not take the people’s rights into account. This is not to mention the well-organized gangs that trade in arms and sell drugs inside and outside the city, while authorities fail to deter them.”
Yesterday [June 3], the government said that it “will not tolerate any criminal act.” It added that it has received orders from the monarchy to change the situation as the status quo is “unacceptable,” and that the state must “preserve its prestige.”
Maan is considered a tribal stronghold, home to 60,000 people. It is located at about 250 km [155 miles] south of Amman, and is known for its defiance of the central authorities.
The impoverished city has been a battlefield between tribes, and marred by violence over the past years. Its residents are extremist Islamist militants armed with weapons and resisting the authorities.
According to analysts, due to the economic recession the government has failed to the meet the demands of the city’s residents, who are seeking governmental posts, not to mention the lack of foreign aid and tax revenue.
Over the past few weeks, Ensour has been stressing the decision to raise electricity prices, saying that it will come into effect next month. However, leaders within the government stressed the seriousness of such a decision, and proposed postponing its implementation until after the month of Ramadan, according to government associates speaking to Al-Hayat.
These leaders stressed that there have been efforts to stabilize the prices of electricity for the poor, in an attempt to absorb the expected heated reaction from the street.
The IMF issued an important document last week, demanding the government deal with the tax evasion (amounting to around 1 billion Jordanian dinars [$1.4 billion]), and to cut military spending in order to reduce the budget draining.
There have been indicators confirming that the head of the government, who just turned 70, has been abandoned by powerful decision-makers, especially within the security institution.
The prime minister has been exchanging undeclared severe accusations with powerful decision-makers, especially after making a press statement saying that he clings to his right to choose ministers, although official institutions did not impose upon him any ministers to be appointed.
The confidence of the MPs
Al-Hayat learned that ministerial amendment adopted by Ensour has been postponed until further notice, as the government’s future is precarious given the swift domestic and external changes.
Al-Hayat also learned that some statesmen have demanded the royal palace to declare a war government, headed by a prominent military figure to face the developments in the Syrian situation.
In a recent statement, the head of the Jordanian Parliament, Saad Hayel al-Sourour, said that “Ensour’s government will be in jeopardy if it does not take the necessary measures, especially with regard to prices and subsidies, so as to not lose the confidence of the people and the MPs.”
Ensour is a pillar of the small ruling elite and is affiliated with the conservative movement, which is close to the royal palace. Many officials sources do not rule out the possibility of toppling the government by Parliament, should the prime minister continue to insist on raising prices.
However, the state is far more concerned about a more serious scenario, which is the reaction of the street that would undermine the future and legitimacy of the government and its institutions, according to sources close to decision-makers.
Ensour is facing a bigger challenge from the MPs, who gave him confidence in anticipation of ministerial positions, an option which was rejected by the Jordanian monarch, fearing the collapse of Parliament. Parliament has not been established based on partisan participation or platforms, as the Islamic opposition boycotted the elections in protest against the nature of the provided reforms.
The biggest concern of Parliament is how to quell the anger of the street, which will not rest, should the government raise prices.
Fahed Khaitan, a writer and political commentator, told Al-Hayat that the fate of Ensour’s government depends on its decision to raise electricity prices, and its ability to convince the parliamentary committees of the need to pass the resolution.
He added, “If the government fails to convince everyone and encounters massive protests, which is to be expected, it is likely to be overthrown.”
Khaitan believed that traditional pressures exerted on MPs “will be limited this time ... as the Parliament will not risk facing street protests and will not be the scapegoat, as was the case with former parliaments.” Moreover, Ensour faces an additional challenge imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan's largest opposition group, in addition to the latter’s allies within the National Front for Reform. These include tribal and secular leaders, led by former Prime Minister Ahmad Obeidat, who was previously the director of the General Intelligence Department.
Obeidat asserted days ago that the popular movement’s withdrawal is “illogical,” threatening to launch a new wave of protests.
Moreover, yesterday [June 3] the government entered a new battle with the media, following its decision to close 291 local news websites, under the pretext of lack of necessary permits. This step came as a surprise to several local and international institutions concerned with freedom of the press.
In this respect, the president of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, Nidal Mansour, said that this decision “will not pass unnoticed” adding that repression in Jordan is exercised “by force of law.”
On a separate note, the government’s fate is linked to the developments in the Syrian situation, since according to internal undeclared scenarios, Jordan fears a world war that would significantly affect it. It also fears that the number of Syrian refugees on its territory might reach 3 million, if the situation were to completely collapse in its northern neighbor.
Official circles revealed to Al-Hayat that the Syrian file’s successive developments “urged powerful leading figures within the state to demand the current government’s dismissal and the declaration of the war cabinet as soon as possible in order to counter the repercussions of the Syrian disaster, [as] anticipated by the Hashemite Kingdom.”
Maher Abu Tair, who worked as a consultant to the Jordanian government and is considered one of the most prominent decision makers, said that talks held in closed official rooms “reveal the need to assign a prominent military figure to manage the country affairs,” adding that the prospects for this option will be clarified within the next few days.
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