Protests in Jordan

The "Tunisia effect" continues. Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Jordan yesterday, for the second Friday in succession. More than 5,000 marched in the centre of Amman, with smaller demonstrations in several other cities, according toagency reports. The protesters are said to have ranged across the spectrum, from leftists and trade unionists to Islamists.

As in the earlier stages of the Tunisian uprising, the mobilising factor is economic hardship, though there are also calls for the prime minister and government to resign.

Yesterday's Jordan Times reported that the government is to "reset" its spending priorities to address rising living costs, with pay rises for government employees and increased susbsidies on some goods. However, this can really be no more than a temporary palliative and the protesters seem to recognise that.

Trade unionist Maisarah Malas told AFP: "These measures are designed to drug people, nothing more. We need comprehensive reforms."

A retired serviceman, Farouq Abbadi, is also quoted as saying: "The government should change its economic policies and mentality. We are protesting today because we want to protect ourselves and our nation. We have gone 50 years backwards."

Writing in the Jadaliyya blog, Ziad Abu-Rish discusses Jordan's economic problems in detail and suggests some drastic re-thinking is needed:

A genuine reconsideration of the economic development model underway in Jordan would require the regime, the government, and commentators to move away from self-congratulatory celebrations of issues such as Jordan's rankings in The Heritage Foundation's 2010 Economic Freedom Report. Indices such as "Business Freedom", "Financial Freedom", and "Trade Freedom" ultimately measure the ability of capital to move in and out of the borders of Jordan and to circulate amongst its economic elites. It makes no difference to the average citizen that Jordan's economy is ranked the 38th freest in the world and fourth freest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Such rankings, and their celebration, render invisible the daily experiences of the average Jordanian. Alternatively, it would do us all some good to consider that Jordan ranks in the bottom 30% in terms of both poverty and unemployment vis-à-vis global rankings – meaning that 70% of the countries in the world have lower rates of poverty and unemployment than Jordan does.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 22 Jan 2011