Cuts in fuel subsidies provoke mass eruption from below

Since Tuesday 13 November a massive and unprecedented wave of protests and strikes has erupted in Jordan, triggered by a hike in fuel prices that was announced by the government earlier on that day. For the first time, slogans have been explicitly targeting the privileges of the ruling Hashemite monarchy and calling for the ousting of King Abdullah II. At the time of writing, thousands of people continue to protest in many places across the country.

Clashes have also been taking place between police forces and demonstrators in the capital Amman, as well as in the towns of Irbid and Tafileh. These clashes have resulted in one man’s death, 70 people injured and another 200 arrested for ‘assaults and public property damages’. The presence of police and Darak (riot) forces has been extremely strong since the first day, with the heavy use of tear gas and water cannons for dispersing the crowds.

The announcement of increases of up to 53% in oil derivatives and propane gas prices is what directly sparked people to get out onto the streets and protest, after calls by several leftist organisations and trade unions. A call for protesting against the government’s new decisions was also made by the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

The difference in these protests compared to others in the recent past, is the participation of many more people, mainly working class and students, without a connection to any organisation.

Workers from two of the poorer neighbourhoods of eastern Amman have been moving onto the streets and joining other marches since the second day (14 November) of the protests.

Slogans and demands are more radical than before. While in the first wave of protests in Jordan, a year and a half ago, there were only moderate demands, asking for basic economic and political reforms, this time people are chanting in the streets ‘for the fall of the regime and the king’ – sometimes even naming the king, which is illegal.

Previously there have been regular demonstrations in Jordan but with generally a relatively low turnout, attracting a few hundred protesters. However, on Friday the 16th, up to tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital. This marks a new stage in the assertiveness of the masses and indicates the potential to build a mass movement capable of challenging the regime.

It is mostly clear now that the anger and indignation of Jordanians cannot be kept silent anymore, nor ignored. People have been let down by the regime many times before, with promises for reform never being applied and with corruption cases involving the elite surfacing one after another.

People are struggling to make ends meet - one quarter of the population lives below the poverty line - as the prices on basic goods continually increase (also as a result of the ongoing instability in neighbouring countries - Egypt, Syria, Palestine), and with unemployment and under-employment rates getting higher.

The government has announced that the country is facing a wide financial deficit, which needs to be balanced with the implementation of austerity measures.

The cuts in fuel subsidies follow a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed in August, imposing a series of neoliberal measures in exchange for a $2 billion loan. Predictably, what will follow the recent hike in the fuel prices will be similar price increases in food and other basic goods.

The regime has already announced the scrapping or merging of many public services and government organisations. The Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company (JPRC) is number one in the list of companies to close as the government is planning to ‘liberalise’ the fuel market and open it up for private companies to take over. This will mean about 3,500 job losses (in JPRC) and more expensive petroleum in the future.

The need for an organised movement of the working class, the students and the poor is needed more than ever in Jordan. The examples of the recent struggles in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, etc, that either fall into the hands of right-wing religious forces, new dictators and armies, or descend into civil war, clearly shows the pressing need for the formation of a united workers’ movement to defend the rights of the masses and to fight for the interests of the majority, without nationalist and sectarian divisions.

Despite the setbacks of the so-called “Arab Spring” and the horrendous civil war taking place in neighbouring Syria, the inspiring explosion of social anger in Jordan indicates that the potential for genuine, mass, working class-based struggles has not disappeared in the region.

Calls for general strikes are being heard, while the most militant Jordanian trade unions (organising Taxi drivers, teachers, engineers), as well as the student movement, have already announced an open strike and continuous mobilisations until the end of this month.

On the other side, the regime does not show a willingness to back down on its new economic policies. Nonetheless, the heavy repression by security forces in the recent events indicates how much the ruling elite fear the possibility for further social and political convulsions hitting Jordan.

We call for:

  • The immediate withdrawal of the new economic austerity measures which are driving the majority of the people into unemployment and poverty
  • The immediate release of all the protesters detained in the last days and the dropping of the charges against them
  • Massive investment in the public sector, including education, health care, social security and pensions
  • A living minimum wage and affordable food and other essential goods and housing. End unemployment; jobs for all
  • The unity of the working masses against the ruling elite and against state repression
  • The building of a mass movement to unite the working class and the poor masses across the region for the eradication of poverty, corruption, sectarianism and racism
  • A struggle for a real alternative society; for genuine democratic socialism

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