The outbreak of protests and strikes in Jordan and some related cases of violence have highlighted the worsening economic situation in the country.
Protests against a rise in fuel prices have abated in intensity but have not yet abated. They are still taking place sporadically in Jordan’s southern governorates — the epicenter of recent anti-government events.
On December 15, a senior police officer was killed in clashes with demonstrators in the southern city of Maan, and three police officers were killed during a raid on Monday in the alleged killer’s hideout.
Truck and public transport drivers began the strike two weeks ago. Some of the protests have led to unrest that has spread across the Kingdom and reached the capital city of Amman over the weekend. Public property was set on fire, state buildings were trashed and major highways were blocked because tires were set on fire.
“It was expected to reach that point. There are many signs and symptoms of frustration and anger,” Jordanian political scientist Amer Sabaileh told CNN Breaking News. “It shows that people are tired of people suffering seriously.”
Local media have reported that most drivers appeared to have ended their strike after local officials hinted that fuel prices would be cut next month. The government has also agreed to raise minimum transport charges to account for the rise in diesel prices, which almost doubled in the past year.
However, some drivers, particularly in the southern city of Maan, have continued to strike. Her complaints include the arrest of the city’s former mayor Majid al-Sharari after he left a protest site.
The government has cracked down on the demonstrations, particularly following the deaths in Maan, and has deployed police across the country to combat the unrest and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. The authorities have so far arrested 44 people involved in the protests.
The social media platform Tik Tok was also banned because, according to the Jordanian Cybercrime Department, there were videos that “spread false news and information.”
The government’s crackdown “may work when it comes to political demands, but people are really suffering here,” Sabaileh said. “You don’t solve the problem that way,” he added. “It is getting bigger, more rooted and affects all Jordanians.”
Diesel prices double
The rise in fuel prices in the winter season, when fewer agricultural products need to be transported, means that many truck drivers are already out of pocket. This is a hard blow to Jordan’s “collapsing” transportation sector, said Khalid Shatnawi, 46 years old, a truck driver for almost 16 years and spokesperson for the Jordanian Truck Drivers Association.
Shatnawi, who has five children, told CNN Breaking News that his salary could not cover all of his expenses. “I’ll be in debt at the end of the month.”
Shatnawi said his 22-year-old son had to stop attending university for two years because the family could not afford his tuition fees. Since the truck driver is paid per trip, he says he must “travel on and on” just to cover his expenses.
The price of diesel, which is used by large trucks and buses, has risen steadily in Jordan over the past year. A liter of diesel is now sold for 0.895 Jordanian dinars ($1.26), up from just 0.500 dinars (0.70 USD) last January.
The government says it has already paid more than 500 million dinars ($700 million) to limit fuel price increases this year, and it can’t do much more if it wants to avoid breaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
“Every small change in diesel prices has a direct impact on our profits,” said Essam al-Toura, 38, who runs Asalat Alaris Transportation Services, a trucking company in Jordan.
Al-Toura told CNN Breaking News that the company is now paying double the amount it paid for diesel six months ago. He found that diesel costs account for around 58 percent of total operating costs at current prices.
“At the end of the day, we’re paying out of pocket to cover our losses,” said al-Toura, noting that the diesel price increases have put his company in a “very critical situation.”
The latest fuel protests aren’t the first in Jordan. While a rise in prices often leads to demonstrations, people were generally concerned about government inefficiency.
“The price of fuel is the trigger,” said Sabaileh, the political analyst. “In moments like this, it opens a lot of doors. You can’t talk about fuel prices without talking about public policies, governments, and legitimacy.”
Surveys show widespread distrust of Jordan’s political system. A 2021 survey by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and the International Republican Institute (IRI) found that the majority of Jordanians thought the country was moving in the wrong direction and was governing in the interest of a minority.
According to a 2022 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), authorities have increasingly persecuted and harassed citizens who were involved in peaceful protests or political dissent in recent years.
And given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine, Jordan is facing significantly higher inflation and an unemployment rate that reached 22.8 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Sabaileh noted that the misfortune with Jordan’s political elite was even included in letters from the families of the deceased police officers.
According to Jordanian Roya News, for example, the statement from the family of Corporal Ibrahim Atef Al-Shaqarin, who died in Monday’s raid, states that the deaths are a “reflection of misconduct by successive governments in Jordan.”
Shantawi commented on the government agreement reached with truck drivers, saying that “there were only promises,” referring to the “pages” of demands that the association has still unanswered.
“Nothing has changed for us,” he stated.