Protests across Jordan follow fuel price hike

Demonstrators demand government resignation, but also speak up against the King

Jordan's King Abdullah II (photo credit: CC BY-SA World Economic Forum, Flickr)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (photo credit: CC BY-SA World Economic Forum, Flickr)

Spontaneous demonstrations erupted across Jordan on Tuesday evening following a government decision to raise fuel and gas prices, with hundreds of angry protesters shouting slogans directed not only at newly appointed Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, but also at the royal family.

Ensour’s announcement late Tuesday cited a need to offset $5 billion in state losses from a rising fuel bill. He said a type of fuel used in public transport will rise by 14 percent, while kerosene oil used for household heating will go up by 28 percent. Cooking gas will jump 54 percent. The price hike takes effect Wednesday, and cars began lining up late Tuesday to stock up on fuel.

A similar price increase was canceled at the last minute by King Abdullah II on September 3 after angry protesters, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, took to the streets.

“I will never pay the corruption tax,” read a protester’s sign at Amman’s Interior Ministry Roundabout in a video uploaded to YouTube, as demonstrators shouted, “With spirit and blood we shall redeem thee, O Jordan,” and “Down with the government of Abdullah Ensour.” They also shouted slogans that “crossed the red lines” — a reference to legally banned utterances against the Jordanian monarchy.

“Revolution, revolution, it is a popular revolution,” chanted about 2,000 protesters in the impromptu demonstration. The protesters — affiliated with Muslim, Arab nationalist, Marxist, Communist and youth opposition groups — also targeted Abdullah in a rare public display against the monarch. Criticizing the king in public is forbidden in Jordan and is punishable by up to three years in jail.

“Freedom is from God, in spite of you, Abdullah,” they shouted.

Hours later, about two dozen protesters tried to take down a street portrait of the king hung on a billboard, but riot police encircled it, preventing the protesters from reaching it.

Local media reported that demonstrators shut roads in many Jordanian cities using burning tires and rocks, including the northern cities of Irbid, Ramtha and Salt and the southern cities of Ma’an and Tafilah. Some of the cities declared a general strike for Wednesday.

Assaf David, a Jordan expert at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained that Jordan was forced to raise prices due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which in August approved a $2-billion loan to Jordan.

“Has [Jordan] gone one step too far? One way or another, the mishandling of the political and socioeconomic crisis turned on the warning lights months ago,” David said.

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