Jordanians have gathered in the streets for a second day, protesting their government’s announcement Tuesday that it would cut fuel subsidies and raise the price of gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and natural gas, used for heating and cooking. Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour appeared on national television Tuesday evening and announced the decision would go into effect at midnight. Within minutes, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Amman and other cities to express their anger, and on Wednesday, teachers went on a national strike.
As former VOA Arabic Service chief Mahmoud Al-Zawawi told reporter Cecily Hilleary by phone from Amman, the Jordanian government says the move is necessary to reduce its nearly $4 billion deficit stressing, however, that not everyone will be impacted.
Below are excerpts of Al-Zawawi’s remarks. Check the bottom of the post for audio of a fuller version of the interview.
What the government did was announce its decision regarding the subsidies only four hours before [it became effective]…and that tells you that they were taking certain precautions. That did not stop people throughout the country, in several cities in the north and south of the country, and of course in the capital of Amman, where thousands of people poured into one of the main square to express their condemnation of the decision. In other towns, they expressed anger and in in some demonstrations they called for the resignation of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and the downfall of the government.
Not without warning
This has been a very controversial issue in Jordan. The government has been preparing the public for at least three weeks. In other words, they were trying to psychologically prepare people for this decision. And the prime minister was interviewed for 50 minutes on Jordanian television to make the announcement official, explaining that 70 percent of the Jordanian people will not be affected by the price increases, because they will be paid compensation if the family income is less than around $1,100 a month. The way the government looks at it, the subsidies support more than a million non-citizens in Jordan – foreign workers, maids, tourists, etc. And the new system will not apply to these people, in other words, they will be paying higher prices for gasoline and other petroleum products. Jordanian citizens who earn more than $1,100 a month will be paying the full prices.
Because of the increased national deficit, the country is facing problems with the International Monetary Fund and [a number of] foreign donors, and this will help, according to the prime minister, encourage loans from foreign and local banks, and will make life easier for the government. But the common person in Jordan does not believe that, and I guess the demonstrations prove that the people are not happy about that.
Listen to more of Mahmoud Al-Zawawi insights on the situation in Jordan (7:04):
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.