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Is Jordan’s latest strike the introduction to a new ‘spring’?

Thousands of Jordans took to the streets on 30 May 2018 to protest against a new income tax law [Nelsherif/Twitter]
Thousands of Jordans took to the streets on 30 May 2018 to protest against a new income tax law [Nelsherif/Twitter]

Jordanians from all walks of life and backgrounds, and from various political and economic groups, have never agreed on anything like their agreement in rejecting the new income tax law. They have never agreed on a single decision like they did about the decision to go on strike on Wednesday. Regardless of the size of the protest, the atmosphere prompted by the Arab spring movements hung in the background as frantic activities were provoked by a draft law that can best be described as crazy and extreme, at the very least.

The law strips Jordanians of the little money they have left after being looted by an estimated 150 taxes and official fines. While the accuracy of this figure may be questioned, the abundance of similar legislation means that people in Jordan accept it as true, if exaggerated, as an expression of the number of official ways to rob people of their money.

Fuel is added to the fire of such oppression by the fact that the abundance of taxes is not dictated by government budgets or for combatting corruption, bribes and nepotism. Government officials spend on their meals, travel and even their salaries as if they work for a wealthy country. The popular impression across Jordanian society, therefore, is that poor Jordanians must go hungry in order for the lucky “governing elites” to fill their stomachs and be extravagant in their provision for their wives and children. They must even starve in order to feed the elites’ cute household pets.

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Proposals from government and other elites are even more dangerous than what is being said on the streets. It is clear that Jordan is at a dangerous and unprecedented crossroads. The people are deliberating over various scenarios, all of which address the fundamentals and constants of Jordanian life, without exception.

To make matters worse, the people have generally rejected all official policies, not just the draft income tax bill. There is uncertainty on every level. You do not need to be an economic analyst to realise that the people are doubting their leaders due to the extreme economic distress being experienced. If it wasn’t for social and religious occasions, such as Ramadan, Eid and the beginning of the school year, for example, the economic situation would be worse; economic activity is given a boost at such times, but is moribund otherwise.

The most dangerous rumour doing the rounds in Jordanian political circles is that economic reform has been suspended indefinitely because it is linked to events beyond the country’s borders. In other words, there will not be any political decision on economic reform until regional issues are resolved, especially in Palestine, by so-called “world leaders”. In the meantime, the people of Jordan must suffer and remain hungry. This is, apparently, a social and political necessity in order for them to be in a frame of mind to accept anything that the government imposes on them at a later stage.

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“Solutions” imposed by external forces, which inevitably relate to the situation in Palestine, are not intended to solve the Palestinian “problem” as much as they are aimed at resolving Israel’s problems and provide for its further expansion and total occupation of historic Palestine.

There are many rumours circulating which are both exaggerated and dangerous at the same time, creating tension amongst the Jordanian elites, which is spreading to other social classes and groups. The draft income tax bill is a means to burst the bubble of oppression, making the rejection of official policies a Jordanian characteristic, even amongst those known for their loyalty towards the government. This is happening because trying to defend these policies has become not only costly on a popular level, but also impossible on a logical level. It does not fit well with Jordan’s traditional moderation, something for which it has been known for decades.

The “Jordan Strike” is thus a major warning, not only domestically, but also for those who impose policies on the people without serving even their minimum interests; those, for example, who support Israeli oppression to the extent of prolonging it and forcing Jordan to carry some of the burden of the eventual “solution”. Regardless of the extent of popular participation in this week’s strike, it may be a rehearsal for a very hot spring looming just over the horizon.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 31 May 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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