The Hashemite monarchy in Jordan survived the waves of revolution unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011. However, it is now facing a severe economic crisis that is undermining the stability of the kingdom.
Despite the Ramadan fast, tens of thousands of people demonstrated on the last days of May and the beginning of June throughout Jordan in a mass protest against the tough economic situation, new austerity measures and rising prices. They even demanded a change of government. On June 4, Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki submitted his resignation to King Abdullah II. Dr. Omar al-Razzaz was appointed to replace him.
These are the most serious demonstrations since 2011, and they are taking place even though King Abdullah issued an order to freeze a government measure to raise the prices of fuel and electricity. For the first time, Bedouin tribes, known to be loyal to the regime, took part in the demonstrations.
The newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on June 2 that King Abdullah cut short a foreign visit and returned to Jordan because of the tensions in his kingdom. Around 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations.
The Jordanian government raised the prices of fuel, including gasoline, solar fuel and gas, by around 5 percent due to a global rise in oil prices since 2014.
The atmosphere in Jordan is very harsh; there are urgent public calls for reforms and quick changes in economic policies.
Contrary to the demonstrations in the past, these riots are being led by the professional unions (such as of lawyers, doctors, engineers, pharmacists, journalists and authors), rather than the Muslim Brotherhood.
On May 30, a general strike was announced in Jordan to pressure the government to withdraw its proposed bill for a new income tax law that it presented to Parliament for ratification. Even the speaker of the Parliament, Atef Tarawneh, criticized the government for rushing to present its bill before negotiations had properly taken place with the representatives of the unions.
The Jordanian public is demonstrating against a series of economic measures that affect the middle class, including imposing taxes on goods and services as part of a government program to cover the budget deficit.
In any case, it is apparent that according to the instructions of King Abdullah, the government and Parliament are trying to reach a formula for a solution to the crisis and the lack of confidence in the government that dozens of members of Parliament have expressed.
Under orders from the International Monetary Fund
On June 2, Atef Tarawneh announced an agreement between the government and the professional organizations to set up a committee that will assess changes in the law of national service and will ratify them before the Eid-al-Fitr holiday on June 15. However, discussions on the new income-tax law continue.
Al-Mulki was determined to pass the new tax law because it was one of the requirements of the International Monetary Fund for securing more loans for Jordan.
However, dissolving the government will not solve the crisis. Jordan has serious economic problems caused by a considerable lowering of aid from the Gulf states and a significant increase in government personnel. And its foreign debt has reached $35 billion.
Alarm bells are ringing for the Jordanian regime. The masses could cross the fear barrier, leading to an intifada against the kingdom similar to the Arab Spring. The Jordanian public has been pushed to the wall, and it has little left to lose.
King Abdullah is trying to push back the tide. By dismissing the current government, he is intervening to calm the present tensions. Forming a new government may contain public anger, but in the end, the problems will still exist. The economic situation is terrible, and to rectify it, there is no other choice than to make painful budget cuts and institute serious reforms.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.