For Jordanian priest, anti-government protests are 'impressive but peaceful'

Various cities have seen street protests over the past few days. People oppose the government’s IMF-backed tax reform. For Fr Bader, civil society groups have led the demonstrations, not radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The bill is likely to fail. Meanwhile, inflation and immigration are up.

Amman (AsiaNews) – For the past four days, protesters have filled the streets of Amman and other Jordanian cities demonstrating against the rising cost of living and high unemployment.

Despite the tensions, the demonstrations have been "impressive but peaceful", said Fr Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in the Jordanian capital. What matters for him is that "they are carried out by ordinary people and civil society groups" without the interference "of political parties" or radical movements like "the Muslim Brotherhood".

"Parliament is currently on recess, but it should be recalled for a special session in which, most probably, lawmakers will reject a government bill” to change the country’s tax law, a move that is backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  

Protesters believe that the new law would damage middle and low-income groups and prevent wage rises to meet the rising cost of loving.

For many analysts, the protests are the most impressive demonstrations in the Hashemite kingdom in recent history. Unlike other states in the region like Egypt, Tunisia, Gulf States, Jordan was not touched by the 2011 Arab spring.

Nevertheless, the same austerity policies that are dividing Europe now seem to be affecting Arab countries, with potentially catastrophic effects for the region.

Protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Hani Mulki, who was summoned today by King Abdallah for emergency talks. Mr Mulki recently said that parliament would decide whether to accept the IMF-backed tax reform.

Protests broke out on 30 May and continued in the following days, after the cost of fuel and electricity went up. They have touched not only the capital, Amman, but several other cities including Zarqa, Balqa, Maan, Karak, Mafraq, Irbid and Jerash. The police, in anti-riot gear, have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

The bone of contention is the decision to increase taxes by 5 per cent for employees and 20 to 40 per cent for companies. Because of this, people want the prime minister to resign after talks with trade unions failed a few days ago.

Against the background, King Abdallah, who is generally popular and seen as a guarantor of unity, has called on stakeholders to work together to reach a compromise.

For Fr Bader, the protests are "directed at the Prime Minister" and the government. The king summoned the prime minister today and a decision is expected in the coming hours. The feeling is that something can happen."

The important thing is "the peaceful nature" of the protest, organised by "the unions, civil society" groups. This is a "positive sign of change", he explained. "In this sense, the Muslim Brotherhood is out of the game”.

"People in the streets demand respect for rights and want policies against rising prices and unemployment, which are real social problems. There is no violence and everything is within the law."

For Fr Rifat Bader protests are the inevitable consequence of an increasingly difficult social situation. "In a few years, we have topped 10 million people, seven million Jordanians and three million foreigners. Of these, one million are economic migrants, mainly from Egypt and the Philippines, but two million are refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan. The increase in population has been accompanied by an increase in prices and a lack of work."

The country “needs help, but this law promoted by the government will widen the gap and increase poverty".