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Thousands protest in Jordan for third week

February 1, 2011

Suha Philip Ma’ayeh

AMMAN // For the third consecutive on Friday, Jordanians poured into the streets after noon prayers to protest against soaring prices and call for a change in government.

The Islamist led opposition, professional associations and leftist activists marched yesterday from Al Huesseini Mosque to the capital’s center. They held banners that read “Corruption and normalisation are two faces of the same coin,” called for a “national unity government” and called for the prime minister Samir Rifai to step down.

Police estimated 3,500 people took part in the protest, one of several demonstrations held this month despite two recent government aid packages to mitigate the impact of soaring prices. The measures included a 20-dinar (Dh100) monthly salary increase for state workers and in pension, while the previous aid package increased subsidies for some commodities, including fuel and food staples such as rice and sugar.

Another 2,500 people also took to the streets in six other cities across the country after the noon prayers yesterday. Those protests also called for Mr Rifai’s ouster.

“The economic situation is very bad,” said Khaled al Malti, 25, an engineer who lives in Amman. “We want the government to improve the economic and political condition and to fight corruption. What happened in Tunisia and Cairo have encouraged us to continue with our demands.”

Ali Ghweri, 41, a taxi driver who took part in the protests, said the recent moves made by the government were more like token gestures.

“We are paying lots of taxes. The government measures are only a drop in the ocean.”

Jordanians blame the government for their eroding living conditions in a country where official figures show 13.3 per cent of its citizens live below the poverty line of 680 dinars a month, while unemployment stands at 12.9 per cent.

Last week, the government announced the 300-million-dinar economic package, the second this month, to soften the impact of prices on Jordanians and said it would continue to subsidies gas cylinders. Mr Rifai said last week there would be no new taxes this year, but the measures failed to placate public resentment.

King Abdullah II has promised some reforms, particularly on a controversial election law. But many believe it is unlikely he will bow to demands for popular election of the prime minister and Cabinet officials, traditionally appointed by the king. “Things are so bad and the prime minister is not doing anything. We need a decent life,” said Basil Ahmad, 45, the owner of a clothes shop in Amman.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s main opposition group, waved their green flags and chanted: “God is great, the government must change,” the “Quran is our constitution, Jihad is our way,” “Jordanians are on fire, prices are on fire,” and called on Mr Rifai to “step away”.

Ibrahim Alloush, an independent leftist activist, asked for a complete change in the system.

“It is more crucial to change the way the country is being run. It’s not a question of changing faces,” he said. “We have a rubber stamp parliament that was chosen by the executive branch of government. People don’t take it very seriously. People are going down to the streets because they don’t have venues for venting out how they feel through legal means.

“I don’t think change can be done with a magic wand. You have to you have to work for it.”

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