Jordan’s growing protests ‘an explosion waiting to happen’

Demonstrators confront anti-riot policemen as they protest against a proposed income tax draft law in front of the Prime Minister’s office in Amman on Friday. AFP
Updated 03 June 2018

Jordan’s growing protests ‘an explosion waiting to happen’

  • Studies have shown that trust in the government has plummeted in the past two years and was now at an all-time low
  • The flames of the fire have reached both lower and upper classes of society

AMMAN: Attempts by Jordan’s government to quell mounting unrest by backtracking on planned fuel price rises appear to have failed with widespread street protests lasting until the early hours of Saturday morning.
As protesters warned that nightly demonstrations would continue, political analysts said the issue had become larger than the fuel price hikes and a draft income tax law, and was now centered on general disillusionment with the government’s economic policies.
Late-night protests were described as “an explosion waiting to happen” and “the beginning of Jordan’s Arab spring II” by political observers.
A meeting on Friday night between the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Atef Tarawneh, Prime Minister Hani Mulqi, and members of the professional unions failed to produce a breakthrough on the tax issue.
Musa Maaytah, Jordan’s minister of political and parliamentary affairs, told Arab News that more than 80 members of Parliament had signed a petition saying they would vote against the income tax law.
“This is only one of many ideas that we will discuss, but the exact date of an extraordinary session of the Parliament is the king’s prerogative.”
In a press conference after the meeting, Mulqi said: “We are going to continue talking until we reach agreements. We understand each other better.
“We spoke to unions about the economic situation in Jordan and told them we have completed 70 percent of the economic plan agreed to with the International Monetary Fund and that to complete it Jordan has to approve a modern tax law that protects the lower and middle class.”
Ali Abbous, head of the Jordanian Professional Unions Association, said that no agreement had been reached on the income tax law.
Jawad Dweidar, a member of the Hirak Shabibi (youth movement), told Arab News that nightly protests will continue until there is a shift in government direction.
“What we want is a clear change in policy, not a change of persons here and there,” Dweidar said.
Government policies were forcing people to protest: “If the government retracts the moves, the streets will quieten.”
Dweidar said that he will not be directly affected by the draft income tax law but feared those affected would pass on the increase to consumers and poorer people.
“This income tax law will affect all of us,” he said.
A video of the protests showed demonstrators early on Saturday shaking hands with police and asking their forgiveness for forcing them to work late.
Musa Shteiwi, director of the strategic studies center at Jordan University, told Arab News that people want a “responsive and transparent government that can include the public in all its discussions.”
The political analyst said the protests were more than “a storm in a tea cup.”
“This could be an Arab Spring II for Jordan,” he said. “After the first Arab spring we saw some political movements, but many of these accomplishments have been rolled back and the public hasn’t seen any economic improvement, while the political class has thrived at the expense of the poor.”
Studies have shown that trust in the government has plummeted in the past two years and was now at an all-time low.
Head of the left-wing Hashd party, Abla Abu Elba, said the protests were “an explosion waiting to happen.”
“The flames of the fire have reached both lower and upper classes of society. We have asked for debates and discussions with the government, but have been rebuffed. People simply can’t take what is happening,” she said.
Tarek Khoury, an opposition member of Parliament, expressed doubts about Parliament rejecting the income tax law.
“I prefer that the government withdraws this law because I can’t count on the conscience of some in regards to upholding the desires of our great people,” he wrote on Twitter.


Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

Updated 43 min 22 sec ago

Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

PAZARKULE: Turkey vowed the Syrian regime will “pay a price” for dozens of dead Turkish soldiers and raised pressure on the EU over the conflict by threatening to let thousands of migrants enter the bloc.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing forces in the Syria conflict, held high-level talks to try to defuse tensions that have sparked fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.
Greek police clashed on Saturday with thousands of migrants who were already gathering on the border to try to enter Europe.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey which he said can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The comments were his first after Turkish 34 troops were killed since Thursday in the northern Syria province of Idlib where Moscow-backed Syrian regime forces are battling to retake the last rebel holdout area.
“What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. “We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
He was referring to a 2016 deal with the European Union to stop refugee flows in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held an emergency meeting to discuss tensions on the border with Turkey.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Thousands of migrants who remained stuck on the Turkish-Greek border were in skirmishes with Greek police on Saturday who fired tear gas to push them back, according to AFP photographer in the western province of Edirne.
The migrants massed at the Pazarkule border crossing responded by hurling stones at the police.
In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The pressure to cope with the influx split the European Union.
“Greece yesterday came under an organized, mass, illegal attack... a violation of our borders and endured it,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Saturday after the emergency meeting with Mitsotakis.
“We averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our land borders.”
A Greek police source said security forces fired tear gas Saturday morning against migrants massing on the Turkish side because the migrants had set fires and opened holes in the border fences.
Armed policemen and soldiers are patrolling the Evros river shores — a common crossing point — and are warning with loudspeakers not to enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities were also using drones to monitor the migrants moves.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai television the situation was under control
“I believe that the borders have been protected,” he said.
According to Hellenic Coast Guard, from early Friday to early Saturday 180 migrants reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.
The UN said nearly a million people — half of them children — have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting in northwest Syria since December.
Turkey said that Turkish forces destroyed a “chemical warfare facility,” just south of Aleppo, in retaliation its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib.
“As of last night, we blew up a depot housing seven chemical products,” Erdogan said. “We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years. A 34th Turkish soldier has since died.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the remaining chunks of the territory.
On Friday, Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions, with the Kremlin saying the two expressed “serious concern” about the situation.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends of the war, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an end to the Syrian offensive in Idlib and the deadly flare-up raising fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the eight-year civil war.