Jordanian teachers win anti-austerity strike

Striking teachers rally in Amman, Jordan, early October 2019, AFP photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

After a week-long impasse, the government in Jordan has reached an agreement with the teachers’ union. This puts an end to one of the longest strikes in the public sector ever in the country.

About 1.5 million students had to deal with no lessons for about a month. Many parents left their children completely at home during that time out of solidarity.

The teachers took to the streets because they felt they were being paid too little. They demanded an average salary increase of 50 percent. In the agreement that has now been concluded with the government, increases of 35 to 60 percent have been agreed. The agreement will start next year …

while Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz is trying to limit government spending in order to pay off the record-high government debt.

It is feared that people in other professions in the public sector will also take to the streets for a higher salary.

The NOS article does not mention WHO fears that. Maybe people who think that money, rather than on education and other public services, should be spent on endless wars (like the bloody Saudi government’s war on Yemen, in which Jordanian soldiers also fight on the Saudi side), and on making people like Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, United States President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even richer.

Jordanian prime minister gone, absolute monarchy still there

By Jean Shaoul:

Jordan’s prime minister resigns amid massive protests against IMF-dictated austerity

5 June 2018

Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned yesterday following days of anti-government protests in Amman and other major cities. The protests were against a new law lowering the income tax threshold,

Meaning that poor people now also would have to pay income tax. Meanwhile, most tax dodging is by the royal family, their ministers and cronies. When Jordanian journalists report about that tax dodging, the government has those journalists arrested.

a hike in the sales tax, and increases in the cost of fuel, electricity and water.

King Abdullah, the country’s real ruler, cancelled his planned overseas trip and appointed education minister Omar al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, in Mulki’s place. The king’s move follows the failure of his announcement last Friday suspending price increases until the end of the year—at a cost of $22.5 million—to assuage popular anger.

On Saturday, he called on parliament to lead a “comprehensive and reasonable national dialogue” on the new tax law, saying, “It would not be fair that the citizen alone bears the burden of financial reforms.”

Petra, one of Jordan’s news agencies, reported that legislators were set to ask Abdullah’s permission to hold an exceptional session to withdraw the changes.

Last Wednesday, 33 unions called a general strike of health care and public-sector workers—Abdullah’s key and very narrow social base—along with small towns, villages and tribal areas where the clans and indigenous minority East Bankers live. This was to protest legislative proposals aimed at increasing the proportion of income tax payers from 4.5 percent to 10 percent. The average wage, such as a teacher’s salary, is around $350 a month, or less than $5,000 a year.

This will hit families hard, because Jordan is a low-wage economy, where the median age is 22 years and it is the norm for young people to live at home with their parents until they can afford to marry. Many work at two or three jobs, if they can find them in a country with an official unemployment rate of 18 percent, a gross underestimate.

Corporation tax will rise from 35 to 40 percent. Manufacturers of food and other basic products will see their income tax rise from 24 percent to 30 percent. The new law will also criminalise tax violations, making them subject to prison terms and heavy fines.

This comes in the wake of January’s budget extending sales tax to a further 165 items, including basic products; increasing the price of fuel, electricity and water; … and increasing the cost of public transport by 9 percent.

The price of fuel has risen five times since January, while electricity bills, already phenomenally high, have risen 55 percent since February.

The removal of flour subsidies means that the price of a kilo of white bread has doubled from $0.22 to $0.45, while the price of smaller flat bread has increased by more than 67 percent.

Amman, where one-third of Jordanians live, is one of the most expensive capitals in the Arab world. Such is the hardship that there has reportedly been a 20 percent slump in sales during Ramadan, a period of peak retail demand.

These measures were the latest in a series of economic reforms following a $723 million three-year loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2016, aimed at reducing Jordan’s $40 billion public debt from about 94 percent of GDP to 77 percent by 2021.

Tens of thousands demonstrated across the country on Thursday and Friday. On Friday evening, protesters gathered outside Mulki’s office calling for the fall of the government. On Saturday, despite Abdullah’s announcement suspending price increases for fuel, electricity and water, some 200,000 took to the streets of Jordan’s towns and cities.

Social network sites were full of slogans such as “don’t touch my salary”, “a government of thieves” and “don’t steal our rights.” Strikers chanted, “We are here until we bring the downfall of the bill … This government is shameful” and “Our demands are legitimate. No, no to corruption.”

Three thousand demonstrators protested outside Mulki’s office on Saturday shouting, “Mulki should leave.”

Protests are ongoing, with a one-day general strike called for Wednesday.

The king is putting pressure on the US and his traditional supporters in the Gulf, whose funding has dried up over the last two years, to come up with the cash to prop up his tottering regime. Carved out of part of the Palestine governorate of Greater Syria, part of the former Ottoman Empire, by Britain in the aftermath of World War I, Transjordan was never a viable state. After World War II, and particularly after 1957, Washington replaced London as Jordan’s underwriter in return for its services in policing US interests in the region, suppressing the Palestinians over whom King Hussein (Abdullah’s father) ruled in both Jordan and, until 1967, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Latterly, Jordan has provided a key staging post for US-backed operations against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

It has become a holding pen for the region’s refugees—Palestinian, Iraqi and Syriancreated through wars in the geostrategic interests of the imperialist powers and their regional clients. As a result, Jordan’s population has soared from 5.5 million in 2003 to 9.9 million this year.

The Trump administration’s decision to cut its funding by £300 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has been catastrophic. With 2 million Palestinian refugees in massive refugee camps and in cities, their needs have now to be met from Jordan’s declining resources.

Jordan also has around 650,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees, of whom some 100,000 live in camps. Most live in the towns and cities, alongside nearly a million more unregistered refugees who seek work where they can. According to Jordanian officials, the government has spent $10 billion on the refugees, with little support from either its wealthy Arab neighbours or the major powers.

Around half of the Syrian refugees are children who should be attending school. To cope, many schools are operating a two-shift system, in the morning and afternoon.

The US signed an aid package for Jordan earlier this year for $1.275 billion a year beginning in the fiscal year 2018 and ending in 2022—a $275 million annual increase over the previous three years, but this only accounts for 10 percent of Jordan’s budget.

By far the major source of income is the Gulf. But the $3.6 billion from the Gulf Cooperation Council states came to an end 18 months ago, a major cause of the current economic crisis. The increasingly close alliance being forged between the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran has left Jordan out in the cold. At the same time, President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has undercut Amman’s role in Jerusalem, where Abdullah has guardianship of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, and inflamed tensions in the country, more than half of whose population is of Palestinian origin.

His visit to Riyadh in December to discuss the US embassy decision was fraught with tensions, leading to the Saudi authorities detaining a Jordanian-Palestinian businessman, Sabih al Masri, who heads the Arab Bank, Jordan’s leading financial firm. Relations soured further after Abdullah attended an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting where the Jerusalem embassy issue was discussed, prompting Saudi Arabia to withhold a further $250 million in promised aid. Abdullah compounded his crime by shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Istanbul two weeks ago.

In January, Abdullah reorganised the army, “retiring” three close relatives, including his brothers, from senior positions, amid rumours of a Saudi plot to unseat Abdullah— like the attempt to fashion a more pliant government in Lebanon via Saad Hariri’s forced resignation.

This is prompting speculation that to secure the kingdom’s survival Jordan may normalise relations with Syria, entertain closer relations with Tehran, ally itself with Qatar against Saudi Arabia’s embargo, refuse to accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and secure new patrons, such as Turkey.

Jordanian Prime Minister sacked by protesters

Dutch NOS TV today (translated): Jordanian Prime Minister resigns because the people are furious.

From France 24 today:

Jordan PM Mulki resigns amid anti-government protests

Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki submitted his resignation to King Abdullah on Monday, an official source said, to soothe widespread anger over economic policies that have sparked the largest protests in several years and dozens of arrests.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the capital Amman and main provincial towns again on Sunday, extending days of protests that have shaken Jordan, a staunch U.S. ally …

Public anger has grown over government policies since a steep general sales tax hike earlier this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, both measures driven by the International Monetary Fund. …

In a sign the tax hikes could be shelved, the Petra news agency, citing the speaker of parliament, said lawmakers were on course to ask the king’s permission to hold an exceptional session, with a majority demanding the changes be withdrawn. …

Mulki, a business-friendly politician, was appointed in May 2016 … The tax increases have caused his popularity to plummet.

Demonstrators who converged near the Cabinet office said they would disband only if the government rescinded the tax bill it sent to parliament last month.

Strike call

The government has made us penniless … they have left us with no more money in our pockets”, chanted protesters.

Unions representing tens of thousands of employees in both the public and private sectors have also called for a general strike on Wednesday after their demands for the bill to be scrapped were rejected by the government.

King Abdullah has asked Omar Al Razzaz, now Minister of Education and ex-World Bank economist, to become the new prime minister.

Jordanian musicians support anti-austerity demonstrators

This video from Jordan says about itself:

A group of young people perform to a crowd of protesters near the Fourth Circle

3 June 2018

A group of young people perform to a crowd of protesters near the Fourth Circle in Amman early Monday. Anti-government protests continue for the fourth consecutive day.

Jordanian anti-austerity protesters speak

This video says about itself:

🇯🇴 Jordan sees largest anti-government protests in years | Al Jazeera English

3 June 2018

Anger is mounting in Jordan against tax increases, with another day of protests calling for the government to resign. The tax rises are required by the International Monetary Fund.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

‘We Jordanians continuously feel ignored

The planned increase in income tax and the umpteenth price increase were the straw that broke the camel’s back for thousands of Jordanians. They went out into the streets in the capital Amman and other cities until well into the night. For the third day in a row they demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Hani Mulki.

“This law devastates the standard of living of citizens“, says demonstrator Mohammad Himmo to news agency AP. He refers to the bill to increase the income tax for everyone with an annual income from 9660 euros on by 5 percent. For businesses, the tax increase can go up to 40 percent.

Earlier this year, the price of bread had already doubled. The female activist Sahar al-Arori summarizes the increasing dissatisfaction as follows: “The fact is that we constantly feel ignored, the will of the people does not reach the decision-makers.”

the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called for drastic tax reforms. According to the government of Prime Minister Mulki, the proposed tax law is the solution. To the anger of the trade unions and demonstrators.

“We have to take their protests very seriously”, says [journalist] Bergamin. “The protesters still chanted peaceful, peaceful, but if there are no measures now, it can lead to a complete chaos.”

From Associated Press today:

Western supporters of the kingdom view signs of social unrest with concern. Jordan is a key military ally.

Concerns rise after Jordanian police fire tear gas to disperse protesters: here.

Jordanian mass anti-austerity protests

This video says about itself:

1 June 2018

Jordanians protest in front of the Prime Ministry early Saturday for the second consecutive night against fuel price hikes and an amended income tax law.

Other protests were held in other locations in Amman and other cities.

There were reports that protestors temporarily closed some roads near the Prime Ministry, the Airport Road, the Desert Highway and Amman-Jerash Road.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Biggest protests in Jordan in years

In Jordan for the third consecutive evening people have demonstrated against the tax reform and price increases. In the capital Amman and a number of provincial towns, thousands of people took to the streets. These are the biggest demonstrations in Jordan in years.

The police threw tear gas grenades in Amman and threw up roadblocks to keep the masses under control. There are also reports from other cities about confrontations between demonstrators and the police. In the southern city of Maan demonstrators are said to have set tires on fire.

Several trade unions called for a general strike last week. Since then, there have been protests every night.

Tax law

The demonstrators oppose a tax reform that has the support of the IMF. According to the demonstrators, the tax reform will make life more expensive and affect both the middle classes and the poor in Jordan.

They call on King Abdullah to dismiss Prime Minister Mulki. Mulki said yesterday that he will continue his plans.

The king decided Friday to postpone an increase in fuel prices. But the demonstrators are particularly angry about the tax law …

The tax law still has to be approved by the parliament, where a majority of parliamentarians demand changes.

Earlier this year, VAT was already increased and subsidies on bread were abolished.

According to King Abdullah, the reforms are necessary because Jordan is financially on the edge of the abyss because of the conflicts in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq. Jordan is an important Western ally and one of the few Arab countries where things remained quiet in recent years.

Not that quiet.

This Jordanian Opposition Coalition video of 12 February 2018 shows a demonstration ‘UNDER FULL MEDIA SILENCE’ in Amman, demanding the abdication of King Abdullah.

There have been protests in Jordan against absolute monarchy, lack of human rights, corruption and inequality ever since the 2011 start of the ‘Arab spring’.

Jordanian journalists arrested for exposing tax dodging

This video from Britain says about itself:

Censorship & torturePrince Charles visits Jordan amid questions over human rights

9 February 2015

Prince Charles visits Kuwait today as part of his tour of the Middle East. On Saturday he visited Jordan, with the world rightly outraged that one of their pilots was burned to death by ISIS. Obama was angered by that, but seemed to forget the 2,500 people that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report have been killed by drone strikes in countries we’re not actually at war with. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, warn that Jordan is stepping up attacks and censorship on independent media, criminalising speech critical of the King, and claims torture enjoys near-total impunity. According to the recent unauthorised biography of Prince Charles, he doesn’t like peddling arms to Arab countries, so what is he up to in the region?

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Press Freedom: Jordanians demand release of journalists who exposed minister’s tax-dodging

PRESS freedom advocates are calling for the release of two Jordanian journalists who were arrested after they accused the country’s finance minister of tax evasion.

Shadi al-Zinati and Omar al-Mahrama, of the Jfranews website, were nabbed by police on Tuesday after Finance Minister Omar Malhas claimed the allegations against him were false.

They face charges under Jordan’s press and cybercrime laws, which contain sections that make it easy for authorities to arrest journalists.

The Middle East Eye reported that dozens of media workers rallied outside the Jordan Press Association (JPA) yesterday, holding a banner bearing a quote from King Abdullah promising that journalists would not be prosecuted for doing their jobs.

JPA freedoms committee chair Khaled Qudah said the body was working to free the pair.

He told the Alghad newspaper that “these arrests strike at the heart of freedom of expression in Jordan.”

MP Saddah Alhabashneh accused the government of trying to “muffle” dissent after recent decisions that impoverish ordinary Jordanians.

Jordanians demonstrate against austerity

This 2015 video is about Sudanese refugees in Jordan demonstrating.

From Middle East Eye:

Jordanians hit streets to protest against austerity tax rises

Hundreds flock to central Amman and other cities in protest over price rises on basic goods due to new sales tax

Friday 24 February 2017 16:53 UTC

Hundreds of Jordanians protested Friday across the kingdom against the government’s decision to impose new taxes on a string of goods and services, calling on the cabinet to resign.

The government earlier this month imposed new sales taxes on internet and mobile use, bread, domestic fuel and petrol, cigarettes and fizzy drinks.

About 1,500 Jordanians took to the streets of central Amman …

“The people of Jordan are on fire, all because of the rise in prices,” some chanted, AFP correspondents said.

“The government that raises prices must fall, the government that impoverishes people must go,” was another rallying cry, as demonstrators held up signs that read: “Raising prices is playing with fire.”

Similar protests were also staged in the northwestern city of Salt, as well as in the regions of Karak and Madaba, south of the capital.

The price rises come as Jordan faces a public debt of about $35bn and after Amman struck a deal with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $723m three-year credit line.

The loan, the IMF said in August, is aimed at supporting Jordan to push through with an economic and financial reform programme.

Jordan’s economy has been rattled from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the country has taken hundreds of thousands of refugees from its neighbours over the years, stretching its meagre resources.

Growth has slumped and unemployment has jumped to 14 percent of the kingdom’s population of 9.5 million, with the young the worst hit, according to government figures, while unofficial estimates put it as high as 30 percent.

Bird poacher caught in Jordan

This is a golden oriole video.

Another video used to say about itself:

Beautiful singing golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus)

3 October 2015

I love this bird!!! I could listen to this song every day…I got this injured male (Oriolus oriolus); he hit a glass window and I fed him for about 20 days before he was able to fly again. Like he knew that I was helping him he was rewarding me with his beautiful song.

From BirdLife:

The largest hunting violation ever recorded in Jordan

By Majd Abu Zaghlan, 1 Nov 2016

The illegal hunting and trading of birds is one of the rising issues for conservationists in the Mediterranean region. It is a major challenge for governments and conservation organizations, as penalties in the region are not currently serving as a deterrent to illegal hunting activities.

Authorities in Jordan announced recently the seizure of 7,000 dead birds in the largest hunting violation ever recorded in the Kingdom of Jordan after receiving reports about a person who was in possession of large numbers of dead birds in the eastern desert.

The rangers from the Royal Department for Protecting the Environment and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN – BirdLife in Jordan) caught the hunter and seized the dead birds in October. The hunter was found in possession of 6,800 Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla, 40 Eurasian Golden Orioles Oriolus oriolus and 45 Laughing Doves Spilopelia senegalensis.

Both entities are working together to enforce Agriculture law number 13 for the year 2015, which was issued in the Official Gazette in April last year, stipulates that it is illegal to hunt down wild birds and animals without obtaining a license and it is also illegal to hunt in areas and times where and when hunting is not permitted. The same appendix also stipulates that it is illegal to kill, possess, transport, sell or display for selling wild birds and animals. The rangers are following all environmental legislations and supporting the specialized agencies in their patrolling through their wide distributions across the country.

Abdul Razzaq Hmoud, acting director of RSCN’s conservation and hunting regulation section, says most of the birds discovered were migrant species that have been hunted during the year in different private areas along the flyway in the eastern desert. “The hunter had the birds frozen and packaged, as he was either planning to export the dead birds to a Gulf country, according to his claims, or sell them to upscale restaurants that serve the birds as a delicacy for high prices”.

RSCN rangers are covering sensitive hunting areas through agreed schedules that are set on a weekly basis together with law enforcement. They are widely supported by other officials such as police departments, customs and awarded public communities.

Raising awareness level is one of RSCN’s main roles in addition to building rangers’ capacities, reviewing and amending laws and legislations and enforcing laws in collaboration with other environmental entities to eliminate the illegal killing of birds in Jordan.

RSCN has formulated a strategy in cooperation with the rangers to enforce the laws, including intensifying inspection patrols in areas where the birds spread, and setting up checkpoints to inspect hunters’ vehicles and make sure they abide by the new decision.

Awareness session held for “Zero Mortality of Soaring Birds on a Wind Farm in Jordan”: here.

United to stop illegal killing and trading of migratory wild birds in North Africa: here.

H.E Eng. Ibrahim Al-Shehadeh, Minister of Agriculture and Environment, has signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (Raptors MoU) on December 3rd to promote raptor conservation in Jordan. The signing ceremony was organized by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN-BirdLife Partner in Jordan), in cooperation with BirdLife Middle East and with the support of the “Migratory Soaring Birds” Project and the “Safe Flyways: stop illegal bird killing in the Mediterranean” Project: here.

MacQueen’s bustard nest found in Jordan

This video says about itself:

MacQueen’s Bustard on a mating dance

Filmed at Nizzana, Israel 18.1.2013.

This article writes about ‘houbara bustards’. Houbara bustards, however, are an African species. Their Asian relatives, now usually considered to be a separate species, are called MacQueen’s bustard.

From Gulf News in Dubai:

Houbara Bustard nest discovered in Jordan

15 August 2016

For the first time since its release between 2014-2016 under the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Houbara Reintroduction Project, a Houbara bustard nest has been spotted by field teams from the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan (RSCN). The initiative is managed by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC).

The Houbara bustard is a vulnerable species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the authoritative global body which categorises species according to the threat of extinction. The release is part of the IFHC’s strategy to breed and release African and Asian Houbara bustards across their natural range covering Asia, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, in a bid to re-establish a sustainable population. The nest was discovered thanks to tracking devices utilised by the IFHC as part of its breeding and release programme and was found to contain three eggs.

Mohammad Saleh Al Baidani, Director General of the IFHC said: “The discovery of this nest highlights the accuracy of our research and serves as an indication of the first step towards a viable population of Houbara across the Kingdom of Jordan. Thanks to the data we gather through the use of tracking devices, we are able to carefully monitor the migration routes and capacity of the released captive-bred Houbara to adapt to the wilderness, thereby increasing our knowledge of this vulnerable species and hopefully the success of our programme.”

The IFHC released 500 Houbara in Jordan in 2014, and 300 in 2016 after an agreement between Abu Dhabi and Jordan to work together towards the re-establishment of a viable population of Houbara across the Kingdom. The agreement includes initiatives to implement a national awareness raising programme, specialised research to assess the programme’s success, development of legislation to establish protected release sites, and implementation of programmes for the development of local communities located around the release sites.