Why I joined the protests in Jordan

On May 30, I came out to protest for the first time in my life. Here is why.

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    Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Amman, Jordan, on June 2, 2018 [Reuters/Muhammad Hamed]
    Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Amman, Jordan, on June 2, 2018 [Reuters/Muhammad Hamed]

    When Jordanians took to the streets in 2011, I didn't. Although I was following with close interest and hope the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, I felt things were different in Jordan.

    It was never a matter of changing the leadership for us as much as it was about reforms - reforms that we could see and feel; reforms that would take some time to introduce and implement systematically.

    But on May 30, 2018, when thousands of Jordanians walked out to protest the terrible economic situation in the country, I also decided to come out. Things simply had become unbearable for me.

    For a while now, all we have been talking about with friends and family have been the rising prices and the unsustainable cost of living. Rent these days could cost you a monthly paycheck; electricity bills have doubled; and school fees have gone up so much that now I pay for one year of my preschooler's education more than I paid for my entire engineering degree.

    Both I and my husband work full-time to provide for our family of three, but we struggle. And if this is the how the middle class in Jordan struggles, imagine the plight of Jordan's poor.

    I recently overheard the cleaning lady at the office where I work talk about how she made her 14-year-old daughter drop out of school to take care of her infant brother because she cannot afford any other form of daycare. I jumped in, "But education is very important at this stage!" - "Yes, but someone has to put food on the table," she replied. I could say nothing to that.

    I had started to wonder, how much more pressure this economy can take before our society explodes. Recently, I got an answer: none.

    Last month, the government decided to push the limit and send another tax reform bill to the parliament. To put it simply, the new law expands the income tax-paying population by reducing the upper limit of income for exempt families, it imposes new taxes on the agricultural, financial, and industrial sectors, and will place Jordan on top of the list of countries with the highest taxes on banks and financial institutions.

    That came on the tail of another sales tax increase and the reduction of bread subsidies in January.

    With this new tax reform, I will see another two percent of my income gone to pay for foreign debt that I and my family are not responsible for. This is in addition to the income tax I'm already paying along with other steep taxes on sales and services that I am charged for directly or indirectly as a consumer.

    As a result, we now live in a country with a large agricultural sector where fruit has become a luxury for many. We now live in a country where bread is a staple, but has also become unaffordable for many because the price just doubled overnight.

    So, who do we turn to? To the government which is responsible for pushing these tax rises? Or to the parliament which is just another financial burden that we vote for and pay for, without ever getting anything in return?

    We turned to the streets.

    When over 30 unions and associations representing every sector in Jordan called for a general strike on May 30, we saw hope. Our anger, which was confined to Facebook posts and tweets, finally came out.

    We went out to demand to be heard, to let the government know that we cannot take it any more.

    It was not just the poor, it was not just another protest that the press could disparagingly call "bread riots". We were people from all walks of life, well informed, well organised, and respected and supported by everyone - even those who did not come out.

    The sight of thousands of people flooding to the associations building in central Amman warmed my heart. 

    That same night when we went home after the protest, we checked the news: Fuel prices were to rise about five percent starting June 1. Frustration hit again; it was like no one had cared to hear us.

    Social media exploded in anger. For the first time, I saw friends who are not politically active also join the online fray. This filled me with a mix of emotions ranging from hope to despair.

    The only thing left for us to do was to continue our demonstrations. As days passed, protests spread beyond the capital to other major cities and more people joined.

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    On Sunday, we marched to the Fourth Circle in Amman, where the cabinet building is located. Thousands of young and middle-aged people, women and men, sang and chanted calling for the government to resign, the bill to be withdrawn and for real reforms to take place.

    "The people want the fall of the government!" "Bread, freedom, social justice!" we chanted in the streets.

    Some handed out water and sweets to gendarmerie forces to emphasise that we were not there to cause a riot. "We are here for us, and for you, for the future of your children in this country," one protester said to the men in riot gear who stood in a row around the crowd. We left by 2am knowing that these men too should have their last meal (suhoor) before dawn when fasting for Ramadan would start again.

    So, are things different than 2011? For me and for many Jordanians, they are. We are poorer, more unemployed, more worn down than seven years ago. The Jordanian population is exhausted from deteriorating standards of living, severe water shortages, pervasive corruption and the daunting burden that refugees from neighbouring countries have put on the already frail economy.

    And unlike 2011, we are more aware of what is going on, we are more organised and more determined. Most importantly, we are not falling for "look at Syria and Yemen" scaremongering.

    People now know that speaking up is their right and that it will not lead to a war. If we give up this right then things will only go downhill from here.

    We want those in power to know that they will be held accountable for this crisis. It is very clear to us that the patience they asked for "for the sake of this country" has allowed them to continue business as usual, to make no effort to introduce real change.

    The government has now resigned and a new prime minister has been appointed. We are cautiously hopeful. While we watch and pray that change will come, we will not back down from our demands and will not give up our right to make our voices heard in the streets.

    We want a better future and we won't let our children suffer under the burden of a growing debt amassed by those who willfully engaged in corruption and destroyed our economy.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.

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