Residents of Dhiban clash with paramilitary units, demanding employment and better economic conditions in the region.
Dhiban, Jordan – In the Jordanian town of Dhiban, tension boils beneath the temporarily calm surface.
Over the past couple of months, clashes have erupted between police and protesters, with military tanks rolling along the town’s winding roads. Young men set up a tent where they demonstrated for weeks while negotiating with officials and tribal leaders in the hope of securing jobs. The protest camp was stormed last month, with Jordanian forces firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators; 28 men were reportedly arrested.
While the tent is now gone, frustration is still boiling among the young men of Dhiban.
“We are tired of living like the dead after working so hard to study and learn,” protest spokesman Sabri Mashaaleh told Al Jazeera. The 29-year-old holds a bachelor’s degree in counselling from the University of Jordan, but five years after graduating, he has still not secured a full-time job.
Arab Spring protests erupted in Dhiban back in 2011, and to this day the town remains a barometer of Jordanians’ frustrations over the worsening economic climate in the country and rising youth unemployment. According to a 2014 study by the International Labour Organization, the unemployment rate in Jordan had surpassed 30 percent.
“Dhiban is only the beginning. We will see more tension as unemployment and poverty remain unsolved problems,” Jordanian freelance blogger and commentator Mohammad Munir told Al Jazeera.
Unemployment is even higher among Jordanians with university degrees. According to Jordan’s Department of Statistics, 21 percent of Jordanian men with a bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed – a number that jumps to 71 percent for women.
Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, warned of the dangers facing what he called the “waiting generation”.
“We have a generation of young people who graduate from university and spend eight to 10 years waiting to get a job and start a family,” Rantawi told Al Jazeera. “This group is a very good target for extremist groups, or may be driven to any kind of violence due to their frustration.”
Officials with Jordan’s interior and labour ministries did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment, but in official statements the Jordanian government has referred to the Dhiban protesters as “outlaws” and said that they had been “directed to get jobs in the private sector”.
However, protesters say the main private-sector jobs available include work in two factories in the cities of Madaba and Sahab, which pay an average monthly salary of 190 Jordanian dinars ($270) – barely enough to pay for transportation to and from the workplace.
tent more than working to find a solution for our situation. We will keep building our tent, regardless of how many times they demolish it.”]
Mashaaleh said he quit his job as a receptionist at a medical centre in Amman after just two years, because the salary was hardly enough to cover his rent and living expenses in Amman, which is about 70km from Dhiban.
Another protester with a bachelor’s degree in business administration said he had a similar experience while working a service job at a hotel in Amman.
“We would work for the sake of serving the employers, but could not move one step towards building our future,” said the 28-year-old protester, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
Many residents of Dhiban, with no direct public transportation options to Amman, work in the army or in public-sector jobs, such as government hospitals or operational offices. And like most rural towns in Jordan, Dhiban has not benefited from the country’s various development projects, with its poor infrastructure repelling private-sector investment.
According to the Department of Statistics, 87 percent of the jobs created in Jordan last year – both private and public-sector – were based in three major governorates: Amman, Zarqa and Irbid.
Meanwhile, desperation among unemployed young people has reached critical levels, with several high-profile suicide attempts by young Jordanians over the past four months. In May, a group of unemployed men from Ajloun governorate planned to jump off a building near the interior ministry in Amman, but they were talked down by police.
Jordan’s newly appointed cabinet has announced a series of measures to alleviate unemployment, starting with replacing foreign migrant workers – who are estimated to number up to one million – with Jordanians. But some analysts question whether Jordanians would want such jobs, most of which are in the construction and food-service sectors.
“Shame is not an issue, but the issue is that this sector is not organised and does not provide stability, insurance or social security to Jordanians,” Rantawi said.
The Jordanian government has also allocated 25 million Jordanian dinars ($35m) for unemployed Jordanians to use as loans to start their own projects, particularly in rural areas where jobs are limited. While residents welcomed the idea in theory, some questioned its practicality.
“In a place like Dhiban where people could only buy their bread, what income-generating project could you set up here?” Mashaaleh asked.
“We are not giving up,” he added. “They worked on silencing us and demolishing the [protest] tent more than working to find a solution for our situation. We will keep building our tent, regardless of how many times they demolish it.”