AMMAN, June 10, (Agencies): European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced Sunday 20 million euros ($23.5 million) in aid for Jordan following a wave of anti-austerity protests that led to the prime minister’s resignation. The EU will support Jordan “with all possible means at our disposal including economic and financial means,” Mogherini said during a visit to Amman.
“This is a country that has a vital role to play in the region,” she told a news conference. “You will have always the EU at your side fully supporting your reform work.” The funds would “address in particular the needs of Jordanians that are particularly vulnerable,” Mogherini said.
Cash-strapped Jordan, a close US ally that relies heavily on donors, is struggling to rein in its debt after securing a $723-million loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2016. Austerity measures have seen prices of basic necessities rise across the kingdom, culminating in angry protests over tax proposals — later withdrawn — that forced prime minister Hani Mulki to resign on June 4.
Jordan blames its economic woes on instability rocking the region and the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in neighbouring Syria. The World Bank says Jordan has “weak growth prospects” this year, while 18.5 percent of the working age population is unemployed. Later Sunday Jordan was due to hold talks in Makkah with one of its major donors, Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait on ways to help Amman overcome its economic problems.
In December 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged to give $2.5 billion in aid each to Jordan and Morocco, both of which had been invited to join the regional group that year. The pledge from the GCC was to last five years. It expired last year and so far the GCC has yet to offer any additional funding as the bloc remains split by the diplomatic crisis engulfing Qatar.
Meanwhile, from doctors to lawyers, teachers and architects, when angry Jordanians stood up to the government over austerity measures and the rising cost of living, the struggling middle class was at the forefront. In some of the biggest economic protests to shake the resource-poor king dom in years, several thousand demonstrators flooded the streets each night for a week calling for the withdrawal of an IMF-backed income tax bill. “In other countries, protest movements like this may seem ordinary, but in Jordan publicly opposing power is a true act of bravery,” said Rahme Jaafar, who did not miss a single demonstration.
The 24-year-old business administration graduate works for an NGO but does odd jobs on the side to get by. She will forgo the traditional big party when she soon marries and hopes to move with her future husband into a small apartment in a working-class district in northern Amman. “It doesn’t matter — we didn’t want to start our life together in debt,” she said. Her fiance Mohammed Hassan, 23, works 12 hours a day as a chef in a restaurant but his salary is not enough to make ends meet. “During the weekends I give diving or climbing lessons,” he said. “Jordan’s youth have enormous ability, but our dreams are crushed and we’re pushed to emigrate.” Jordan has seen repeated price rises including for staples such as bread, deepening economic gloom in the arid, landlocked country blighted by a jobless rate of 18.5 percent.
Around 70 percent of the population is aged under 30. The income tax bill that stoked public anger was the latest in a series of austerity measures to cut national debt since Amman secured a $723-million loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.
While Jordan’s poor suffer the most, the middle class is also facing growing hardship. Doctors, lawyers and teachers were in the vanguard of a general strike held last week in parallel with the demonstrations. The social unrest led to the resignation of the prime minister and the withdrawal of the tax bill in a victory for demonstrators, but the debt-laden country still faces major challenges. Majd Jabali had to stop studying and start working to provide for his family after his father’s business collapsed in 2012.