Jordan’s trade unions held a three-hour work stoppage on Sunday to protest against rising fuel prices undertaken as part of government austerity measures.
“All 15 unions except the nurses’ union stopped working between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on Sunday,” Mahmud Abu Ghunayma, head of Jordan’s 15-member professional associations body, told AFP.
“This is a message to the government, to tell them that the situation is snowballing and the king must intervene to reverse this decision (to raise fuel prices),” he said.
The Gulf kingdom of Jordan has been rocked by protests since the government announced its decision to lift the fuel subsidy last Tuesday, increasing diesel prices by 33 per cent, and cooking and heating gas by 53 per cent.
The steps were taken as part of an austerity program aimed at securing a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in order to tackle the country’s US$5 billion deficit.
Jordan has been adversely affected by interruptions in gas supplies from Egypt and rising oil prices.
Since the hikes were announced, Jordan has seen several days of public protests and rioting which has resulted in more than 200 arrests, 70 injuries and one death.
People rallied on the streets holding slogans calling for King Abdullah II to step down – a crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment in Jordan.
Some experts have described the protests as an attempt to destabilise Jordan by political forces who want to topple King Abdullah II’s regime.
Others have blamed the lifting of oil subsidy on Jordan’s rejection of financial aid from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, which was seen as an attempt to put pressure on Jordan to intervene in the Syrian conflict.
Media figure Tayseer al-Nuaimat told Equal Times that the violence which has marred the protests has steered the actions away from their original intentions.
He believes that political forces, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood which is Jordan’s main opposition to the ruling Hashemite dynasty, sees the recent protests as an opportunity to achieve political gains.
Jordan’s social unrest comes at a time of great instability in the region. Neighbouring Syria has been locked in a deadly civil war since March 2011, resulting in an estimated 40,000 deaths.
Jordan is also home to the largest number of Palestinian refugees in the world, adding great strain to an already burdened economy.
Jordan’s Prime Minister, Dr Abdullah Al Nosour, has told reporters that while he accepts people’s right to protest, he denounces violence and the destruction of properties.
But Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, described the fuel price hikes as “a mistake” that should be corrected as soon as possible.