That is social dynamite. It is not just the lack of jobs; people see that jobs are being filled not on the basis of candidates' qualifications, but on the basis of whom they know. They see that some of the money coming from international donors is seeping away into mysterious channels and that clientelism is rife, spreading throughout the country like an infectious disease.

No prospect of change

In May 2018, the frustration spilled over after Prime Minister Hani Mulki announced a rise in income tax, as well as increasing the price of electricity and fuel. What followed were the biggest protests seen in Jordan since 2011. Demonstrators gathered in – what were by Jordanian standards – relatively large numbers in the 4th Circle in Amman, close to the seat of the prime minister, and in other parts of the country.

Mulki had to go. In June 2018, King Abdullah appointed the World Bank expert Omar Razzaz prime minister. Although in general, the demonstrations petered out after Razzaz's appointment, there were some more isolated protests, such as the March of the Unemployed from Aqaba to Amman.

Replacing the government is a tried and tested remedy for the royal family when faced with pressure from the streets. Although Razzaz promised a "new social contract" for all Jordanians, not much has happened. The new tax laws were watered down before being passed in late 2018.

Arab Spring in Jordan: protests in the capital Amman on 21 January 2011 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Seething social tensions: according to official figures, the unemployment rate in Jordan is 18.5 percent and one fifth of the population lives on the poverty line. Jordan was barely affected by the "Arab Spring" of 2011, which saw revolts in several countries in the region. However, there had also been protests that year in Jordan when the government cut petrol subsidies

According to journalist Rana Sabbagh, the demonstrations were a watershed moment in what is otherwise a rather unpolitical country. "People wanted to know what they are getting for their taxes," she says. "The education and health systems are very poor; roads and infrastructure catastrophic. Why should we pay taxes if we don't get anything for it?"

The Jordanian middle class took to the streets in protest. The Muslim Brotherhood were not able to make capital out of the demonstrations. One activist who was involved in the protests says: "I remember with fondness the festival atmosphere at the demonstrations and the feeling of solidarity among demonstrators. But we didn't achieve anything. Our frustration has not gone away."

He recounts how Jordanians were constantly being told that they should be happy they don't live in Syria or Egypt. "Of course we don't want a situation like the ones in those countries," he says. "But we do need to see that things here are changing, and that's just not the case at the moment."

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