Violence, student protests over price hikes

Jordan has been rocked by widespread protests, including by students, against price hikes resulting from the government's decision to liberalise fuel prices. University presidents have dismissed strike and sit-in action organised by student unions at several institutions as ‘unlawful’.

Unrest erupted in Jordan on 14 November after the announcement of a 53% increase in the price of household gas and a 12% rise in the cost of petrol. Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said the price increases were necessary to help reduce a projected budget deficit of 3.5 billion dinars (around US$5 billion) this year.

According to a story in Melbourne-based daily The Age, the student demonstrations are the “most aggressive unrest in Jordan in the past two years, where many protesters shouted slogans against Jordan's King Abdullah II that previously would only have been whispered”.

''This is the beginning of the Jordanian Spring,'' said the news story, quoting political science professor Hassan Barari from the University of Jordan, where students blocked a main road near campus.

Barari said that this was no longer a political thing: “This is the lives of the people”.

The University of Jordan student union issued a statement criticising the government's decision on fuel prices, and denounced the police for arresting a student from the university during a protest in the country’s largest city Amman on 13 November. It also announced that students would refuse to attend classes as of noon on 15 November.

On 14 November, dozens of students at Yarmouk, Mu'tah and Tafileh universities protested against the government's decision to lift subsidies on oil derivatives.

And the Tafileh Technical University student union announced a three-day strike, to start on 18 November, with students refusing to attend classes and calling on the government to retract its decision or resign.

But the universities consider the student union decisions to strike as a violation of university regulations and harmful to student interests. University leadership has called on students to disregard the unions’ calls.

Yarmouk University had labelled the strikes ‘unlawful’, stating that suspending classes is the prerogative of the university president alone.

The Jordan Times and other newspapers quoted the country’s Public Security Department stating that a young man had been killed and a dozen police officers injured on 14 November during the storming of a police station in the country’s second largest city Irbid.

As a result of the unrest, embassies of countries that have students studying at Jordan's universities, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have issued statements urging their students to stay away from universities, public gatherings and demonstrations.

Induced by political deadlock and socio-economic problems, Arab Spring uprisings led by youth – many students and unemployed university graduates – have in the past few years toppled autocratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya and led to the civil war in Syria.

According to statistics from the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Platform, Jordan's educational system has so far failed to provide young people with the skills needed in the modern workplace. In 2008, unemployment among university graduates was 16% – significantly above the OECD average of 3.5%.