Without a doubt, it’s been a bad year for the average Jordanian when it comes to prices. Subsidies have been lifted and fuel prices have us all wishing there was an efficient public transportation system in the city, if not seriously considering buying a scooter, which I am. Bloomberg puts inflation at a staggering 19.4% with food prices jumping 21.9%, clothing rising by 6.7%, housing 19.4% and other goods and services by 17.4%.
Even fuel prices, which people expected to experience a significant decrease (nearly 16%) given the dip in the international price of oil this month, only went down a very disappointing 5% yesterday.
While wages have pretty much stayed the same.
And now the summer is winding down.
People have also probably noticed that tourism doesn’t seem to be doing too well. I’ve noticed the smaller amount in the number of Gulf license plates, which is usually a fairly good indicator of tourist activity during the summer, especially in a city like Amman. People in the local tourism sector are blaming inflation for the decline.
And yet, with all this going on, I am almost forced to wonder why there is an eerie silence from the Jordanian masses at large.
I know I can’t be the only one who’s thinking it.
Just over a decade ago, the price of bread was increased and people went nuts in Karak.
So what’s changed?
If anything the price of bread has increased a whole lot more sense then.
Has there been a generational shift in just these past 10 years? Is it a new form of apathy? Or are things really not as bad, in the sense that Jordanians are not comfortable but nor are the uncomfortable enough to protest?
I have no answers to these questions but I’ve been thinking recently that perhaps all this talk of boycotting products made in Denmark or the Netherlands or whatever country has insulted Islam this week, is really just a ploy to get people to save some money. But no. That can’t be right. People would just buy Saudi butter and Syrian cheeses instead.
So with the financial situation so bad, what is this silence costing us?
Students at the Philadelphia University were threatened with expulsions if they dared protest against the university’s decision to hike registration fees. These fees are likely a reaction to the increases in fuel costs, as the university pays for “free” transportation.
Similar protests and sit-ins were apparently organized at Petra University, but in this instance, the students and the administration seemed to reach an agreement after two weeks:
Last week, students organized two sit-ins on campus after the university administration moved to raise tuition by 10 to 15 per cent and introduce new charges such as a JD120 “service fee”.
Around 900 students also signed a petition calling on the administration not to increase fees, which included a JD55 increase in bus rates per semester and the introduction of a JD60 parking fee.
In its statement, Thabahtoona said Petra University administration forced students to sign a commitment “not to protest against rising fees”. [source]
Really? A commitment not to protest against rising fees?
Meanwhile, for Philadelphia University, the threat of expulsions has managed to deter student activists from going through with their planned protests, unfortunately. And I have to admit, the administration’s approach was very, what’s the word, governmental?
â€œI was called in to the dean of student affairs on Thursday and informed that I would be expelled if a sit-in was held,â€ a student activist, who wished to remain nameless, told The Jordan Times on Sunday.
â€œThe administration knew that I was a sit-in organizer and said they would expel me if anything occurred,â€ another activist said, adding that four of his friends received similar warnings [source]
I have no coherent understanding of the reasoning that is being offered: protests disturb classes? Of course they do. Hence the point. When did universities anywhere in the world, become merely dictatorial institutions? Universities are meant to be a breeding ground for activism and social engagement. This is the platform upon which a generation of people are taught how to exercise their right to free speech and expression, and in what forms to do it that allow for healthy communication. Universities are designed that way; they are the safe haven for this sort of activity. Instead, you have even private schools treating their students like they were a government entity, issuing underhanded threats and warnings.
But what is ultimately disappointing is that these students are protesting their fees. They are protesting the burden of costs that they alone have to carry as students. They’re not out there burning the Israel flag or the Danish flag for that matter; they are not protesting anything of a political nature, but rather economical, and to be more specific: financial. Their finances.
There has always been a tug-of-war between universities and their paying students when it comes to protest. This is practically universal in its existance and application, to say nothing of its rise in recent years all over the world. But to resort to bullying tactics or even go so far as officially labeling organizers as “hostage takers”, is simply a violation of student rights.
Jordanians are struggling where it hurts. More so now than ever before, perhaps in our Kingdom’s history.
There needs to be a space for people to voice their frustrations; to vent.
Even if inflation is simply a global and regional phenomenon; people need to vent. They deserve that much. It costs government little and its a relief for the citizen.
What they have to say may not be what the government wants to hear but most citizens of the world say things that their governments (be they elected or appointed) don’t want to hear. But, I think there is a significant difference in terms of social development, between those who are allowed to say things and those who are not. Especially during critical economic times such as these, when the lack of a voice can have serious and reactionary consequences in the long haul.
Maybe the idea of Freedom Square should be revived? Remember that?
And of all things, at least allow students to protest the price hikes on their own registration fees without the fear of being denied an education that they are ironically paying for!
Apologies for the long post, but that was my own rant on the matter.
Thank God for blogs.