This Week in Jordan (podcast)
Hello and welcome back to this Week in Jordan, a podcast out of Amman Net and Radio Al Balad recapping the news from Jordan in the past week. I’m your host, Julia Thomason. All of our topics this week contain a social media campaign that has gained traction in Jordan this week and they each call for the action of those in different positions of power to better support the people. First, I’ll discuss the Ministry of Energy’s statements about the coming rise in gas and fuel prices, and the protests and call to #parkyourcar, that followed the announcement. Second, I’ll detail the story of hashtag #techno-harasser which shed light on the sexual harassment of multiple students at the Jordan University of Science and Technology by a professor, Dr. Ahmed Al-Saad. And finally, I will explain the campaign #we_want_god’s_right, which was circulated by the husband of a late private school teacher, known as Mrs. Ruba, who died in the final days of Ramadan. Her husband is seeking justice for the mistreatment and disregard of the rights of his wife and family. Those are our main stories for this week, so let’s get started with the 11th episode of this week in Jordan.
Earlier this week, Interior Minister Mazen al-Faraya announced the likelihood of 4 fuel price increases in the coming months. His statement failed to give details of the reasoning and mechanism of this increase and was met with widespread controversy and disapproval. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Energy, Amani Al-Azzam, confirmed that the prices of oil derivatives will in fact gradually increasing in the coming months. On Wednesday, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Saleh Al-Kharabsheh, stated that the government has done much more than many other, more powerful countries, to limit the burden on citizens as prices rise globally. He added that many other countries have raised prices multiple times a month, while Jordan has avoided this easier solution. Despite the decision to gradually raise prices to limit the burden of higher costs on consumers, there is still widespread concern among citizens over the financial strains and transportation limitations these price increases will cause.
An expert in the field of energy and oil, Amer Al-Shobaki, found the recent announcement unsurprising, citing the government's continued failure to take the appropriate steps to limit these rises, stating nearly the opposite of Al-Kharabsheh's claim that the government has gone out of their way to do all they can to limit the financial strain on citizens. Al-Shobaki noted that this most recent statement undermined any remaining economic confidence, as the prices will now rise regardless of any drops in oil prices globally, potentially due to changes in sanctions or production capacities, particularly in Iran and the Gulf.
A World Bank study recently found that Jordanian families on average spend 17% of their income on transportation. They also found that the average per capita income is about $4300, or 3000 JD, a year. Professor of Sociology and expert in Poverty Affairs, Dr. Muhammad Al-Jaribi, expects an increase in poverty rates, as a result of the deteriorating economic conditions throughout the country. Al-Jaribi attributes the high rates of poverty to the failure of successive governments to manage economic policies, including the absence of a serious policy to address this problem of gas prices.
Sharing in this sentiment, members of different political groups across Amman gathered downtown after Friday prayer to protest the announcement. The groups’ joint statement opened by emphasizing that: “the empty pockets of citizens are still the only solution for every official who wants to patch up his failure and cover up the corruption of the system through which he works at the expense of the helpless citizens.” These groups came together in mass on Friday in a march that began the Al-Hussaini mosque in downtown Amman. A sit-in was also held earlier in the week on Sunday, June 5th, in front of the Professional Syndicates Complex, to draw attention to the dismissal of citizens' concerns, well-being, and livelihoods. Citizens have also taken to social media, with a campaign entitled ‘park your car’ to voice their disapproval of the impending increases.
The statement closed, saying: “The signatories to this statement call on the government to immediately retract the hike in fuel prices, stop threatening to raise prices in the future, and compensate for any increases in oil purchase prices by reducing the unfair and incomprehensible rates of taxes charged on oil derivatives, controlling expenditures, stopping waste and curbing corruption.”
Different players have called for multiple different solutions and next steps. Representative Musa Abu Hantash believes a more viable path is for the government to find alternative oil and gas sources, including extracting within Jordan. Conversely, Al-Shobaki voiced that it will become essential for citizens to ration their consumption, and to hopefully create a culture of such behavior, particularly as these polices place the most burden on lower income consumers.
Despite the overwhelming uncertainty, it is become increasingly clear that many Jordanians may have no choice other than to “park their car”, as the social media campaign calls for, as gas prices increase in the coming months.
A call to action for those in power also came from students at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, known to most as Techno, this week. Since Saturday, multiple students have come forward publicly and circulated videos, audio recordings, screenshots, and other accounts and evidence of sexual harassment by a professor at the university, Dr. Ahmed Al-Saad.
There has been an outpouring of support for the victims of the #techno-harasser, with many recalling the unfortunate, but clear, pattern of similar abuses of power and harassment at other universities, in which survivors are often too scared to speak up and usually silenced when they do. Multiple students have recounted being privately contacted by the professor, often including a threat to their success and grade in the course, if they did not answer his messages or come into his office as he requested. Dr. Al-Saad has denied all claims, including that he asked a student to go out with him to Jerash and inappropriately touched the private parts of two female students, as reported by Roya News.
However, there have simultaneously been many responses calling into question the validity of the statements and why victims did not report the harassment. There have also been statements in support of the professor, from colleagues and community members, as some complain the campaign is a violation and unfair taint on the professor's reputation.
Following the social media campaign, the university issued a statement detailing the formation of a committee headed by one of the Vice Presidents of the university, as well as multiple deans, to address and verify the allegations. Their statement also invited students to file complaints with the president's office concerning the matter, though one of the students involved in the campaign accounted to Roya News, that her earlier complaint was denied on the grounds that there were already many complaints against the professor. The university has not yet provided an update or taken any public action since their original statement.
Death of Teacher, Husband’s campaign
Another woman’s treatment in a school turned deadly when Mrs. Ruba, a teacher, bus monitor, and 8-month pregnant wife and mother, died after fainting at work in May. In the past week, Mrs. Ruba’s husband came forward on social media with a campaign led by the hashtag #we_want_god’s_right, that gained traction after he detailed the tragedy of his wife’s final hours in a video, and called for action and support of his family, particularly in his demand to open the file of female workers in private schools, including his wife. Her husband recounted his wife going into work on one of the last days of Ramadan and fainting while on the job. He received a call from the school hours later to come pick her up, and he finally arrived and took her to the hospital in his own vehicle. At the hospital, she fell into a coma and hours later both Mrs. Ruba and her fetus died. Her husband recounted the disregard of labor rights, particularly in his wife’s salary of 140 dinar, which is well below the minimum wage of 260 dinar, the conditions of her additional work as a bus monitor, where she was never able to sit down and was not given benefits such as insurance, and the failure of the school to act urgently in a medical emergency.
When speaking with “Al-Ghad” Haitham Al-Najdawi, Director of the Inspection Directorate at the Ministry of Labor, responded to the statement on behalf of the Ministry of Labor, emphasizing that neither Mrs. Ruba nor her husband filed a report of her salary or any other labor rights violations. He reiterated that all workers’ complaints are taken seriously and investigated, but in this case, there was not a complaint filed prior to her death.
The Head of the Private Schools Syndicate, Munther Al-Sourani, also commented to “Al-Ghad”, confirming that there are clear and strict instructions for private schools to deal with an emergency situation for any teacher with urgency, and that most major private schools have an on-site nurse or doctor to tend to such emergencies. He also expressed that all private schools are required to pay teachers the minimum wage of 260 dinar, and that violating that policy is illegal.
The Ministry of Education is considering the case before their judiciary, according to their statement to “Al-Ghad”, but the final outcome and official response to Mrs. Ruba’s husband’s public outcry is still uncertain.
That is all for this week, thank you for joining me. Again, I’m Julia Thomason and you’re listening to this Week in Jordan from Amman Net and Radio Al Balad. Until next week.