According to the Jordanian lawmaker Zuheir Abu al Ragheb, member of the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, “the Islamic movement suggested alternatives to the government’s fuel price hike, such as increasing customs duties on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, but the government did not respond to us!”
In other words, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages will limit the record budget deficit and earn the government $560 million. How simple!
Economists say the Jordanian government was compelled to raise the price of subsidized petrol and other fuels because it is no longer receiving oil grants from Iraq and Gulf countries at a preferential price.
The government was also unable to deal with the rapid changes in oil prices due to the political instability in the Middle East and the problems in Venezuela and Nigeria, as well as the speculations in oil markets.
Maintaining government subsidies and refraining from raising oil prices in Jordan would have increased the budget deficit, according to economists. The government would have been unable to repay its debts and would have found itself obliged to turn to the International Monetary Fund for assistance, therefore submit to a stringent restructuring program. Ordinary people would have had to pay a higher price than the difference in oil prices. Economists have also indicated that the Jordanian government had little room to maneuver in its drive to reduce public debts, as 89% of the government’s expenditure goes to salaries, pensions, rents and interest rates.
By comparing the experts’ view and that of some Jordanian parliamentarians, such as the member of the Islamic Action Front, the difference in motives and objectives becomes clear. Jordan’s government wants to end the crisis and has no other choice, especially if it seeks to free itself from the shackles of the IMF. The lawmaker wants to shame the government by lighting a cigarette next to petrol pumps. Who can dare refuse to hike taxes on fuel and alcoholic beverages? This is an oversimplified and opportunist demand.
The new Hamas government is acting in a similar fashion. Its foreign minister has been speaking out against the vulgar art and Dabkeh songs shown on the Palestinian satellite channel. His colleague the culture minister criticized belly dancing, as if the two politicians had solved ordinary people’s problems!
Would not listening to the songs of Nancy Ajram, for example, pay the phone bills? Would changing the programs broadcast by Palestinian satellite channel solve the problems of the Israeli occupation and give Palestinians their land back? Finally, would increasing taxes on cigarettes end Jordan’s economic woes? This is mere opportunism and an escape from problems that ought to be dealt with courageously and responsibly.
Unfortunately, one can substitute Jordan or Palestine for any other Arab country and find that the same situation applies. How many years and how many opportunities have we squandered on political trials where religion has been used in every instance? The result is more poverty and more backwardness!