Cutting bread subsidies could make Jordan the next Syria

Cutting bread subsidies could make Jordan the next Syria
Jordan could find itself becoming the next Syria if it doesn't take heed of previous bread riots and insists on cutting bread subsidies writes Nidal Morrison.
3 min read
09 Jan, 2018
A Jordanian man brandishes a loaf of bread, Jan14, 2011, Amman [Getty]
It would appear that Jordan wants to become the next Syria, the next conflict zone and board for an international game of chess. 

The Jordanian government, in a feeble attempt to satisfy the "conditions of an International Monetary Fund" agreement, designed to help the economically strapped kingdom, is currently considering cutting bread subsidies. These subsidies have made the price of bread affordable to many of country's poor. Indeed, about seven million Jordanian citizens, as well as three million non-Jordanian citizens, benefit from subsidized bread.

The current proposal suggests raising the price of bread by 100%, making one kilo of bread cost JD 0.32 ($0.45) instead of $0.16. This action would be catastrophic for Jordan, as it would likely lead to protests and perhaps even popular revolt, when there are other solutions to the country's economic problems.

Lifting bread subsidies would certainly lead to popular protests, especially in the south of Jordan, where the economy is reeling. Protests are expected to happen, similar those that took place in 1989 and 1996 when people demonstrated against poor economic and political conditions, in response to higher bread prices.

Luckily, those protests did not lead to a full-scale revolt. But one must heed the lessons from Syria, where one of the sparks that ignited protests (and then full-scale rebellion) was the government's cutting of subsidies for food and fuel.

Protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime quickly deteriorated into a devastating civil war, causing hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, decimating the country's infrastructure, and incubating a hotbed for extremism. If Jordan decides to cut bread subsidies, the country may find itself in a situation similar to Syria's in the near-future.

In addition to potentially causing social revolt, this move to cut bread subsidies isn't even favored by the IMF, the organisation that negotiated the agreement Jordan is trying to satisfy.

The government is desperate for revenue for social projects.

Jordan is struggling economically, and the influx of Syrian refugees certainly hasn't helped matters. Originally, in response to Jordan's economic woes, the IMF negotiated an agreement in which Jordan receives monetary loans as long as the government lifts subsidies on goods. But, after realising how this move would negatively affect the poor, the IMF stated that it does not recommend lifting subsidies.

Instead of cutting bread subsidies, the government should raise the sales tax and tax goods that are currently not taxed at all. This move would bring in more revenue for the government, without the risk of social revolt.

Lifting bread subsidies is an unnecessary risk for Jordan, especially when there are other viable solutions. Jordan is not special; it is plagued by the same economic problems that have led to popular revolt in neighboring countries. But only time will tell if Jordan will heed the lessons of Syria, and prevent history from repeating itself.

Nidal Morrison is an American high school student living in Jordan. She currently attends King's Academy as a boarding student.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.