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Jordan announces Ramadan subsidies to quell austerity protests

Jordan was rocked last year by anti-austerity protests during Ramadan. [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 May, 2019

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Fuel and electricity prices will be frozen during the holy month, with payments of fees and fines suspended until the end of Ramadan.

Jordan has announced fuel and electricity subsidies during Ramadan after the holy month was marred last year by nationwide protests against austerity measures.

Consumption increases during Ramadan as families host relatives and friends for meals between sunset and sunrise and socialising continues late into the night, doubling the cost of living.

Earlier this week the government announced that it would freeze fuel prices at April levels, maintaining petrol at 0.75 dinars ($1.06) a litre and cooking gas at seven dinars ($9.87) a cylinder, The National reported.

The government promised not to cut off water or electricity to families that lagged behind utility payments.

It has also frozen the cost of power, despite a recent hike in international oil prices that would normally be reflected in Jordan's monthly floating electricity rates.

Additionally, Jordan said this week it would suspend the collection of fees and fines during the holy month, giving citizens the option to pay in instalments after the month ends.

The kingdom even called on private banks to "delay" loan repayments, with numerous local banks already complying.

Cash-strapped Jordan - a close US ally that relies heavily on donors - is struggling to rein in its debt after securing a $723-million loan from the IMF in 2016.

Austerity measures have seen prices of basic necessities rise across the kingdom, culminating in angry protests over tax proposals - later withdrawn - that forced prime minister Hani Mulki to resign last year.

The draft bill aimed to increase taxes on employees by at least five percent, and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

The demonstrations, which took place last year during Ramadan, were able to mobilise thousands as families and friends were already gathered for the post-sunset iftar meal, making it easy for worshippers to then go from Taraweeh prayers to protest late into the night.

Recently, there have been some calls for a return to protests on social media. However, Jordan's professional associations, which spearheaded last year's demonstrations, have reiterated that they will not take part in demonstrations this year, pledging to give more time to the government.

A report released by the government last month stated that 15.7 per cent of people in Jordan, or about one million people, lived in poverty, with households earning approximately $350 per month or less.

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