Contemporary Social Movements and Protests in Jordan

Phenix Center for Economic Studies


As a result of longstanding failures in dealing with internal and external challenges, Jordan has faced a large series of social and political protests in recent years. In the wake of increasing deteriorations of the economic situation, the demonstrations have received an enormous upswing and received public support from all segments of society.

For a better understanding and classification of these developments, the following article provides a critical overview of the socio-economic roots of the protests, describes the dynamics and the leading role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) during the demonstrations, and takes a look at the aftermath of the protests and upcoming challenges lastly.

Additionally, the contribution aims to get a better understanding of efficient methods to challenge raising inequality and social injustice in the context of global increasing austerity policies.1

II. The Socio-Economic Situation in Jordan

In 1989, the country first sought help at the history International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilise the battered economy with international loans. As a usual practise, the lending is linked to strong austerity measures, so-called Structural Adjustments Programmes (SAPs) which aim at the massively reducing public spending and social welfare to curb the deficits.2 The binding measures led to massive increases in the prices of various goods. The following initially social and economic protests became a political movement with far-reaching demands on the government. The regime reacted with a range of democratic reforms which contributed to the liberalisation of the country.3

In 2016, Jordan pursued the IMF again to take out an international loan as a consequence of ongoing weak socio-economic situation caused through the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, the fall of the oil price which slowed down the development of the region, and the strong declining of the tourism sector.4 Moreover, regional challenges such as in Syria and Iraq increase the influx of refugees and disturb the trade and goods traffic in the region.5 Furthermore, since years, the state lack missed the implementation of necessary reforms to create decent jobs, and the introduction of social nets to protect the lower and middle class raised social inequality and triggered great resentment in the population.6 Additionally, comprehensive efforts in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to improve gender equality, fight poverty or improve work conditions stocking since initial enthusiasm.7

These longstanding failures, in addition to IMF measures, execrated the socio-economic situation of Jordan. While the government is following the path of privatisation,8 the costs for education and healthcare are increasing9 and the GDP per capita (JOD 2,909 in 2018; approx. $ 4072) is stagnating since years (JOD 2,811 in 2010).10 Furthermore, low-income and small entrepreneurs struggle with a high tax burden which hinders sustainable economic growth.11 Estimates assume that sales tax constitute 75 per cent of the annual state tax revenue.12 At the same time, the state pursues a labour policy that increasingly restricts the freedom and rights of trade unions.13 Currently, the country has one of the highest unemployment rates in the region. According to the last numbers of the Department of Statistics in Jordan, the unemployment rate was 19.0 per cent in the fourth quarter of 201914 which especially young people under the age of 25, who make up almost half of the Kingdom’s population, are affected by the development. In addition, the UNDP estimated that 44 per cent of the total employment in Jordan is informal, which means the workers have no protecting labour or social rights.15

The unexpected outbreak of the Corona Virus outbreak last year, which is spreading rapidly around the world, is another challenge for the Jordanian health care system, and the for the productivity of the state itself. With current views of Western Europe, China, and the United States, mismanagement could exacerbate the already tense socio-economic which particularly affect the vulnerable population (such as migrants, informal workers and uninsured) who do not have the capacity and financial resources to seek medical help or unemployment benefits.

As a mediator between the state and the interests of society through the mobilisation of people, CSOs play are an integral part in the development of clear demands to the government and the increase of awareness on social and political issues.16 Nowadays, more than 5,700 CSOs in Jordan have been counted.17 In addition, there are loose social, political, tribal and religious movements, organised by a collectivity of individuals or organisations, which pursue specific goals with the intention of social change.18

III. Mapping Contemporary Protests in Jordan

As a result of the strict austerity policies and socio-economic conditions, numerous strikes and demonstrations have taken place. While demonstrations in the past have been mainly carried out by political parties, the latest protests enrooted in individuals from the middle class, various movements and civil society actors. This non-ideological character of the protests was eventually one of the reasons why the protests became that popular and widespread.19

Especially, two protests found nationwide support and participation. Firstly, the large number of strikes and protests with tenth thousands of people protests against the introduction of a tax income reform which introduction Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki in 2018 announced.20 The protests were largely carried out by business owners and small businesses, professional associations, labour unions, business association and CSOs, but also received extensive support from society.21 A novelty here was the large participation of youth movements, students and middle-class Jordanians without political ties who peacefully expressed their position through slogans, signs and social media posts.22 Finally, the protests became so intense that al-Mulki finally resigned on 4 June, followed by Omar al-Razzaz. The new government passed, despite ongoing protests in November 2018, an amended version of the tax law.23

Secondly, the teacher protests in 2019, which was the longest strike in Jordanian history.24 Despite several promises of the Jordanian government to gradually raise wages for teachers, reforms have not been implemented. On 5 September last year, first rallies and sit-ins took place. However, first gatherings were quickly dissolved by Jordanian security forces without any negotiations. As a reaction, the Jordanian Teachers' Union called to a nationwide strike started on 8 September. The strike had a high impact on Jordanian society and received great support from people in the social network which shared and circulated videos, posts or other types (see here the hashtag مع المعلم#) that encourages the protests.25 In total, more than 85,000 teachers from nearly 4,000 schools took part in the strike26 and disrupted schooling for more than 1.5 million students.27 The strike ended on 8 October, after one month, with a successful compromise for teachers, and the promise to increase wages and bonus payments.28

Furthermore, 203 workers' protests for better wages, permanent contract or against prevailing regulations and laws like the Labor Law amendments in 2018 have been counted.29 The protests were mainly carried out by independent and self-organised workers' movements, which made up almost half of the protests.30 Among these were the successful two-week strike of governate municipality workers, represented by the Independent Trade Unions Federation for Workers in Jordan Municipalities, for better wages and working conditions gained attention.31 Besides, changes to the Social Security Law have also been announced. The new regulations threaten the social protection of workers and set unfair regulations regarding salaries, dismissal from work and unemployment insurance.32 On this, several independent trade unions supported demonstrations to fight amendments to the Security Law. The protests helped to prevent the full implementation of the law, which took the workers' rights more into consideration. In 2019, an increase in labour protests from 203 to 266 protests (an increase of 31 per cent) was observed. The structures, types of protest and goals remained unchanged.33

Besides, several smaller protests have been witnessed, such as the from 2016 ongoing yellow taxi drivers protests, with the help of the Independent Trade Union of Taxi Drivers, against unfair competitive conditions by using transportation apps such as Uber and Careem.34

IV. Aftermath of the Protests and Upcoming Challenges

The numerous protests in Jordan achieved sustainable social and economic improvements in terms of better wages, working conditions and the dismantling of unjust regulations. While the government had long disregarded the work of the CSOs or refused to engage in dialogue, their social role as mediator and decision-maker of CSOs increased through the strong participation of non-political actors from the youth and middle class. Furthermore, the protests raised a stronger awareness - here, the intense usage of Social Media played undoubtedly an important role - by showing people what they can achieve through collective efforts, which contributed to the emergence of new social and political movements and expansion of existing CSO networks throughout the collaboration between asymmetric actors. As an example, one of those new alliances and coalitions were the joint efforts of trade unions and business associations during the tax reform protests. Another observation that sees a future strengthening in favour of civil society is the greater distrust of the population in the government through the implementation of the Labor Law and security amendments, and the tax income reform.

However, the alignment and intensity of future protests will also depend on the outcome of the Corona crisis - hence the extent to which the state takes the necessary measures to deal with the health and socio-economic consequences. A failure of the current strategy can lead to massive additional expenditure, which leads to increasing government debts and, in turn, to non-compliance with the IMF conditions. Should this result in further cuts in the public sector, increased unemployment and further price increases, more waves of protests are very likely in the coming years.

Phenix Center for Sustainable Development works to promote a sustainable and inclusive developmental paradigm in Jordan and to end workers' rights violations by achieving fair and decent labour conditions for all, in accordance with the principles of democracy, human rights and sustainable development. In other words, Phenix Center seeks to enhance the role of political actors and civil society organisations and to promote their effective participation in the political, economic, and social life of all categories of the society. Crosscutting themes for all Phenix Center projects are gender equity, youth, and other vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees in Jordan.


1 See Ortiz, Isabel and Matthew Cummins (2019): Austerity: The New Normal A Renewed Washington Consensus 2010-24. Retrieved from:


2 Rickard, Stephanie J. and Teri L. Caraway (2018, 25 January): International demands for austerity: Examining the impact of the IMF on the public sector, in: Review of International Organization (14), pp. 35-57.

3 Lucas, Russell E. (2005): Institutions and the Politics of Survival in Jordan: Domestic Responses to External Challenges. New York: State University of New York Press, pp. 27-31; and Jarrah, Sameer (2009): Civil Society and Public Freedom in Jordan: The Path of Democratic reform (Working Paper, Number 3), p. 5.

4 Alkhatib, Walid and Miss Nafiso Mohamed (2019): 30 Years on, Has the IMF Helped or Hindered the Jordanian Economy?, in: The Candian Social Sciene (Vol. 15, No. 7),. pp.15-21.

5 The World Bank (2020): Jordan: Overview. Retrieved from:

6 Awad, Ahmad (2018): The role of public policy in the concentration of powers and social inequality. Retrieved from:; Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies (2018): Decent Work in Jordan. Persistent Gaps (in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung); Sharafat, Ayman (2019): Spatial Inequality in Jordan, in: Journal of Economics and Management.

7 Awad, Ahmad (2019): Stumbling in moving forward on the track of Sustainable Development in Jordan. Retrieved from:

8 See Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies (2017): Pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals Strengthening Protections and Ensuring Inclusion,. Retrieved from:; and

9 The World Bank 2020.

10 Department of Statistics (2018): Statistical Yearbook of Jordan 2018. Retrieved from:

11 Mdanat, Fayez Mdanat et al. (2018). Tax structure and economic growth in Jordan, 1980-2015, in: EuroMed Journal of Business, 13(1), pp. 102–127.

12 Ministry of Finance (2019): Monthly Financial Report (December), available on

13 Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies (2015): Enabling Environment National Assessment Country report: Jordan (prepared by Ahmad M. Awad and Rania Sarayra). Retrieved from:; Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies (2019): The new labor law amendments are unconstitutional Retrieved from:

14 Department of Statistics (2019): 19.0% The Unemployment Rate during the fourth Quarter of 2019.

16 Al Zyoud, Ismail (2019): The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Development of Jordanian Society; in: Dirasat: Human and Social Science (Volume 46, No. 2), pp. 453-461.

17 International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (2020): Civic Freedom Monitor: Jordan. Retrieved from:

18 See Opp, Karl-Dieter (2009): Theories of Political Protest and Social Movements: A Multidisciplinary introduction, critique, and synthesis. London and New York: Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group, p. 36-37.

19 See Ranko, Annette, Leontine von Felbert und Bayan Al-Halawani (2018): #JordanStrikes. Protests and Government Change in Jordan (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung: Country Report Jordan).

20 Deutsche Welle (2018, 14 December): Jordan: Hundreds protest revised IMF-backed tax law. Retrieved from:

21 Petti, Matthew (2018, 6 July): In Jordan, Labor Unions and Businesses Have Joined Forces to Fight an Unpopular Tax Bill. Retrieved from:

22 Qahwaji, Youssef (2018, 12 July): Youth in Jordan: From limited participation to youth-led movements, in: The Jordan Times; Francis, Ellen (2018, 5 June): Young Jordanians taste political protest for the first time, on: Reuters. Retrieved from:

23 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) 2019, p. 2.

24 Al Jazeera (2019, 6 October): Jordan teachers end four-week strike in pay deal with government. Retrieved from:

25 Nusairat, Tuqa (2019, 27 September): Teachers’ protest challenges Jordanian status quo, in: Atlantic Council. Retrieved from:; Al Jazeera 2019, 6 October

26 Ibid.

27 Al-Khalidi, Suleiman (2019, 6 October): Jordan reaches deal with teachers union to end one-month strike, on: Reuters. Retrieved from:

28 Labor Watch (2019, 6 October): The response to the teachers’ demands and the return of the students to school. Retrieved from:

29 Labor Watch Report (2019): Labor Protests in Jordan 2018 (prepared by Jordan Labor Watch Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies), p. 5. Retrieved from:; Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies (2019): The new labor law amendments are unconstitutional Retrieved from:

30 Labor Watch Report 2019, p. 6.

31 Jordan Labor Watch (2019, 17 October): Independent Municipality Workers" decides a sit-in at the end of the month. Retrieved from:; Kayed, Maram (2019, 27 October): Governorate municipality workers’ demands pay off, in: The Jordan Times. Retrieved from:

32 The Jordan Times (2019, 1 July): Proposed Social Security Law amendments draw mixed reaction. Retrieved from:; see also: Ernest and Young (2019): Jordan amends social security law (Tax Alert). Retrieved from:

33 Figures taken from the not yet published Labor Watch Report about labor protests in Jordan 2019.

34 Ghazal, Mohammad and Sawsan Tabazah (2016, 15 November): Taxi drivers protest ‘unfair’competition by ride hailing apps, in: The Jordan Times. Retrieved from:

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