Jordan's cabbies vs the King: backed into a corner, he bows to people power
The Jordanian government announced less than popular plans to hike up the price of fuel for the second time in three months. All was going swimmingly until Amman's taxi drivers rose in solidarity in the early hours of yesterday morning to fight the hike.
Last night, the King was forced to bow down to his subjects and roll back the rise despite orders from the world bank and the decision of his government. This good-cop, bad-cop routine played out by King and government is not new in the Kingdom.
In the last two years four prime ministers have come and gone. Jordan's latest prime minister Fayez Tarawneh's cut backs on bread subsidies and branding of orphans have done little to endear him to the people. Opposition Islamist factions spoiling for a fight have put his office in jeopardy and his recent plans to raise fuel prices on the people - as per international bank orders - could tip the balance against him.
No one would feel the pinch of petrol hikes more than the yellow cars of Jordan. Not ones to take bad news lying down, yesterday a crowd of 2000 taxi drivers gathered in Wadi Saqra in the Jordanian capital.
Many of the protestors explained that rising fuel prices notwithstanding, the wage of a taxi driver in Jordan is barely enough to survive let alone support families. The increase in costs would strike a devastating double punch leaving them unable to afford to drive, and leaving the public unwilling to use their taxis. When we arrived at the protest, drivers were literally shouting out complaints. Top of their list was the waiting fares, meaning the capital's notorious traffic jams only serve to lower their wages.
As Amman's taxis are subject to daily rent, protestors argued that a large chunk on their income is lost on car hire, with some paying 16, 25 or even 30 dinars a day. Mr. Samih Nazmi, leader of the Taxi Driver Rights committee, said: "This is too much,” clearly not referring to his - by all accounts - meagre wages.
Jostling to get their voices heard, protestors argued that the union protecting their rights is ineffective. Many are forced to work seven days a week with no holiday, social security or life insurance. One disgruntled driver said: "I don't even know where the union is".
Others complained that private cars and drivers from other districts flout rules to steal custom in Amman from the city's rightful drivers. They said that whilst this is common knowledge, nothing has been done to stop it.
Police officers scattered in amongst the blur of yellow cars tried to negotiate with the drivers. But, the union and government officials they really wanted to speak to ignored their pleas to come down and face the crowds. Many claimed that society considered them scum for protesting ("the real men were out driving").
Luckily for the taxi dependent community, the King waded in and, in a people pleasing maneuver overrode his government officials to call off the hikes. There's no yellow revolution just yet but yesterday's events have certainly raised questions about the authority of the Jordanian government and powers that be.
Do you think the King should have stepped in? Did he lose credibility for his government? Tell us what you think below.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Bawaba's editorial policy.