x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Jordanians not ready for higher prices

Protests over rising fuel prices have the potential to damage the prestige of Jordan's crown, a columnist notes. Other topics today: an Iranian film and two resignations.

Protests over fuel-price increases in Jordan threaten to shake the prestige of the crown

Demonstrations against increased fuel prices erupted in Amman on Wednesday and quickly spread throughout the kingdom of Jordan. This threatens to be serious, columnist Yasser Azzaatra wrote in the Jordanian daily Addustour.

"Despite the systematic psychological prepping that the government practised for weeks … the decision to cut fuel subsidies at the rates and with the details that were announced were shocking to the point that most citizens, especially the low-income majority, felt that one-fifth of their salary vanished in one decision."

"Those who took to the streets less than an hour after the announcement didn't do so at the behest of the Muslim Brotherhood. They did so out of urgent personal and social considerations, to defend their subsistence against those who threaten to gulp down a sizeable chunk of it with the swipe of pen," he added.

The government made every effort to explain and justify its decision, but this didn't stop people's questions from pouring in.

Jordanians are demanding answers about the budget and public spending, especially because they are all convinced that wise management of spending would prevent this aggression against on their meagre incomes.

"Policies that favour the underprivileged would be sufficient to solve the dilemma. The clearly rich category of the population, which benefits from the country's openness, must be required to pay its dues in taxes, which would help in maintaining the economy," the writer said.

But the economy is closely linked to politics. People would be more willing to comply with austerity measures if these are decided upon by elected and transparent governments.

On the same topic, the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi suggested in its editorial on Thursday that turmoil has been simmering in Jordan for years as people called for political reform and an end to corruption.

But successive governments failed to respond to these aspirations, the paper said.

"Jordanian governments have been indifferent to the suffering of the people. They underestimated the urgent need for political reform and resorted to repressive methods to clamp down on protests. It all led to this uprising which could be a turning point in Jordan's modern history," the paper said.

Admittedly, the kingdom's budget is in deep deficit, and there is a $20 billion (Dh73.5bn) public debt, but managing the deficit can't be done at the expense of the already-strapped population. A real solution hinges on adopting tight austerity policies, imposing taxes on the rich, countering corruption and lowering public spending.

"The crisis threatens to jeopardise the stature of the state and the to shake the prestige of the crown for the first time in 90 years," the paper said.

Petraeus and Entwistle cases teach a lesson

The resignations of two senior public officials, in the US and UK, demonstrate a culture of accountability that should offer lessons to those who cling onto their positions no matter what, Taoufik Bouachrine wrote in the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm.

CIA Director David Petraeus was a potential candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election. George Entwistle was the director-general of the BBC.

Although he was one of America's most respected, dedicated public figures, and head of the largest spy agency in history, Mr Petraeus did not hesitate - without being forced - to step down over an extramarital affair.

The BBC boss resigned shortly after he took over the helm of the respected British institution, following a broadcast programme in which someone claimed to have been sexually abused by a Conservative Party figure.

Though no name was mentioned, this was deemed a grave mistake devoid of substantiated evidence. It was not Mr Entwistle who had prepared or revised the programme, yet in his position he was held responsible for the content, and so he resigned and offered apologies to British taxpayers and viewers.

Officials in the West, like officials elsewhere, relish power. But there is a culture of accountability in some countries that favours the public interest over self-interests, the writer said.

Film about the Prophet will stir a fierce debate

Heated controversy can be expected over a movie on the childhood of the Prophet Mohammed, being filmed in Iran by acclaimed director Majid Majidi, Egyptian film critic Tarek El Shenawi wrote in the Cairo paper Al Tahrir.

This film, reportedly the first of a projected trilogy, will portray the life of the Prophet Mohammad until the age of 12; the second in the series will narrate his life until the revelation, at 40; and the third part will be dedicated to his life from then until his death at the age of 63.

Some news about this movie leaked out a year ago, but statements attributed to Iran's ministry of culture denied the reports.

The idea, however, incensed the Al Azhar Mosque, Sunni Islam's highest authority, which stands against any representation of the Prophet before or after the revelation, the writer noted.

Some in Iran say Sunni and Shiite figures there have allowed portrayal of the Prophet as a child, but "as far as I am concerned, I can see no logic in permitting portrayal of his life during childhood and prohibiting it after the revelation", the writer said. "The Prophet is the Prophet".

"Is this an imminent Shiite-Sunni conflict, especially since Shiite dramas have already depicted the Prophet Joseph and Virgin Mary - also forbidden by the Sunni Al Azhar?"

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk