Jordanians Say Hunger, Not Iraq, Led To Protests Amman Doubles Bread Prices,Breaking Many Home Budgets
While Jordan’s King Hussein blames Iraq for igniting violent protests over the doubling of bread prices, many of his impoverished subjects say the source of their frustration is empty pocketbooks, not politics.
Relations between one-time allies Jordan and Iraq have been spiraling downward for the past year, and Hussein cast Iraq as the villain when angry demonstrations erupted in several southern towns four days ago, then spread to Amman, the capital.
At least 40 people have been injured. Cars, banks and government buildings have been torched in the worst unrest in the normally peaceful kingdom since disturbances in 1989, also sparked by increases in food prices.
“Certainly, a lot of these elements have connections with Iraq in one way or form,” Hussein said during a television interview.
But for Nadia Hussein, 38, a widow trying to feed her large family on about $100 a month, the issue is economic.
“We lived only on bread and tea and now I have no money to even feed bread to my nine children,” she said in the southern town of Kerak, site of the worst violence.
The trouble began last week when the pro-Western country more than doubled the price of bread as part of an economic plan supervised by the International Monetary Fund.
Two pounds of bread - a food central to most every meal in Jordan - jumped from the equivalent of 12 cents to 26 cents.
It is common to see a Jordanian, young or old, who finds a piece of bread on the ground kiss it and place it against his forehead as a sign of respect.
Along with bread, the prices of more than 20 other food items also shot up, breaking the budget in many households in a country where the annual per capita income is $1,100.
“We love and respect the king, but we hope he will heed our demands and reverse the rise in bread prices and dismiss the government,” said Mohammed Dmour, a resident of Kerak, 90 miles south of Amman.
In Kerak’s New Bakery, owner Ali Kassassbeh said his sales have fallen 50 percent in the past week.
“I used to eat three loaves of pita bread, but now I eat only one a day to allow my two sisters and brother to have their share,” said 13-year-old Aqeel Mahadeen.
Jordanian officials have offered no proof of direct Iraqi involvement in the protests, though thousands of Iraqi exiles live in the kingdom. They are believed to include agents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The king has become an increasingly harsh critic of Saddam in the past year, welcoming high-ranking Iraqi defectors, raising the prospect of dividing Iraq into a federation and even calling for a change of leadership in Baghdad.
Jordan is much smaller than its neighbor, but it has considerable leverage over Iraq, a country crippled by U.N. sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi-Jordanian border post remains open and is the main gateway for Iraq’s imports and exports.
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