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June 13, 2016 No.
6471

Suicide Attempts By Young Jordanians Spark Sharp Media Criticism Of Government Helplessness In Coping With Unemployment, Economic Situation

In recent years Jordan has been coping with a difficult economic situation. The country, which suffers from a lack of natural resources and relies on foreign aid, is now also compelled to bear the economic burden of nearly 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and this has further aggravated the economic difficulties.[1] Figures recently published by Jordan's central bank indicate that, in the first quarter of 2016, the country's unemployment rate spiked sharply and has now reached 14.6%, the highest rate in the past decade.[2]

In the recent weeks, this issue became the focus of a public debate in Jordan following two public suicide attempts by young Jordanian motivated by unemployment and severe economic distress. On May 11, 2016 five unemployed young men climbed to the roof of a building near Al-Dakhiliyah Square in central Amman and threatened to kill themselves in protest of economic distress and in demand for employment. Jordanian security officers managed to prevent the men from leaping to their death.[3] Several days after this incident, which was widely covered in the media, a group of unemployed young Jordanians opened a Facebook page on which they threatened to commit collective suicide opposite the prime minister's office on May 29, 2016, to protest "neglect by the government and exploitation by employers." The Facebook page said: "Since we are young people with potential who are prevented from realizing it, and due to the poor management of the Jordanian economy and the rampant corruption in the country, we, a group of young people, have decided after consulting and exhausting all options for a solution to commit collective suicide, in order to draw attention to our plight. The international media will be invited to [cover] the event." The page was shut down by Facebook a few hours after it was opened, on the grounds that it contravened Facebook's community standards.[4]


Unemployed Jordanians threaten to jump off a roof (image: Al-Ghad, Jordan, May 11, 2016)

 
Unemployed Jordanians  on Facebook threaten collective suicide 

Also this month, an employee of the Hashemite University in Al-Zarqa tried to burn himself on campus in protest of his economic distress.[5]

These incidents sparked an extensive public debate in the Jordanian press and social media. Senior journalists and former Jordanian officials said that they reflected the magnitude of the unemployment problem and leveled harsh criticism at the authorities, who they claimed were ignoring the problem and refusing to address it. This report will present some of this criticism.

Former Jordanian Senior Officials Warn: Young People Are Losing Hope; Poverty And Unemployment Are Draining The People's Strength

Responding to the case of the five who threatened to jump off the roof, former Jordanian prime minister Samir Al-Rifa'i tweeted: "Five Jordanian youths attempt suicide after they lose any hope for a decent job. We must sound the alarm bells, and make sure that the [first] issue on the agenda is unemployment, unemployment and again unemployment."[6]

 
Al-Rifa'i's tweet

Former MP Wafsi Al-Rawashdeh posted on his Facebook page a message to King 'Abdallah: "[The hardships of] life are draining your people's [strength]. Poverty, unemployment, injustice and oppression are eating away at them. They have become strangers in their homeland. Don't be fooled by those who tell you that we [the people] are all right as long as you [the king] are all right. By Allah, they are deceiving you and withholding the truth from you. It would have been more accurate [of them] to tell you that you are all right as long as your people are all right. The West and the [Jordanian] army will be of no avail as long as the people lack strength. I tell you this not out of hatred or flattery or cupidity for the throne... but as sincere advice from someone who loves his homeland and people."[7]  

Articles In The Jordanian Press: The Suicide Attempts Are An Alarm Bell; The Government Must Take Serious Measures To Address The Problem

Al-Ghad Editor: The Young People Have Become A Time Bomb; What Have We Done For Them?!

Jumana Ghanaimat, editor of the daily Al-Ghad, criticized the government's helplessness in handling the problem of unemployment among young people and warned that this was a time bomb that could go off. She wrote: "The suicide pact of the five young Jordanians is undoubtedly a terrible thing, whether they [really] intended to put an end to their lives or merely threatened to do so. Their action yesterday near Al-Dakhiliya Square in Amman is another sounding of the alarm bell that draws attention to the despair and frustration that many of our young people are feeling due to the rising levels of unemployment among them...

"I wonder, what have we done on behalf of the young people? Has the current government, which has been in office longer than any of those that preceded it, presented any genuine ideas or initiatives to save the young people from the difficult reality in which they are living? The truth is that I do not expect answers from the minister of labor, the minister of planning and international cooperation, or the prime minister himself - because the answers are [already] known to the young people, nearly half of whom are drowning in unemployment. This time, the [real] answer was the anguished desperate cry of those young people who climbed to the roof of a building in Al-Dakhiliya Square and attempted to put an end to their lives, and their spokesman said: 'We have had enough of your promises and your lie'. Had the promises of all the governments to [these young people] yielded anything [concrete], they would have been busy planning their future and their lives instead of planning to kill themselves.

"Jordan's suffering young people have become a time bomb that poses a grave danger throughout the homeland, because the young people are ultimately a force which, if not harnessed [for purposes of] productivity and creativity, can get out of control and cause destruction."[8]

Columnist For Muslim Brotherhood Mouthpiece: The Authorities Are Betting On The People's Patience, But It May Run Out

'Omar Al-'Ayasra, a columnist for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece Al-Sabil, wondered why the problems of the Jordanian citizen are not a matter of public debate, and accused the establishment of ignoring them. He warned that people's patience could run out in the face of the economic pressures, and urged the authorities to acknowledge the situation rather than bury their heads in the sand. He wrote: "In our country we speak about everything except for the Jordanian citizen... An employee at the Hashemite University burned himself to death in protest of his difficulties in making a living, yet the incident did not receive the attention it deserved in the public discourse. This [fact] is even more serious than the incident [itself]... Faced with these major and numerous concerns [that cause] the Jordanian citizen... to feel that he is running out of air, the authorities remain in denial, believing that we can bear an increasingly growing burden. They are betting on the Jordanian citizen's patience... [but] I fear that this patience will run out under the insufferable pressures... They are betting on the citizen's fear [of repeating] the experience of the destruction in Syria. Even if this fear exists, it might evaporate in the face of objective circumstances in which people will [simply] be unable to bear the suffering... The depth of Jordan's economic crisis is not [just measured] in figures, but [has an impact on] the street, the security [situation] and the people."[9]

 


Cartoon in Jordanian daily Al-Ghad (May 12, 2016): Jordanian citizen burned not only by the heat wave but also by the economic situation

Senior Journalist: The Authorities Must Tackle Unemployment By Inviting Serious Discussion And Adopting Feasible Plans

Fahd Al-Khitan, a senior journalist for the daily Al-Ghad, wrote that the collective suicide attempt reflected the gravity of Jordan's unemployment problem, and added that the authorities must not sweep the problem under the rug but rather initiate a serious debate to find solutions. He wrote: "Nobody would conceivably think of throwing away his life and dying in such a horrible manner unless he was facing a critical crisis that was impossible to live with. The primary motive for suicide among young people today is the lack of hope in their lives and a complete certainty that death is the [only] salvation... When the five young people did was a desperate and nihilistic act of protest; it was apparently their last resort, following which [they hoped] they might be granted a decent job and decent living conditions...

"The incident indicates the gravity of Jordan's unemployment problem and the lack of opportunities for a decent life - given that living conditions are difficult [even] for those who are employed, let along for those who are unemployed... Unless we think of creative solutions and adopt feasible plans to alleviate the grave unemployment [crisis], the suicide attempt of the five young people will become a [prevalent] phenomenon that many young people will imitate... What is crucial now is for the authorities to avoid covering up the incident of these five young people. [On the contrary,] courageously tackling the unemployment problem requires drawing attention to their problem and presenting it in detail, so that all the relevant elements in our society join the discussion of the issue. Perhaps together we can find solutions that will spare the country such embarrassing situations and open a window of hope for the [young] generation. In the [present] conditions, [these young people] may be driven to choose between suicide by jumping off a roof and suicide in the ranks of the extremist organizations."[10]

Former Foreign Minister: The Government Must Adapt To A Changing World And Seriously Tackle The Young People's Problems

Former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Al-Mu'asher regretted that the state does not recognize the problems and needs of the young people or the fact that the world has progressed and changed. He said that, since the government is preoccupied with marginal issues and does not meet young people's need for education and employment, these young people have lost their faith in the government and seek solutions elsewhere. He urged the government to adapt to the changing world and create jobs for the young people, so as to utilize their potential. He wrote: "What saddens me the most is that the state apparently cannot or will not recognize the magnitude of the problem... This has led to the young people to lose faith almost completely in what the government says. This is a frightening phenomenon that is familiar to anyone who speaks with young people in the various districts. It should be an issue of daily concern for the government, which must immediately speed up [the process of] addressing its underlying causes...

"There is an urgent need to hold a serious dialogue with the young people, in order to get a direct impression of the problems that are burdening them. There is also a need for a serious economic and educational program to ensure genuine and long-term job creation. I do not feel that the government is [even] close to [realizing] the major changes that are taking place among the youth or is doing enough to create a suitable environment that stimulates creativity and innovation. The world is changing very rapidly, and therefore we must choose between [two options]. [We can] adapt to this change and address the young generation in a language it understands - instead of using the old traditional methods comprehensible only to us - and thus create a new ecosystem that will make positive use of our young people's potential, as Dubai is doing. Alternatively, we can continue ignoring the young people's problems and insist on addressing them in a language that has no effect on them, which will produce frustration that can lead to extremism. The choice remains in our hands, for experience teaches us that a vacuum, once created, will be filled by others if we are unprepared to fill it [ourselves]." [11]

 

Endnotes: 

 

[2] Al-Ghad (Jordan) May 17, 2016.

[3] Al-Ghad (Jordan) May 11, 2016; Al-Sabeel (Jordan) May 11, 2016.

[4] Ammonnews.net, May 16. 2016; Al-Sabeel (Jordan) May 16, 2016.

[5] Lordnews.com, May 10, 2016; Sawaleif.com, May 10, 2016.

[6] Twitter.com/SamirAlRifai/status/730307252977029120, May 11, 2016.

[7] Facebook.Com/Wasfialirawashdeh, May 11, 2016.

[8] Al-Ghad (Jordan) May 12, 2016.

[9] Al-Sabil (Jordan) May 14, 2016.

[10] Al-Ghad (Jordan) May 12, 2016.

[11] Al-Ghad (Jordan) May 18, 2016.