The longevity of the teachers’ strike suggests that the sentiment is not limited to the public sector, but appears to be awakening a similar sentiment across various social groups. Clearly, it initiated amongst disillusioned teachers demanding the terms of a five-year-old agreement be met. However, given that it has lasted for four weeks, we are beginning to see demands and the potential for similar sentiment across the country. Striking is a new phenomenon for Jordan, but the underlying symptoms are familiar, and, unfortunately, remain mostly unaddressed by public policy.
From the beginning, we have seen the unemployed from different areas coming to Amman to protest in the capital. The alarm bell should have gone off with the potential to evolve into protests and wider demands. While this protest began with the teachers, it would not continue a month later without a wider malaise and frustration that the teachers are voicing. Therefore, it is important not to underestimate the amount found in the society.
Furthermore, there have been serious missteps in managing the crisis. Prior to the public protesting, there was clearly an underestimation of the teachers by making an agreement so long ago without honouring it. When the strikes began as a small group of teachers, there was a complete lack of strategic understanding of the damage that could result in the authority and reputation of a government that cannot even honour a deal with its own workforce, let alone resolve the economic hardship the people are feeling. Allowing the strike to go for so long only made it more complex and costlier to resolve, as there were increasingly more people to assuage.
Decision-makers should revise their strategy based on the socio-political developments, and stop underestimating the psychology behind the movement. There is a serious security concern developing, and we are entering a very delicate phase for the country. This is no longer about the basic demands to have their previous agreement honoured, and it is becoming increasingly politicised. The bulk of the protesters are not from Amman, but represent cities looking for an opportunity to express their frustration with government policies. The failure to deal with the strike has enabled these people to piggyback with their protests and has the potential to further widen the circle of protesters if it is not handled appropriately soon.
The political side of the crisis management is imperative, as economy-based protests require a political solution. The teachers’ strike must serve as a wake-up call for governments and officials. Jordan needs a strategic vision that anticipates problems and offers real political solutions without the mistakes that have become an expected part of the process. We need to open the door for a new reality for Jordan that transforms people’s lives and empowers them to strive to achieve their ambitions.
In his efforts to completely defuse the crisis, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz should seriously think of making changes in key positions and even a reshuffle in his Cabinet to restore credibility and popularity.