Inside the Middle East
June 18, 2012
Posted: 1040 GMT

A general view of Rainbow Street at night in Amman on May 6, 2012. Rainbow Street in Amman's heart is abuzz again after posh 1920s-era homes were turned into restaurants, galleries and libraries, drawing hipsters, bohemians, intellectuals and hordes of tourists. (KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/GettyImages)

Walking down Rainbow Street in Amman on Friday night, I was thrilled by the positive vibes around the arty cafes and restaurants. Young Jordanians  strolled along the street, where beautiful old houses give the whole area a magical feel. Traffic clogged the area and I had to take a long walk to get to a restaurant where friends were waiting.

In February of 2011, I covered protests in Amman just as the popular uprisings erupted across the Arab world. They were nowhere near as frequent or as large as the protests in Cairo or Tunis, but on this same street I had met young Jordanians complaining about unemployment and a lack of opportunities.

Now the restaurants and cafes were buzzing with young and old. "La vie en rose in Amman", I told myself. Had things changed so much in a year?

A few minutes later I was sitting down to dinner with – among others – a minister in the current government and a businessman. And my rosy impression quickly dissipated. A heated discussion about Jordan's financial crisis dominated our conversation, during which I got a glimpse of the challenges that Jordan's 7 million people face.

The newly appointed Jordanian government decided on Tuesday to raise the price of 90-octane gasoline from JD0.62 to JD0.70 per Litre. Earlier this month, the government introduced new electricity tariffs, raising rates as high as 150 per cent across several sectors, and raised 95-octane fuel prices by 25 per cent.

"These are tough and unpopular decisions that must be taken or else the country will drown in an unprecedented financial crisis", the minister admitted. He agreed to be quoted on background.

One former minister also at the dinner added: "Jordan has been suffering from ongoing cuts in Egyptian gas supplies which escalated the issue of power supply. Add to this the influx of Syrian refugees, before that the Libyan refugees that Jordan was never compensated for. On top of all of this, the price of fuel is skyrocketing worldwide. Not to mention that if our Saudi friends don't send us some financial aid, the Jordanian government may not have enough money to pay salaries soon."

Last year, Saudi Arabia injected $1.4 billion in cash in an attempt to help its much poorer neighbor.  But this year no Saudi aid has yet arrived in Jordan, according to some officials here.

And while there may be an air of prosperity among the young elite on Rainbow Street, there's plenty of discontent elsewhere. That same day some 2,000 Jordanians braved the intense midday heat to take to the streets demanding reform and action and against widespread corruption.  The current government – just the latest in a series over the last two years – is only a few weeks old, but already under pressure.

These are the same demands I heard a year ago. Yet this time, the crisis is bigger than Jordan. With a 15-month uprising in Syria, a politically unstable Egypt and little help coming from rich Gulf countries, Jordan's economy is ailing.

More than ever, Jordan needs its summer tourist season to be a good one.

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Filed under: Jordan

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January 16, 2011
Posted: 640 GMT

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) - Even while under curfew following the ouster of their long-serving authoritarian leader, Tunisians on Saturday experienced newfound freedoms online as their acting president promised a "new phase" for his embattled land.

Filters on websites like Facebook and YouTube, put in place under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were dropped and Internet speed picked up considerably - a development that followed the new government's vow to ease restrictions on freedoms.

In addition, three Tunisian journalists - including two bloggers critical of Ben Ali - have been freed from jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Saturday.

These developments come as Fouad Mebazaa was sworn in as the country's acting leader on Saturday, after Ben Ali and his family took refuge in Saudi Arabia following days of angry street protests against the government.

Speaking on national TV, Mebazaa, who had been the country's parliamentary speaker, promised to ensure the nation's "stability," respect its constitution and "pursue the best interest of the nation."

"Citizens, sons and daughters of our country of Tunis, in this important and urgent moment in the history of our beloved country, I appeal to all of you of various political parties, and nationalist organizations, and all civil society organizations to fight for the national interest and to respect the army's command and the national security in security matters, and to preserve private and public property and to bring the return of peace and security in the hearts of the citizens," he said. Full story...

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Filed under: Protests •Tunisia

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