Jordan has seen crime increase following a cut in bread subsidies in February of 2018. Among this increase, bank robbery had a very interesting effect on the public at large. It has been a rallying point for activists and ordinary citizens on social media who post that these crimes are motivated by desperation in a stagnating economy. They suggest that when the price of bread doubled after the aforementioned subsidy cut, these robbers had no choice but to steal to feed their families.
The Jordanian economy has always been at the mercy of two big factors. The first is the absence of natural resources like water and oil within their borders. This means that Jordan imports their oil from the open market, often at a high price. The second factor is regional instability. Put simply, when groups like ISIS go up, economies go down. All this culminated in the government choosing to spend a lot to keep things from falling apart. Ironically, this effort led to a huge deficit, which in turn caused them to cut subsidies on certain items, like bread for example, to rein in the spending. Then, when subsidies are gone, poor and middle class citizens become unable to afford basic necessities, thus revealing the motivation for some of the bank robbers.
Al Jazeera’s reporting on these incidents noted that “the robbers were caught within hours or days, either by the police or by bystanders, pointing to the amateurish nature of the criminals.” In one instance, caught on video, the perpetrator did not even try to hide his face. Additionally, Al Jazeera pointed out the way everyday citizens “expressed seeming delight in the robberies on social media, in a reflection of anti-government sentiment.” Those posting on social media feel that the robbers are not filled with malice towards their society, instead, they are responding to governmental mismanagement and corruption.
So far, supporting the bank robbers on social media as a means of protest has not landed anyone in jail. This is not due to lack of precedent; jailing people for their opinions on social media is not a new phenomenon in the kingdom. With that said, when the Arab Spring arrived in Jordan in 2011 their monarch, King Abdullah II, was receptive to many of the demands of the protestors. In some ways, his promises were implemented, such as the bread subsidies, but due to a lackluster response to corruption and financial belt-tightening, the issues from eight years ago remain problems today. But no one can say he won’t listen when the time is right.
To achieve a better, prosperous future for themselves and their families, some Jordanians have chosen to rob banks. To achieve a better, prosperous future for their country, other Jordanians have chosen to peacefully vilify the failed government policies through social media by diagnosing these bank robberies as a symptom of the larger dysfunctional disease. It is difficult to say that one of these two groups is more justified in their actions than the other. Today, robbing banks is illegal, and therefore the robbers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Tomorrow, criticizing the government on social media may become completely illegal. Hopefully, the critics’ efforts lead to genuine reform before they are sharing the same cell.