AMMAN – Jordanian security forces dispersed dozens of teachers trying to reach the seat of government on Wednesday to protest at the arrest of their union leaders and the closure of its offices across the country.
The government raided the union’s offices on Saturday and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent.
The 100,000-strong union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country’s history.
The security forces mounted a huge operation to deter the protesters, with thousands of officers stationed across central Amman in one of the biggest such deployments in years, witnesses said.
Nonetheless, dozens of teachers chanted slogans calling for the resignation of the government before they were repelled from the cordoned off area in a square that has long been a focus for demonstrations.
Political opposition is often marginalised in Jordan, but protests have grown in recent years over the erosion of living standards, corruption and slow pace of political reforms.
The prosecutor general has charged the deputy leader of the union, Nasser Nawsreh, with incitement along with charges related to allegations of financial and administrative wrongdoing for other union activists. Judicial authorities have also put a gag order on local media coverage.
Some officials have also accused union leaders of harbouring the Islamist opposition’s political agenda. The union says this accusation is part of a government smear campaign.
The union has also accused the government of failing to honour a deal signed last October that ended the strike.
The deal included a 50% pay rise this year, which the government now says is unaffordable because of the economic blow from the coronavirus crisis.
Opposition politicians say the government has been using emergency laws enacted in March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights.