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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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maxwel   June 20th, 2012 1:23 am ET

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Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

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