"The situation [in Tafileh] is very calm, settled.... Nothing serious is happening," says Rateb Al Mahasneh, a retired administrator from the Arab Potash Company and lifelong Tafileh resident. "For about two years now, there has been a group of young people demonstrating, and they are only calling for an improvement in the economic situation in Jordan."
Concerns beyond the pocketbook
But in Tafileh, economics and politics are not easily separable.
"It's not just about jobs," insists Ghazi Rbeihat, a prominent figure in the Tafileh protest movement. "This is a deception, when the media presents things in this way."
Mr. Rbeihat and other members of the Tafileh opposition do have economic concerns. The lack of jobs in the area is a problem, particularly the lack of government jobs, which have long been seen as the regime's way of paying back its loyalists.
Tafileh is relatively resource rich, and for years mines and factories producing cement, potash, and phosphate were major economic drivers here. Those industries were originally state-owned, but over the last 20 years they have all been privatized, something local residents say has drastically reduced employment opportunities, effectively cutting off Tafileh's economic lifeline.
Many economists say privatization has made industries more efficient and decreased the government's debts. But most Jordanians see it as fundamentally corrupt, a way for crooked officials and predatory international companies to line their pockets at the expense of Jordan's core industries. Any discussion of Tafileh's economic situation turns inevitably to the issue of state corruption.
"The director of the secret police was a thief," says Baker Quran, who runs a TV and satellite repair shop on Tafileh's main street, referring to Mohammad Dahabi, a former director of General Intelligence who was convicted on charges of corruption and stealing government funds.