"Some people are suckers for that, you know? The economy is bad," says Madian Al Jazeera, the owner of Books@Cafe, a bar and bookstore where business is down as much as 40 percent since the gas price hikes, as Jordanians tighten their budgets. "Look around. No one is smiling. You don’t see the smiles, you see the spite in the street. People are on edge."
The government decision has also raised the hackles of the health ministry and other public health advocates for promoting smoking. The ministry opposed the decision on the grounds that it violated a World Health Organization convention on tobacco control.
Gas prices crowd out politics
The unpopular gas price hikes were adopted at the request of the International Monetary Fund, which made them a condition for the Jordanian government to receive $2 billion in IMF aid to avert an economic collapse.
Jordan is struggling under a budget deficit of about 11 percent of GDP, and more hard times are likely on the way: After the parliamentary election, the new government is expected to raise electricity rates; the cutoff of cheaper Egyptian natural gas in 2011 because of attacks on the Sinai pipeline pushed up costs.
Mohammed Dairi, a parliamentary candidate running in Amman's third district, criticized the cigarette price cut as a bad public health policy but also acknowledged that Jordanians' top concern right now is their pocketbook.
"People don't talk right now about parliament. They talk about the price of gas," he says. "Jordanians want to make sure that they have a job and enough food on the table. They aren't interested in politics."