Country Listing

Jordan Table of Contents




Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of Jordan, 1989

THE PRESENT KINGDOM of Jordan has had a separate existence for almost seventy years, from the time of the creation in 1921 of the Amirate of Transjordan under Abdullah of the Hashimite (also seen as Hashemite) family, the grandfather of King Hussein. To form Transjordan, the Palestine Mandate was subdivided along the Jordan River-Gulf of Aqaba line. At its creation, Jordan was an artificial entity because inhabitants of northern Jordan have traditionally associated with Syria, those of southern Jordan have associated with the Arabian Peninsula, and those of western Jordan have identified with Palestinians in the West Bank (see Glossary). Moreover, the area that constituted Jordan in 1990 has served historically as a buffer zone between tribes living to the west of the Jordan River as far as the Mediterranean Sea and those roaming the desert to the east of the Jordan River. Over the centuries, the area has formed part of various empires; among these are the Assyrian, Achaemenid, Macedonian, Nabataean, Ptolemaic, Roman, Ghassanid, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman empires.

Transjordan's creation reflected in large measure a compromise settlement by the Allied Powers after World War I that attempted to reconcile Zionist and Arab aspirations in the area. Britain assumed a mandate over Palestine and Iraq, while France became the mandatory power for Syria and Lebanon. In a British government memorandum of 1922, approved by the League of Nations Council, Jewish settlement in Transjordan was specifically excluded.

As Transjordan moved toward nationhood, Britain gradually relinquished control, limiting its oversight to financial and foreign policy matters. In March 1946, under the Treaty of London, Transjordan became a kingdom and a new constitution replaced the 1928 Organic Law. Britain continued to subsidize the Arab Legion, a military force established in 1923. In the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Arab Legion gained control for Transjordan of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The war added about 450,000 Palestinian Arab refugees as well as approximately 450,000 West Bank Arabs to the roughly 340,000 East Bank (see Glossary) Arabs in Jordan. In December 1948, Abdullah took the title King of Jordan, and he officially changed the country's name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in April 1949. The following year he annexed the West Bank.

Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem in July 1951. Abdullah's son, Talal, who was in ill health, briefly succeeded to the throne before being obliged to abdicate in favor of his son, Hussein, in 1952. Hussein, who had been studying in Britain, could not legally be crowned until he was eighteen; in the interim he attended the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and returned to Jordan in 1953 to become king.

The survival of Hussein as king of Jordan represents one of the longest rules in the Arab world, thirty-seven years. Hussein's survival has entailed a keen sense of what is politically possible; moving cautiously and seeking to build consensus, he has exercised skillful diplomacy, both domestically and regionally. For Hussein survival has involved achieving a balance between more liberal Palestinians and more traditionally oriented Transjordanians, particularly the loyal beduin tribes of the East Bank, as well as negotiating a place for Jordan among the Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq, the Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdul Nasser and Egypt's successor governments, and the conservative rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. Moreover, Jordan has the longest border with Israel of any Arab state. Although Jordan has never signed a peace treaty with Israel, having lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel in the June 1967 War, Hussein nevertheless achieved an unofficial working relationship with Israel concerning the West Bank.

Despite Hussein's preference for cautious consensus, he is capable of decisive action when the maintenance of Hashimite rule is threatened. He took such action in connection with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrilla groups (fedayeen) in Jordan, based in the refugee camps, who became almost a state within a state. Intermittent fighting occurred from 1967 onward, with Israel engaging in reprisal raids against Jordan for fedayeen operations launched from Jordan, and the fedayeen increasingly directing their efforts against the Jordanian government rather than against Israel. Ultimately, in September 1970 a civil war broke out, martial law was reaffirmed, and as many as 3,500 persons are thought to have died. Despite various cease-fire agreements, sporadic fighting continued through July 1971, when the Jordanian government ordered the fedayeen either to leave Jordan or to assume civilian status. Isolated by the other Arab states because of its repression of the fedayeen, Jordan gradually had to repair relations with those countries because they constituted the major source of its financial aid.

In the process of maintaining Jordan's tenuous position in the region, Hussein's basic orientation has been pro-Western; he has sought economic and military assistance from the United States and Britain in particular. When arms purchases were blocked by the United States Congress, however, he did not hesitate to buy weapons from the Soviet Union. Regionally, following the Arab world's boycott of Egypt as a result of Anwar as Sadat's signing the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978, Hussein sought a more significant leadership role. Fearful of Syria, which had intervened in Jordan in 1970, and apprehensive over the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution's destabilizing influence on the area, Hussein strongly supported Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and established friendly relations with Iraqi president Saddam Husayn.

Hussein's precarious balancing act has resulted, to a significant degree, from Jordan's disparate population. According to unofficial estimates (the government does not provide a breakdown of statistics on East Bank and West Bank inhabitants), from 55 to 60 percent of Jordan's population is Palestinian. Moreover, in contrast to the strong rural element in Jordan's early history, according to the World Bank (see Glossary) in the late 1980s about 70 percent of the population was urban, one-third of the total residing in the capital of Amman (see fig. 1). Tribal relations characterized pre-1948 Transjordan, extending to village dwellers and many in the cities as well as rural areas. Such relations hindered the assimilation of West Bank Palestinians, who by the 1980s had established substantial economic and cultural influence in Jordan and who tended to be more liberal regarding the role of women. The government sought to minimize distinctions between people from the East Bank and those from the West Bank in large part by upgrading education; in 1989 Jordan had the highest number of students per capita of any country except the United States. A societal problem Jordan faced, however, was the disrespect for technical education and manual labor as opposed to academic education. Despite this difficulty, Jordan regarded its educated work force as its major economic asset. Having such a work force enabled Jordan to provide skilled and professional workers to other Arab states, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, and worker remittances were a leading source of gross national product (GNP--see Glossary). In 1988 such remittances exceeded US$1 billion.

Jordan's relatively small population of fewer than 3 million persons in 1987 resulted in a limited domestic market unable to achieve economies of scale; thus, Jordan needed to develop export markets. Apart from its labor force, which the government actively encouraged to seek work abroad in view of scanty domestic employment opportunities, Jordan's principal natural resource consisted of phosphates--it was the world's third largest phosphates producer--and potash. It also was actively engaged in a search for oil and gas; small amounts of both had been discovered. These extractive industries, however, required large capital investments beyond the capability of Jordan's private sector. In consequence, the government not only played the key role in development planning but also became a major economic participant, ultimately sharing in forty semipublic companies, contrary to its avowed advocacy of free enterprise. In addition, Jordan benefited from the Civil War in Lebanon that began in 1975 and the war's troubled aftermath, which heightened Jordan's role as a provider of banking, insurance, and professional services formerly supplied by Lebanon.

Jordan's long-term plans called for economic self-sufficiency, and the king's brother, Crown Prince Hasan, and the Jordan Technology Group that he founded in 1988 were key elements in Jordan's economic endeavors. The surface prosperity of the early 1980s, however, was ended by the downturn of oil prices in the late 1980s, the resulting return home from the Persian Gulf of thousands of Jordanian workers, the decrease in Arab subsidies to Jordan (from more than US$1 billion in 1981 to about US$400 million in 1990), and Jordan's increasing debt (estimated in early 1990 at between US$6 and US$8 billion). Austerity was reflected in the 1988-89 devaluation of the dinar (for value of the dinar--see Glossary) by more than 40 percent to counter the black market, the freezing of the exchange rate, and increased import duties on luxury goods. These measures, combined with the reduction of subsidies on many basic commodities to comply with International Monetary Fund (IMF--see Glossary) requirements led to riots by East Bankers and beduins in several towns in late 1989. Jordan had been obliged to reduce subsidies as part of an economic stabilization program so as to qualify for a US$79.3 million IMF credit. IMF loan endorsement was a precondition for Jordan's rescheduling payment on many of its outstanding loans and obtaining new loans of more than US$300 million from the World Bank, Japan, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Furthermore, Jordan was sharply affected by the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988; during the war, because of its good transportation facilities, especially between the port of Al Aqabah and Amman, Jordan served as the primary transshipment point for goods destined for Iraq.

The development of service industries, of industries involving import substitution, and of export industries, such as industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals that required technical expertise, was an economic necessity for Jordan because its agricultural potential was very limited--the greater part of the country is desert. Moreover, Jordan was facing a water shortage in the near future. With a population estimated to be growing by at least 3.6 percent per year, plus expanded industrial use of water, some experts estimated that the demand for water could outstrip supply by the early 1990s. Jordan's attempt to stimulate exports was a major factor in its formation in early 1989 of the Arab Cooperation Council, consisting of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen), with headquarters in Amman. This regional arrangement, however, promised relatively little economic advantage because the participants tended to produce similar goods. In spite of all of its efforts, Jordan continued to rely heavily on foreign aid, which in the 1980s constituted between 30 and 40 percent annually of government revenue before borrowing.

Economic reasons thus shaped not only Jordan's domestic development and employment policies--the government was the largest single employer, accounting for more than 40 percent of the work force--but also its foreign policy because of Jordan's dependence on foreign aid. Although Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, the king has extensive legal powers that allow him to shape policy by appointing the prime minister, other cabinet ministers, and the thirty-member Senate, as well as by dismissing the National Assembly (composed of the Senate and the eighty-member House of Representatives) and ruling by decree if he sees fit. Traditionally, prime ministers have come from East Bank families loyal to the Hashimites. The House of Representatives originally had equal representation from both the East Bank and the West Bank; prior to the elections of November 1989, no general election had been held for more than twenty-two years (since the June 1967 War) in view of the impossibility of elections in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Experts believe that a major reason for holding the 1989 elections was to defuse discontent, reflected in the 1989 riots, among beduins and East Bankers traditionally loyal to the crown.

Although martial law remained in effect, the 1989 elections were free, the king having released all political prisoners in a general amnesty in the first half of 1989. Elections were preceded by considerable press criticism of government policies and active campaigning by 647 candidates. Among the criticisms was that of disproportionate representation: electoral districts were so drawn as to give greater weight to rural areas at the expense of cities. Political parties had been banned since 1957 so candidates ran with only informal affiliations. To the government's chagrin, twenty Muslim Brotherhood adherents, fourteen Islamists with other affiliations, and ten secular antigovernment candidates were elected, leaving progovernment representatives in the minority. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood was not surprising because it was the only organized quasi-political organ participating in the elections and because the PLO intentionally remained on the sidelines. The Muslim Brotherhood appealed to the poor particularly and advocated jihad, or holy war, against Israel to liberate the West Bank. Many observers believed that the Muslim Brotherhood garnered protest votes primarily and that genuine Brotherhood sympathizers were relatively few. It should be noted, however, that Jordan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. More than 90 percent of the population are Sunni (see Glossary) Muslims; there are some Shishans who are Shia (see Glossary) Muslims; and the remainder of the population is made up of a small number of Christians of various sects, Druzes, and Bahais.

In November 1989, the king named as prime minister Mudar Badran, considered to have better Islamic links than his predecessor, Zaid ibn Shakir. Badran succeeded in forming a cabinet that included two independent Islamists and two leftist nationalists from the Democratic Bloc, a new informal political group, but he was obliged to make some concessions to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as bringing Jordanian law closer to Islamic sharia law. A major task facing the new government is the drawing up of the National Charter (Mithaq al Watani), a statement of principles to guide the country's political system. This charter is to be devised by sixty representatives of various political persuasions appointed by the king in May 1990. The charter is expected to stress popular loyalty to the monarchy and to limit the existence of political parties controlled by external influences, such as the Communist Party of Jordan.

Because of Jordan's large Palestinian population, a major aspect of its external relations concerns its dealings with the PLO. Following the 1970-71 civil war, relations between Jordan and the PLO were strained, but in 1975 Hussein and PLO chief Yasser Arafat agreed to end recriminations. The king, however, refused to allow the PLO to reestablish a military or political presence in Jordan. Jordan was formally linked to the peace process as a result of the signature of the 1978 Camp David Accords, and a number of meetings occurred between Hussein and Arafat. When the PLO was expelled from Lebanon in 1982, Hussein relaxed his restrictions and allowed some PLO presence in Jordan. The Palestine National Council met in Amman in November 1984, strengthening Arafat's position with the more moderate PLO elements.

Cooperation between Hussein and Arafat continued with the signing in February 1985 of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian agreement on a peace framework. By terms of the agreement, the PLO would represent Palestinians but be part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation at an international peace conference. Hussein, who has long supported United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 242 setting forth terms for a Middle East settlement, sought to persuade Arafat to endorse publicly both UN resolutions 242 and 338, which implicitly recognize Israel's right to exist. Arafat's failure to do so eroded their relationship, and Hussein ended the Jordanian-PLO agreement in February 1986. Both Hussein and Arafat vied for influence in the West Bank in 1986 and 1987, but the intifadah, or Palestinian uprising, which began in December 1987, showed the tenuous nature of West Bank support for Hussein. As a result of this weak support and the resolutions of the June 1988 Arab summit conference in Algiers that provided funds to support West Bank Palestinians through the PLO, in July 1988 Hussein formally abandoned Jordan's claim to the West Bank.

Jordan has stressed its support of the Arab cause in general, and its relations with most of the Arab states have been cordial, particularly relations with Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Hussein had advocated Egypt's reintegration into the Arab family of nations as early as 1981--Egypt was expelled from the League of Arab States (Arab League) in 1978, following the Camp David Accords. Jordan was one of the first Arab states to reestablish diplomatic relations with Egypt, doing so in 1984; after this date, relations between Hussein and Egyptian president Husni Mubarak became close. A friendly relationship with Iraq had arisen out of Jordan's support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also having hereditary royal families, were the major contributors of financial aid to Jordan, in accordance with resolutions reached at Arab summit conferences. (At the Arab summit conference held in Baghdad in late May 1990, Hussein obtained renewed commitments of financial support for Jordan from various participants.) Jordan's relations with Syria were correct but distant. Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya in June 1990, relations remained somewhat tense because of Libyan support of anti-Hussein Palestinian guerrilla groups since 1970.

Potential threats to Jordan's external and internal security led to Jordan's devoting approximately 30 percent of government spending to national security. In view of his military training and qualification as a jet pilot, Hussein took a keen personal interest in Jordan's armed forces, both as regards top military appointments and matériel purchases. Because of Jordan's military tradition, dating back to the establishment of the Arab Legion in 1923, in 1990 the Jordanian Arab Army was a well-trained and disciplined force with impressive firepower although it had not seen battle since 1971. Historically, Israel has been seen as Jordan's primary threat. Since the latter half of 1989, Hussein has stressed repeatedly the danger to the stability of the area, particularly to the West Bank and to Jordan, of the influx of thousands of Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel.

In principle, two-year military service was compulsory for Jordanian males, but the number called up annually was limited by economic considerations and potential inductees could postpone service to complete higher education. Jordan also provided qualified military personnel to a number of other Arab states, especially those of the Arabian Peninsula, and trained their nationals in Jordanian military institutions.

Jordan's internal security forces, which like the military dated back to the Arab Legion, operated under constitutional legal restraints. The Public Security Force, the national police, came under the Ministry of Interior and was traditionally commanded by a senior army general. Other than maintaining law and order, the police and the General Intelligence Department monitored potentially disruptive elements in the population, such as left- wing factions and right-wing Muslim extremists.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990 found Jordan itself in a difficult situation, hard pressed both economically and politically. The enforcement of austerity measures in accordance with IMF loan requirements had improved Jordan's balance of payments position, but because of the decrease in the transit trade across Jordan to Iraq after the Iran-Iraq War ended and the return of Jordanian workers from the Persian Gulf states resulting from the downturn of oil prices, Jordanian unemployment had increased to between 15 and 20 percent. Economic austerity measures had widened the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" and had caused discontent among elements of the population traditionally loyal to the monarchy: the beduins and the East Bankers.

To some extent, the discontent had been countered by the opportunity for political expression reflected in the November 1989 elections and by the king's ability to devote more time to East Bank problems following his giving up claim to the West Bank. The latter action minimized to some degree the competing nationalisms of Jordanians and Palestinians. The election results, however, indicated a marked degree of dissatisfaction with the government. This dissatisfaction was seen in the growing criticism of corruption among government officials and the demand for trials of those involved. There was also resentment that martial law as well as limitations to press freedom remained in force. Members of the middle class particularly seemed to have gained an awareness that the liberties they enjoyed were based primarily on the king's benevolence rather than on acknowledged democratic rights and a system of checks and balances on what appeared to be increasingly centralized authority. The urban majority of the population considered themselves underrepresented in the National Assembly, and the conservative religious elements felt that little had been done to make existing legislation conform with Islam. The victories of the left in elections of professional associations and trade unions in late 1989 and early 1990 indicated the growing public role of the left.

Organized political parties began to come into existence after the November 1989 elections. One of the first political entities to be formed, in July 1990, was a leftist grouping, the Arab Jordanian Nationalist Democratic Bloc (AJNDB), composed of Marxists, pan-Arab nationalists, and independent leftists. In August the Democratic Unity and Justice Party was formed, advocating the "liberation of occupied Palestinian Arab territory" by force and a strong role for government in a free economy. In contrast to these leftist inclined groups, in October the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists announced the formation of the Arab Islamic Coalition. The Jordanian Democratic Unity Party, an offshoot of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a member of the overall PLO organization, came into being in November. Thus, it was not surprising that in early January 1991, responding to these political realities, Prime Minister Badran announced that five Muslim Brotherhood members and two AJNDB members were being incorporated into the cabinet. The king also announced his approval in early January of the National Charter that endorsed constitutional rule, political pluralism, and the legalization of political parties.

Regionally, Jordan found itself between Scylla and Charybdis. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the United States response in sending forces to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf and encouraging UN economic sanctions against Iraq put Jordan in a quandary. In accordance with the UN resolution, it closed the port of Al Aqabah to Iraq, and Hussein announced that Jordan refused to recognize Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. But Jordan expressed reservations concerning the Arab League resolution to endorse the sending of an Arab force to Saudi Arabia.

Hussein saw his role as that of an active mediator between Saddam Husayn and both the other Arab states and the West. Between August 1990 and late January 1991, the king held countless meetings with Western and Arab world leaders, including President Bush in mid-August. Initially, Hussein sought to promote an "Arab solution" to the Gulf crisis. Disappointed at the failure of this effort, he pursued an "Islamic solution" involving Islamic states outside the Arab world, and after the war began on January 16 he strove to end the conflict. This policy resulted from a number of factors. The king shared the view of the majority Palestinian element of Jordan's population that the West, led by the United States, was using a double standard in denouncing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to the point that it was willing to go to war, while ignoring Palestinian grievances over Israel's occupation policies in the West Bank. This stance made the king popular with Palestinians, as did permission for the September holding of a pro-Iraqi conference by Jordanians and representatives of several major PLO groups, sponsored by the AJNDB. Yasser Arafat's August endorsement of Saddam Husayn had, however, created a rift in the PLO as well as cut off Saudi financial assistance to the PLO. Hussein also had a longstanding fear that Israel planned to make Jordan the substitute Palestinian state--this aim had been stated on numerous occasions by prominent members of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's Likud Bloc- -thus leading to the downfall of the Hashimite monarchy. The Gulf crisis was seen as a focus that would divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian question and allow Israel greater latitude to pursue such a course of action. Both of these elements were reflected in the king's request to Jordanian parliamentarians in August to refer to him as "sharif" Hussein, demonstrating the king's view that the Gulf crisis represented a conflict between the Arab sovereignty and foreign domination similar to the situation that his greatgrandfather, Sharif Hussein of Mecca, faced at British hands in 1925.

Perhaps the most important reason for the king's seeking to reconcile the conflict was the economic consequence to Jordan of the crisis and the subsequent war. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait created a stream of refugees, primarily Arab and Asian expatriate workers and their dependents, who had been living in Iraq and Kuwait. These persons entered Jordan at the rate of more than 10,000 per day, a total of more than 500,000 as of late September; they required food and shelter before most could be repatriated. This influx further strained Jordan's economy, in part because promised Western financial contributions to help defer costs of the humanitarian enterprise were slow in arriving. For example, Jordan was obliged to ration subsidized foods such as rice, sugar, and powdered milk at the beginning of September. Meanwhile, the boycott of Iraq had a major impact on Jordan because Iraq had been Jordan's principal export market and its major source of cheap oil (providing almost 90 percent of Jordan's oil), whereas Kuwait had been Jordan's second largest market.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, which had provided substantial economic support to Jordan in the past, was so angered over Jordan's failure to back it in its dispute with Iraq that it cut off oil exports to Jordan on September 20 and shortly afterward expelled twenty Jordanian diplomats. In turn, in early October Jordan closed its borders to trucks bound for Saudi Arabia and instituted fuel austerity conservation measures. The crisis also resulted in a dramatic drop in tourism income, a major component of Jordan's GDP. The situation caused Minister of Finance Basil Jardanah in the latter half of September to estimate that Jordan would lose US$2.1 billion the first year of the boycott and would need US$1.5 billion (by January this figure had been revised to US$2 billion) in aid to avoid economic collapse. He made a strong plea for financial aid to the UN and the West in general; various Western nations and Japan promised loans.

In early January, reflecting Jordan's concern over being caught between Iraq and Israel and the tension prevailing, Jordan mobilized its armed forces and transferred a number of troops from the east to the Jordan Valley, indicating that it considered the threat from Israel to be the more serious. As the deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait came on January 15, Jordan announced that it would protect its land and air borders against external aggression.

Whatever the final outcome of the crisis resulting from Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, Middle East alignments have changed appreciably, and the fiction of Arab unity has been destroyed. Jordan's position in the midst of this regional dilemma has been rendered more precarious than it has been for many years.

January 29, 1991
Helen Chapin Metz

Data as of December 1989

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