The history section of this article is primarily concerned with the region E of the Jordan River; for the history of the area to the west, see Palestine.Early History to Independence
The region of present-day Jordan roughly corresponds to the biblical lands of Ammon, Bashan, Edom, and Moab. The area was conquered by the Seleucids in the 4th cent. B.C. and was part of the Nabatean empire, whose capital was Petra, from the 1st cent. B.C. to the mid-1st cent. A.D., when it was captured by the Romans under Pompey. In the period between the 6th and 7th cent. it was the scene of considerable fighting between the Byzantine Empire and Persia. In the early 7th cent. the region was invaded by the Muslim Arabs, and after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, it became part of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1516 the Ottoman Turks gained control of what is now Jordan, and it remained part of the Ottoman Empire until the 20th cent.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the region came under (1919) the government of Faisal I, centered at Damascus. When Faisal was ejected by French troops in July, 1920, Transjordan (as Jordan was then known) was made (1920) part of the British League of Nations mandate of Palestine. In 1921, Abdullah I (Abdullah ibn Husayn), a member of the Hashemite dynasty and the brother of Faisal, was made emir of Transjordan, which was administered separately from Palestine and was specifically exempted from being part of a Jewish national home. A Jordanian army, called the Arab Legion, was created by the British, largely through the work of Sir John Bagot Glubb.
In a treaty signed with Great Britain in 1928, Transjordan became a constitutional state ruled by a king, to be hereditary in the family of Abdullah I, who was placed on the throne by the British. The country supported the Allies in World War II, and, by a treaty with Great Britain signed in 1946, it became (May 25) independent as the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan.
By an agreement signed in 1948, Britain guaranteed Transjordan an annual military subsidy. Abdullah opposed Zionist aims, and when Palestine was partitioned and the state of Israel was established in 1948, Transjordan, like other members of the Arab League, sent forces to fight Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars). The troops of the Arab Legion gained control of most of that part of W central Palestine that the United Nations had designated as Arab territory. In Apr., 1949, the country's name was changed to Jordan, thus reflecting its acquisition of land W of the Jordan River. In Dec., 1949, Jordan concluded an armistice with Israel, and early in 1950 it formally annexed the West Bank, a move that was deeply resented by other Arab states, which favored the establishment of an independent state of Palestine. The annexation of the West Bank increased Jordan's population by about 450,000 persons, many of them homeless refugees from Israel.
In 1951, Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem by a Palestinian and was succeeded the following year by his grandson Hussein I. After a series of anti-Western riots in Jordan, Hussein early in 1956 dismissed Glubb as commander of the Arab Legion, and following the Suez crisis later in the year he ended Jordan's treaty relationship with Great Britain. A leftist coup attempt in 1957 led to the suspension of Jordan's parliament for four years. In Feb., 1958, Jordan and Iraq formed the Arab Federation as a countermove to the newly formed United Arab Republic (UAR), but Hussein dissolved it in August, following the coup in Iraq that toppled the monarchy.
At the same time, the UAR called for the overthrow of the governments in Jordan and Lebanon. At the request of the Jordanian government, Britain sent troops to Jordan; tensions were soon reduced and by Nov., 1958, the troops had been withdrawn. For the next few years Jordan remained on poor terms with Iraq and the UAR. In 1961, Hussein was among the first to recognize Syria after it withdrew from the UAR. Following the establishment in 1963 of a revolutionary Jordanian government-in-exile in Damascus, a state of emergency was declared in Jordan. The crisis ended only after the United States and Great Britain announced their support of Hussein and the U.S. 6th Fleet was placed on alert.
In the mid-1960s, Jordanian politics were calm, Jordan's economy expanded as international trade increased, and Jordan was on good terms with Egypt. Following Egypt's declaration in 1967 of a blockade of Israeli shipping in the Gulf of Aqaba, Hussein signed a mutual defense pact with Egypt. Despite Israeli attempts to urge Jordan to abstain from battle, the two nations became embroiled in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. As a result of the war, Israel captured and occupied the West Bank—the previously Jordanian territory located W of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Subsequently, Jordan was under martial law until the early 1990s.
A large number of Palestinian refugees fled to Jordan during and after the war, and soon there was growing hostility between the Jordanian government and the Palestinian guerrilla organizations operating in Jordan. The guerrillas sought to establish an independent Palestinian state, a goal that conflicted with Hussein's intention of reestablishing Jordan's control over the West Bank. There was major fighting between the guerrillas and the Jordanian army in Nov., 1968; in Sept., 1970, the country was engulfed in a bloody 10-day civil war, which ended when other Arab countries (especially Egypt) arranged a cease-fire. The Palestinians suffered heavy casualties, and many of them fled to Lebanon and Syria, which shifted the locus of the Palestinian refugee problem. In July, 1971, the army carried out a successful offensive that destroyed the remaining guerrilla bases in Jordan. In Nov., 1971, Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tal was assassinated in Cairo by members of the "Black September" Palestinian guerrilla organization, which took its name from the month of the civil war in Jordan.
In 1972, Hussein proposed the creation of a United Arab Kingdom that would include the West Bank with the rest of Jordan. Predicated on Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, the proposal was rejected by the other Arab states as well as Israel. Hussein survived an assassination attempt by a Palestinian in Dec., 1972. Jordan played a minor role in the Arab-Israeli War of Oct., 1973, sending a small number of troops to fight on the Syrian front. In 1974, Hussein complied with the Arab League's ruling that the PLO (see Palestine Liberation Organization) was to be the single legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
Jordan moved closer to Syria in the late 1970s and, along with other Arab countries, opposed the Camp David accords and the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty (1979). Jordan sided with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, despite Syrian threats, and sent large amounts of war materials to Iraq. In 1988, Hussein formally relinquished claim to the West Bank in acknowledgment of Palestinian sovereignty. He approved the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, and Arabs residing in that area lost their Jordanian citizenship. Parliamentary elections were held in 1989 for the first time in 22 years.
Plagued by serious economic problems since the mid-1980s, Jordan received increased economic aid from the United States in 1990. However, the outbreak (1991) of the Persian Gulf War led to a repeal of U.S. aid to Jordan due to Hussein's support of Iraq (Jordan's major source of oil). Jordan also suffered a loss of aid from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the war. The country endured further economic hardship when approximately 700,000 Jordanian workers and refugees returned to Jordan as a result of the fighting in the Persian Gulf, causing housing and employment shortages. Not until 2001 did an accord again permit Jordanians to work in Kuwait.
Peace talks between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation began in Aug., 1991. In 1994 a peace agreement between Jordan and Israel ended the official state of war between the two nations, and Hussein went on to encourage peace negotiations between other Arab states and Israel. In 1993 political parties were again permitted to field candidates, resulting in Jordan's first multiparty elections in 37 years. The country's economy continued to decline, however, and the government became less tolerant of dissent. Laws restricting freedom of the press were instituted in 1997, and that same year Islamic parties boycotted the legislative elections, claiming they were unfair.
Hussein died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son, Abdullah II, who pledged to work toward a more open government and to ease restrictions on public expression. Although there was some progress in terms of economic development, the country continued to be dependent on tourism, which was hurt by its location between Israel and Iraq. Political liberalization was slow in coming. In 2001 parliament's term expired without new elections being called; they were postponed out of fear that popular sympathy for the Palestinians in their renewed conflict with Israel would lead to a victory for the Islamic parties.
The June, 2003, parliamentary elections resulted in a majority for the king's supporters; Islamists won 18 seats. In Apr., 2006, Jordan accused Hamas of planning attacks against targets in Jordan, saying that it had detained militants and seized weapons that had come in from Syria. The Nov., 2007, parliamentary elections resulted in sharp losses for the Islamists, who accused the government of fraud. The parliament was largely seen as ineffective, and two years later the king dissolved parliament and ordered preparations for a new election. The main Islamic opposition group boycotted the Nov., 2010, elections, which gave the king's supporters a parliamentary majority.
The proreform demonstrations that affected many Arab nations in early 2011 also occurred in Jordan, though they were generally smaller and more moderate than in other countries. The king made promises of reform, and in February appointed a new government that included some opposition figures, but antigovernment protests continued in subsequent weeks. In June the king announced plans for significant political and economic changes, but did not specify a timetable. He subsequently (October) appointed yet another new government to undertake political reforms, but criticism of its proposed election law reforms led to a new government in May, 2012.
In Oct., 2012, the king dissolved parliament. Early elections, held in Jan., 2013, were boycotted by Islamists and other opposition groups because of their objections to the reforms, which they criticized for favoring rural and tribal constituencies. In 2012 Jordan saw a dramatic increase in the number of Syrians who fled there to escape the civil war in their country; in early 2013 more than 300,000 Syrian refugees were in Jordan.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Jordanian Political Geography