The Middle East kingdom of Jordan is bordered on the west by Israel and the Dead Sea, on the north by Syria, on the east by Iraq, and on the south by Saudi Arabia. It is comparable in size to Indiana. Arid hills and mountains make up most of the country. The southern section of the Jordan River flows through the country.
Constitutional hereditary monarchy.
In biblical times, the country that is now Jordan contained the lands of Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Bashan. Together with other Middle Eastern territories, Jordan passed in turn to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and, about 330 B.C., the Seleucids. Conflict between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies enabled the Arabic-speaking Nabataeans to create a kingdom in southeast Jordan. In A.D. 106 it became part of the Roman province of Arabia and in 633–636 was conquered by the Arabs. In the 16th century, Jordan submitted to Ottoman Turkish rule and was administered from Damascus. Taken from the Turks by the British in World War I, Jordan (formerly known as Transjordan) was separated from the Palestine mandate in 1920, and in 1921, placed under the rule of Abdullah ibn Hussein.
In 1923, Britain recognized Jordan's independence, subject to the mandate. In 1946, grateful for Jordan's loyalty in World War II, Britain abolished the mandate. That part of Palestine occupied by Jordanian troops was formally incorporated by action of the Jordanian parliament in 1950. King Abdullah was assassinated in 1951. His son Talal, who was mentally ill, was deposed the next year. Talal's son Hussein, born on Nov. 14, 1935, succeeded him.
King Hussein Confronts Challenge from Palestinians
From the beginning of his reign, Hussein had to steer a careful course between his powerful neighbor to the west, Israel, and rising Arab nationalism, frequently a direct threat to his throne. Riots erupted when he joined the Central Treaty Organization (the Baghdad Pact) in 1955, and he incurred further unpopularity when Britain, France, and Israel attacked the Suez Canal in 1956, forcing him to place his army under nominal command of the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria. The 1961 breakup of the UAR eased Arab national pressure on Hussein, who was the first to recognize Syria after it reclaimed its independence. Jordan was swept into the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, however, and lost East Jerusalem and all of its territory west of the Jordan River, the West Bank. Embittered Palestinian guerrilla forces virtually took over sections of Jordan in the aftermath of defeat, and open warfare broke out between the Palestinians and government forces in 1970.
Despite intervention of Syrian tanks, Hussein's Bedouin army defeated the Palestinians. The Jordanians drove out the Syrians and 12,000 Iraqi troops who had been in the country since the 1967 war. Ignoring protests from other Arab states, Hussein, by mid-1971, crushed Palestinian strength in Jordan and shifted the problem to Lebanon, where many of the guerrillas had fled. As Egypt and Israel neared final agreement on a peace treaty early in 1979, Hussein met with Yasir Arafat, the PLO leader, on March 17, and issued a joint statement of opposition. Although the U.S. pressed Jordan to break Arab ranks on the issue, Hussein elected to side with the great majority, cutting ties with Cairo and joining the boycott against Egypt.
Jordan Extends an Olive Branch to Former Foes
Jordan's stance during the Persian Gulf War strained relations with the U.S. and led to the termination of U.S. aid. The signing of a national charter by King Hussein and leaders of the main political groups in June 1991 meant political parties were permitted in exchange for acceptance of the constitution and the monarchy. King Hussein's decision to join the Middle East peace talks in mid-1991 helped restore his country's relations with the U.S.
In July 1994, King Hussein and the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a declaration ending the state of belligerency between the two countries. A peace agreement between the two countries was signed on Oct. 26, 1994, although a phrase in it calling the king the “custodian” of Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem angered the PLO. In the wake of the agreement, Jordan's relations with the U.S. and with the moderate Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, warmed. In 1997, Jordan, determined to attract foreign investment, began negotiating with the United States about membership in the World Trade Organization. In Jan. 1999, King Hussein unexpectedly deposed his brother, Prince Hassan, who had been heir apparent for 34 years, and named his eldest son the new crown prince. A month later, King Hussein died of cancer, and Abdullah, 37, a popular military leader with little political experience, became king.
The first parliamentary elections under King Abdullah took place in June 2003 and resulted in a two-thirds majority for the king's supporters. In 2005, the king, unhappy with the slow progress on reforms, replaced his cabinet.
Three suicide bombings by Iraqis blasted hotels in Amman, Jordan, in Nov. 2005, killing at least 57 people and wounding 115—almost all of whom were Jordanians. The terrorist group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility, contending that Jordan had been targeted because of its friendly relations with the United States.
In parliamentary elections in Nov. 2007, pro-government and independent candidates won 104 of 110 seats. The opposition Islamic Action Front took just six seats, down from 17 in 2003's election. Following the elections, King Abdullah named Nader Dahabi, former air force commander and transport minister, as prime minister and instructed him to focus on improving the country's economy.
King Abdullah dissolved Parliament in November 2009, halfway through its term, and called for early elections. He appointed Samir al-Rifai as prime minister. The following November, pro-government candidates swept parliamentary elections, which were boycotted by the opposition Islamic Action Front. Violent protests followed the vote.
Arab Spring Protests Bring Down Government
Jordan was not spared the anti-government protests that swept through the Middle East in early 2011. On Jan. 28, thousands gathered in Amman and other cities, calling for government reform, the resignation of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai and demonstrating against high food and fuel prices. The protests, led by the Islamic Action Front, triggered the dissolution of al-Rifai's government. In February, King Abdullah named Marouf al-Bakhit as the country's new prime minister and announced subsidies for food and fuel as well as pay increases for civil servants. Al-Bakhit, a diplomat former prime minister, was considered a safe choice. In June, King Abdullah said future governments will be elected rather than appointed.
The new government proved short-lived; on Oct. 17, 2011, Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit resigned. King Abdullah II designated Awn Khasawneh as new prime minister. Khasawneh's government was sworn in on Oct. 24 with Khasawneh also serving as defense minister, Umayya Touqan became finance minister, Muhammad al-Raoud interior minister and Nasser Judeh as foreign minister.
On April 26, 2012, Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh resigned. Fayez al-Tarawneh was appointed to replace Khasawne for his second term as prime minister. His first term was from Aug. 1998 to March 1999.
In September, the Jordanian government cut fuel subsidies by 10%—essentially increasing prices—in a attempt to reduce the $3 billion deficit. Protests broke out and 89 out of 120 members of Parliament signed a no confidence document in Prime Minister Tarawneh. King Abdullah then demanded that Tarawneh rescind the increase. In October the king dissolved Parliament and appointed Abdullah Ensour as prime minister—the fourth in a year. The following month, the government, feeling increased economic strain with the influx of 200,000 refugees from Syria, said it would cut gas subsidies by 14% for vehicles and by 50% for cooking oil. Violent protests immediately erupted, with demonstrators directing their anger at King Abdullah.
Parliamentary elections were held in January 2013, two years early. The Islamic Action Front, the biggest opposition party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the election, saying electoral reforms put in place after the Arab Spring protests still left urban areas are under-represented in favor of rural areas, where the government draws most of its support. As expected, pro-government candidates dominated the election. In an unprecedented move, King Abdullah sought Parliament's opinion in choosing a prime minister. Ensour, an advocate of democratic reforms, was renominated and was sworn in in March 2013.
Jordan Joins the Fight Against ISIS
In September 2014, Jordan joined the U.S.-led campaign in Syria against the radical Islamist group ISIS. ISIS militants captured Muath Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot who crashed during the fighting. They killed him in a gruesome execution in February 2015. In response, the Jordanian government executed two terrorists and vowed revenge.
See also Encyclopedia: Jordan .
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Jordan
Department of Statistics www.dos.gov.jo/ .