Jordan (08/00)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Area: 89,544 sq. km. (34,573 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Amman (pop. 1 million). Other cities--Irbid (281,000), Az-Zarqa (421,000).

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jordanian(s).
Population (est.): 4.7 million.
Religions (est.): Sunni Muslim 96%, Christian 4%.
Languages: Arabic (official), English.
Education (1995): Literacy--87%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1999)--33/1,000. Life expectancy (1992)--71 yrs.
Ethnic groups: Mostly Arab but small communities of Circassians, Armenians, and Kurds.
Work force (1.15 million): Services--64%; industry--30%; agriculture--6%.

Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Independence: May 25, 1946.
Constitution: January 8, 1952.
Branches: Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), council of ministers (cabinet). Legislative--bicameral National Assembly (appointed Senate, elected Chamber of Deputies). Judicial--civil, religious, special courts.
Political parties: Wide spectrum of parties legalized in 1992.
Suffrage: Universal at 20.
Administrative subdivisions: Twelve governorates--Irbid, Jarash, Ajloun, al-'Aquaba, Madaba al-Mafraq, al-Zarqa, Amman, al-Balqa, al-Karak, al-Tafilah, and Ma'an.

GDP (2000 est.): $16 billion.
Annual growth rate (2000 est.): 3.2%.
Per capita GDP (2000 est.): $3,400.
Natural resources: Phosphate, potash.
Agriculture: Products--fruits, vegetables, wheat, olive oil. Land--4% arable.
Industry (30% of GDP): Types--phosphate mining, manufacturing, and cement and petroleum production.
Trade (1997 est.): Exports--$1.5 billion: phosphates, fertilizers, potash, agricultural products, manufactures. Major markets--Iraq, Saudi Arabia, U.S., India, EU, Asia, UAE, Syria, Ethiopia, Indonesia. Imports--$3.9 billion: machinery, transportation equipment, food, live animals, petroleum products. Major suppliers--U.S., Iraq, Japan, U.K., Syria, Turkey, Malaysia, China.

Note: From 1949 to 1967, Jordan administered that part of former mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River known as the West Bank. Since the 1967 war, when Israel took control of this territory, the United States has considered the West Bank to be territory occupied by Israel. The United States believes that the final status of the West Bank can be determined only through negotiations among the parties concerned on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Jordanians are Arabs, except for a few small communities of Circassians, Armenians, and Kurds which have adapted to Arab culture. The official language is Arabic, but English is used widely in commerce and government. About 70% of Jordan's population is urban; less than 6% of the rural population is nomadic or seminomadic. Most people live where the rainfall supports agriculture. About 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs registered as refugees and displaced persons reside in Jordan, most as citizens.

The land that became Jordan is part of the richly historical Fertile Crescent region. Its history began around 2000 B.C., when Semitic Amorites settled around the Jordan River in the area called Canaan. Subsequent invaders and settlers included Hittites, Egyptians, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arab Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Mameluks, Ottoman Turks, and, finally, the British. At the end of World War I, the territory now comprising Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem was awarded to the United Kingdom by the League of Nations as the mandate for Palestine and Transjordan. In 1922, the British divided the mandate by establishing the semiautonomous Emirate of Transjordan, ruled by the Hashemite Prince Abdullah, while continuing the administration of Palestine under a British High Commissioner. The mandate over Transjordan ended on May 22, 1946; on May 25, the country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. It ended its special defense treaty relationship with the United Kingdom in 1957.

Transjordan was one of the Arab states which moved to assist Palestinian nationalists opposed to the creation of Israel in May 1948, and took part in the warfare between the Arab states and the newly founded State of Israel. The armistice agreements of April 3, 1949 left Jordan in control of the West Bank and provided that the armistice demarcation lines were without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines.

In 1950, the country was renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to include those portions of Palestine annexed by King Abdullah. While recognizing Jordanian administration over the West Bank, the United States maintained the position that ultimate sovereignty was subject to future agreement.

Jordan signed a mutual defense pact in May 1967 with Egypt, and it participated in the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. During the war, Israel gained control of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank but retained an administrative role pending a final settlement, and its 1994 treaty with Israel allowed for a continuing Jordanian role in Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The U.S. Government considers the West Bank to be territory occupied by Israel and believes that its final status should be determined through direct negotiations among the parties concerned on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The 1967 war led to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians living in Jordan. Its Palestinian refugee population--700,000 in 1966--grew by another 300,000 from the West Bank. The period following the 1967 war saw an upsurge in the power and importance of Palestinian resistance elements (fedayeen) in Jordan. The heavily armed fedayeen constituted a growing threat to the sovereignty and security of the Hashemite state, and open fighting erupted in June 1970.

Other Arab governments attempted to work out a peaceful solution, but by September, continuing fedayeen actions in Jordan--including the destruction of three international airliners hijacked and held in the desert east of Amman--prompted the government to take action to regain control over its territory and population. In the ensuing heavy fighting, a Syrian tank force took up positions in northern Jordan to support the fedayeen but were forced to retreat. By September 22, Arab foreign ministers meeting at Cairo had arranged a cease-fire beginning the following day. Sporadic violence continued, however, until Jordanian forces won a decisive victory over the fedayeen in July 1971, expelling them from the country.

No fighting occurred along the 1967 Jordan River cease-fire line during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, but Jordan sent a brigade to Syria to fight Israeli units on Syrian territory. Jordan did not participate in the Gulf war of 1990-91. In 1991, Jordan agreed, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Palestinian representatives, to participate in direct peace negotiations with Israel sponsored by the U.S. and Russia. It negotiated an end to hostilities with Israel and signed a peace treaty in 1994. Jordan has since sought to remain at peace with all of its neighbors.

Jordan is a constitutional monarchy based on the constitution promulgated on January 8, 1952. Executive authority is vested in the king and his council of ministers. The king signs and executes all laws. His veto power may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the National Assembly. He appoints and may dismiss all judges by decree, approves amendments to the constitution, declares war, and commands the armed forces. Cabinet decisions, court judgments, and the national currency are issued in his name. The council of ministers, led by a prime minister, is appointed by the king, who may dismiss other cabinet members at the prime minister's request. The cabinet is responsible to the Chamber of Deputies on matters of general policy and can be forced to resign by a two-thirds vote of "no confidence" by that body.

Legislative power rests in the bicameral National Assembly. The 80-member Chamber of Deputies, elected by universal suffrage to a 4-year term, is subject to dissolution by the king. Of the 80 seats, 71 must go to Muslims and nine to Christians. The 40-member Senate is appointed by the king for an 8-year term.

The constitution provides for three categories of courts--civil, religious, and special. Administratively, Jordan is divided into eight governorates, each headed by a governor appointed by the king. They are the sole authorities for all government departments and development projects in their respective areas.

Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--King Abdullah bin al-Hussein II
Prime Minister--Ali Abul Ragheb
Minister of Defense--Ali Abul Ragheb
Foreign Minister--Abdullah al-Khatib
Ambassador to the U.S.--Marwan Muasher
Ambassador to the UN--Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad

Jordan maintains an embassy in the United States at 3504 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-966-2664).

King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 to 1999, surviving a number of challenges to his rule, drawing on the loyalty of his military, and serving as a symbol of unity and stability for both the East Bank and Palestinian communities in Jordan. In 1989 and 1993, Jordan held free and fair parliamentary elections. Controversial changes in the election law led Islamist parties to boycott the 1997 elections. King Hussein ended martial law in 1991 and legalized political parties in 1992.

King Abdullah II succeeded his father Hussein following the latter's death in February 1999. Abdullah moved quickly to reaffirm Jordan's peace treaty with Israel and its relations with the U.S. Abdullah, during the first year in power, refocused the government's agenda on economic reform.

Jordan's continuing structural economic difficulties, burgeoning population, and more open political environment led to the emergence of a variety of political parties. Moving toward greater independence, Jordan's parliament has investigated corruption charges against several regime figures and has become the major forum in which differing political views, including those of political Islamists, are expressed. While King Abdullah remains the ultimate authority in Jordan, the parliament plays an important role.

Jordan is a small country with limited natural resources. Just over 10% of its land is arable, and even that is subject to the vagaries of a limited water supply. Rainfall is low and highly variable, and much of Jordan's available ground water is not renewable. Jordan's economic resource base centers on phosphates, potash, and their fertilizer derivatives; tourism; overseas remittances; and foreign aid. These are its principal sources of hard currency earnings. Lacking forests, coal reserves, hydroelectric power, or commercially viable oil deposits, Jordan relies on natural gas for 10% of its domestic energy needs. Jordan depends on Iraq for most of its oil.

Although the population is highly educated, its high growth rate (3.4%) and relative youth (more than 50% of Jordanians are under 16) make it difficult for the economy to generate jobs and sustain living standards. Jordan's distance from other markets makes its exports less competitive outside the region, and political disputes among its traditional trading partners--Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states--frequently restrict regional trade and development. King Abdullah has encouraged his government to liberalize the economy, improve economic ties in the region, and seek opportunities in the global information economy.

Since 1987, Jordan has struggled with a substantial debt burden, lower per capita income, and rising unemployment. In 1989, efforts to increase revenues by raising prices of certain commodities and utilities triggered riots in the south. The mood of political discontent that swept the country in the wake of the riots helped set the stage for Jordan's moves toward democratization.

Jordan also suffered adverse economic consequences from the 1990-91 Gulf war. While tourist trade plummeted, the Gulf states' decision to limit economic ties with Jordan deprived it of worker remittances, traditional export markets, a secure supply of oil, and substantial foreign aid revenues. UN sanctions against Iraq--Jordan's largest pre-war trading partner--caused further hardships, including higher shipping costs due to inspections of cargo shipments entering the Gulf of Aqaba. Finally, absorbing up to 300,000 returnees from the Gulf countries exacerbated unemployment and strained the government's ability to provide essential services.

Since 1995, economic growth has been low. Real GDP has grown at only about 1.5% annually, while the official unemployment has hovered at 14% (unofficial estimates are double this number). The budget deficit and public debt have remained high, yet during this period inflation has remained low, and exports of manufactured goods have risen at an annual rate of 9%. Monetary stability has been reinforced, even when tensions were renewed in the region during 1998, and during the illness and ultimate death of King Hussein in 1999.

Expectations of increased trade and tourism as a consequence of Jordan's peace treaty with Israel have been disappointing. Security-related restrictions to trade with the West Bank and Gaza have led to a substantial decline in Jordan's exports there. Following his ascension, King Abdullah improved relations with Arab Gulf states and Syria, but this brought few real economic benefits. Most recently the Jordanians have focused on WTO membership and a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. as means to encourage export-led growth.

Jordan has consistently followed a pro-Western foreign policy and traditionally has had close relations with the United States and the United Kingdom. These relations were damaged by support in Jordan for Iraq during the Gulf war. Although the Government of Jordan stated its opposition to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, popular support for Iraq was driven by Jordan's Palestinian community, which favored Saddam as a champion against Western supporters of Israel. Publicly, Jordan continues to call for the lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq within the context of implementing UNIC resolutions.

Since the end of the war, Jordan has largely restored its relations with Western countries through its participation in the Middle East peace process and enforcement of UN sanctions against Iraq. Relations between Jordan and the Gulf countries improved substantially after King Hussein's death.

Jordan signed a nonbelligerency agreement with Israel (the Washington Declaration) in Washington, DC, on July 25, 1994. Jordan and Israel signed a historic peace treaty on October 26, 1994, witnessed by President Clinton, accompanied by Secretary Christopher. The U.S. has participated with Jordan and Israel in trilateral development discussions in which key issues have been water-sharing and security; cooperation on Jordan Rift Valley development; infrastructure projects; and trade, finance, and banking issues. Jordan also participates in the multilateral peace talks. Jordan belongs to the UN and several of its specialized and related agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and World Health Organization (WHO). Jordan also is a member of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), INTELSAT, Nonaligned Movement, and Arab League.

Relations between the U.S. and Jordan have been close for four decades. A primary objective of U.S. policy, particularly since the end of the Gulf war, has been the achievement of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East. Jordan's constructive participation in the Madrid peace process is key in achieving peace.

U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan's commitment to peace, stability, and moderation. The peace process and Jordan's opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests. Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.

Since 1952, the United States has provided Jordan with economic assistance totaling more than $2 billion, including funds for development projects, health care, support for macroeconomic policy shifts toward a more completely free market system, and both grant and loan acquisition of U.S. agricultural commodities. These programs have been successful and have contributed to Jordanian stability while strengthening the bilateral relationship. U.S. military assistance--provision of materiel and training--is designed to meet Jordan's legitimate defense needs, including preservation of border integrity and regional stability.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--William J. Burns
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gregory L. Berry
Political Officer--Douglas Silliman
Economic/Commercial Officer--James V. Soriano
Consular Officer--Les Hickman
Administrative Officer--Kathleen T. Austin
Public Affairs Officer--Alberto Fernandez

The U.S. embassy in Jordan is located in Abdoun, Amman (tel. 962-6-592-0101) and is closed on all U.S. federal holidays and some Jordanian holidays.