Jordan (Arabic pronunciation: Al-Urdun) is a mostly landlocked country sharing borders with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. It has an area of 92,300 sq km, which is an area just smaller than the state of Indiana. Most of the country is an arid desert, but the western border has a rainy season from November to April. The Great Rift Valley separates the east and west areas of Jordan.
Jordan has more geographic concerns than most Middle Eastern countries. It only has 2.5% arable land. Potash, phosphate and shale oil are the only natural resources and the supply is limited. There is limited access to potable, fresh water. Desertification, soil erosion, overgrazing and deforestation have had severe impacts on the environment. Jordan has made progress to stop some of these negatives trends and protect its natural resources.
HISTORY & GOVERNMENT
For centuries, Jordan has been a central point that connects Europe, Asia and Africa. Trade often went through the area as it was being distributed. Parts, or all of the land of Jordan has been conquered by many different actors throughout its history.
The area now known as Jordan was one of the more advanced regions in ancient times. It traded its pottery and metal works with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Over the course of the following centuries, Jordan was ruled by several different empires. They continued to spread their area of trade. Three kingdoms were established in Jordan: Edom, Moab and Ammon. The area fell under the control of the Aramaeans, Assyrians and Persians. The Nabataean people also left an impact on the area, contributing architectural accomplishments such as Petra and influencing the development of the Arabic language. Alexander the Great conquered the area when he was expanding his empire, followed by the Roman Empire. The area constituting Jordan later became a part of the Byzantine empire under Emperor Constantine. Between 634 and 638 CE, Arab Muslim armies conquered the area known as the Levant or Greater Syria. Over the next 600 years, Jordan was ruled by the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks. During World War I, the people of the area called for the establishment of an independent Arab state, but were ignored. Instead, as a result of secret negotiations among European powers, the area and people came under British colonial control. The area was named Transjordan. Abdullah I bin al-Hussein was assigned as the emir Transjordan during the British Mandate from 1921 to 1946. , when the country gained independence and he became the king of Jordan, until his assassination in 1951.
In 1946, Transjordan was renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. and gained its independence. Abdullah I bin al-Hussein became Jordan’s king and ended relations with Great Britain; his reign ended when he was assassinated in 1951. The country became more powerful and economically stable, though the huge waves of Palestinian refugees crossing into its borders, beginning in 1948, have threatened the stability at times. King Hussein, who ruled the country from 1953 until his death in 1999, and his son, King Abdullah, who has ruled since, have ensured that Jordan has become one of the more progressive states in the Middle East. Jordan is one of few Arab states to have cooperative relations with Israel, achieved while negotiating intense external and internal pressures. In 1989 King Hussein instituted a program of political liberalization. In 2000, King Abdullah ushered in a period of economic reform. Municipal elections were held in July 2007 under a system in which 20% of seats in all municipal councils were reserved by quota for women. Parliamentary election held in November of 2007 heavily favored independent pro-government candidates.
Until 2003, Jordan relied on Iraq for most of its oil. Today, it purchases its supplies from other Middle Eastern nations. Since King Abdullah instituted economic reforms, Jordan has made substantial headway towards economic stability. In 2008, Jordan reduced government subsidies on petroleum and consumer goods in an effort to control the budget. The main economic challenges facing Jordan are reducing dependence on foreign grants, in turn reducing the budget deficit, attracting investments, and creating jobs.
History & Government Resources
PEOPLE & LANGUAGE
The CIA Fact Book estimated in July 2014 that the population of Jordan is 7,930,491. The majority of the population is of Arab descent but there are small numbers of Circassian, Armenian, Druze, Chechen and Kurd peoples. There are also Egyptian, Greek, Iranian and European people who have immigrated into Jordan. Most of the population lives in urban centers, but there are groups of nomadic and semi-nomadic people. Approximately 2.7 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan; some estimates suggest that up to 2/3rd of Jordan’s population consists of Palestinian refugees and the subsequent generations who live throughout the country both within and outside of formal refugee camps. Jordan, like its neighbors, is experiencing a “youth bulge”;” some 41% of the population is under 20, making it a very young country.
The previous king, King Hussein, and his wife Queen Noor made education a priority. The current king, Abdullah II, and his wife, Queen Rania, have maintained and further developed these efforts. Their dedication has created one of the top education systems in the Arab world and throughout the developing world. 95% of the population is literate though a higher percentage of males are literate. These percentages are expected to rise as enrollment increases and the effect of the new, more advanced curriculum is seen. Most Jordanian children are in school for 14 years. School is mandatory for 10 years, through age 15. Books are provided by the Ministry of Education. There are both private and public schools. Funding for schools is particularly focused in the lower-income areas of Jordan, with the United Nations Relief Works Agency providing schools facilities and an education for refugee children. In Jordan, students graduating from high school must also take an exam called the Tawjihi, the General Secondary Certificate Examination, the results of which determine students’ future course of academic, professional, or technical study.
Jordan offers a higher education much like the United States or Europe. Students can earn Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees. There are over 50 universities in Jordan, mostly in Amman and Aqaba. Other major cities have at least one university.
Jordan has an advanced healthcare system; however it is mostly concentrated in Amman. It is slowly expanding beyond the capital city to include clinics in rural regions. In 2007, approximately 70% of Jordanians held medical insurance; updated figures are unavailable. Jordan has the only specialized cancer treatment center in the Middle East, named the King Hussein Cancer Center, in honor of the its former monarch.
People & Language Resources
Jordan is an Islamic state. Over 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. There is also a small Shi’a and Sufi population which combined make up less than 2% of the population. Only about 2% of the population is Christian or Catholic. Most of this group is Greek Orthodox, but there a few Protestant denominations represented. A tiny, almost negligible amount of the population is Baha’i. Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Jordan, something that is not common in the Middle East.
Sculpture, pottery and mosaics have been some of the most famous forms to be seen in ancient Jordanian art. The capital, Amman, is well-known for its art galleries and exhibits. The magnificent architecture of the ruins scattered around Jordan provide ample evidence of the area’s compelling history.
Jordan’s modern art is equally as impressive. Jordan’s modern art gallery in the Jordan National Gallery of Arts houses one of the largest, most diverse collections in the area. Paintings are often colorful and geometric. Modern art is very popular among Jordanians.
Jordan can claim numerous national treasures, both natural and man-made. The landscape and ruins are nearly unmatched. In Amman, Roman ruins have been carefully restored; both a citadel and an ancient theater can be found in the center of the city. Some of the most famous ruins in Jordan are the Nabataean dwellings at Petra. The magnificent palaces are carved into the mountains and much of the intricate detail can still be seen today. Deserts, wadis, the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, and numerous nature reserves are a testament to the geographical diversity in this calm country. The government has worked to protect these places because of the historical or environmental prominence they hold. The sites provide a major source of tourism income and are vital to a stable economy.
Sports are popular in Jordan, whether from a participant or spectator point of view. Soccer and basketball are the favorites. Soccer is often played by youths in the streets and its following has grown as Jordan’s national team improves. The Jordanian national basketball team has begun entering competitions in the Middle East and Asia. Smaller local leagues are beginning to sprout up. Diving is popular in Aqaba, especially among tourists. The Gulf of Aqaba and Red Sea are popular destinations.