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Summary Article: Jordan
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Country in southwest Asia, bounded north by Syria, northeast by Iraq, east, southeast, and south by Saudi Arabia, south by the Gulf of Aqaba, and west by Israel.

Government Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, with the king effectively head of state and government. The 1952 constitution, as amended, provides for a two-chamber national assembly comprising a 65-member senate, appointed by the king for a four-year term, and a 130-member house of representatives (house of deputies). Since 2016 the lower house's deputies have been elected for a four-year term through proportional representation in 23 electoral districts on national party lists. Minimum representation quotas are set for female deputies (15 seats), Christians (9 seats), and Circassians and Chechens (3 seats). Three constituencies are allocated for Bedouins. The house is subject to dissolution by the king. The king governs with the help of a council of ministers whom he appoints and who are responsible to the assembly. The king commands the armed forces, signs all laws, appoints and dismisses judges, and approves amendments to the constitution, but his veto power can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the national assembly. The prime minister is the most senior member of the council of ministers. The cabinet can be forced to resign by a two-thirds vote of ‘no confidence’ by the house of representatives.

History The area forming the kingdom of Jordan was occupied by the independent Nabataeans from the 4th century BC and perhaps earlier, until AD 106 when it became part of the Roman province of Arabia. It was included in the Crusaders' kingdom of Jerusalem 1099–1187. Palestine (partly in the disputed West Bank of the Jordan river) and Transjordan (the present-day East Bank) were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire until its dissolution after World War I. Both were then placed under British administration by the League of Nations as the British Mandate of Palestine, three-quarters of which comprised Transjordan.

End of British mandates Transjordan acquired greater control of its own affairs than Palestine. In 1921 the British gave substantial control over Transjordan to Abdullah (the future Abdullah I) from the Hashemite (an Arab clan) family who had been defeated by the House of Saud in the civil war to control the Islamic holy places of Mecca and Medina. In 1923 Transjordan separated from Palestine and achieved full independence when the British mandate expired in 1946.

The mandate for Palestine ran out in 1948, whereupon Jewish leaders claimed it for a new state of Israel. Israel was attacked by Arab nations and fought until a ceasefire was agreed in 1949. By then Transjordan forces had occupied part of Palestine to add to what they called the new state of Jordan. In 1950 they annexed the West Bank. In 1951 King Abdullah I was assassinated and was succeeded by his son, King Talal. But Talal was removed from the throne in 1952 on grounds of mental incapacity. His son Hussein ibn Tal Abdulla el Hashim, was only 17 years old, so initially a committee ruled Jordan until 1953, when, aged 18, Hussein was officially made king.

Jordan under Hussein King Hussein ruled Jordan for 46 years, surviving many upheavals at home and abroad, including attempts on his life. He provided stability for the Bedouin-related and Palestinian communities in the country and oversaw major advances in improving water and electricity networks and improved literacy, health, and education. He also played a central role in Middle East affairs as a key bridge between the West and the Arab states. Relations with his neighbours fluctuated, but he was generally a moderating influence, although his peace efforts were frequently frustrated.

Quest for peace following the Six-Day War In 1958 Jordan and Iraq formed an Arab Federation, which ended five months later when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. In 1967, following the Six-Day War, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel. In the aftermath of the 1967 war, there was a large increase in the number of Palestinians, chiefly from the West Bank, living in Jordan, rising from 0.7 million to over 1 million. There was also an upsurge in armed Palestinian resistance (feyadeen) groups in Jordan, which put the state's stability at risk.

After Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Hussein sought to bring peace to the area, establishing a relationship with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yassir Arafat. By 1984 the Arab world was split into two camps, with the moderates represented by Jordan, Egypt, and Arafat's PLO, and the militant radicals by Syria, Libya, and the rebel wing of the PLO. In 1985 Hussein and Arafat put together a framework for a Middle East peace settlement, to involve bringing together all interested parties, but Israel objected to the PLO being represented. Further progress was hampered by the PLO's alleged complicity in a number of guerrilla operations in that year. Hussein tried to revive the search for peace by secretly meeting the Israeli prime minister in France and persuading Yassir Arafat to renounce publicly PLO violence in territories not occupied by Israel. In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank.

Greater democratization In response to mounting unrest within Jordan in 1989, Hussein promised greater democratization, and free and fair elections to a new house of representatives were held. Martial law (in force since 1967) was ended, and political parties legalized in 1992. Assembly elections in 1993 were won by deputies loyal to the king (mainly independents), with several leading Islamic fundamentalists failing to win back their seats.

Moves towards peace Following the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait in August 1990, Hussein unsuccessfully attempted to act as a mediator. Meanwhile the United Nations' trade embargo on Iraq and the exodus of thousands of refugees into Jordan strained the country's resources. Jordan attended the historic Middle East peace conference in Spain in 1991. However, the king's image as a peace broker had been damaged by his support for Saddam Hussein and in 1993 he publicly distanced himself from the Iraqi leader. Later that year he concluded a ‘common agenda’ for peace with Israel. In January 1994 an economic cooperation pact was signed with the PLO, and in July 1994 a treaty with Israel to end the 46-year-old ‘state of war’ – as a precursor to serious boundary negotiations.

The transition to King Abdullah II From the mid 1990s, King Hussein's health was ailing, due to cancer, and he prepared for his succession. In late January 1999 he dismissed his brother as heir-apparent to the Hashemite throne and installed his eldest son, the 36-year-old half-English Prince Abdullah ibn Hussein, as crown prince. The move drew a mixed reaction from Jordanians, confused by the speed of the decision days after King Hussein returned from six months of cancer treatment in the USA.

Hussein died on 7 February 1999 and his funeral was attended by hundreds of foreign dignitaries and was accompanied by national mourning. Crown prince Abdullah ibn Hussein succeeded, becoming King Abdullah II. He appointed an ally of his father, Abdul-Raouf Rawabdeh, as prime minister and continued his father's peace initiatives. He held talks in May 1999 with Yassir Arafat to forge a united Arab position, before the renewal of peace negotiations with Israel. To encourage Israel, the offices of Hamas, the radical Palestinian Islamic militant movement in Jordan which opposes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, were closed down by the Jordanian government.

King Abdullah embarked on a privatization programme and opened up the economy more to the private sector and external trade, with Jordan joining the World Trade Organization and signing a free trade accord with the USA in 2000. In June 2000 King Abdullah dismissed the conservative prime minister, Abdul-Raouf Rawabdeh, and replaced him with Ali Abu al-Ragheb, a US-educated economist, and appointed more liberal members of parliament to work alongside him and push through economic reforms approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The king's concerns over the slow pace of reform led to a succession of new prime ministers: Faisal al-Fayez, from October 2003; Adnan Badran, from April 2005; Marouf al-Bakhit, from November 2005; Nader Dahabi, from November 2007; and Samir Rifai, from December 2009. However, from 2004 the economy grew by around 6% a year.

King Abdullah supported the USA's war in Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the subsequent instability and insurgency in Iraq led to a series of bombings in Jordan and attacks on tourists by terrorist groups, including a group called al-Qaeda in Iraq. In November 2005 suicide bombings in Annam claimed 70 lives. There was also a large influx of Iraqis to Jordan, with 500,000 Iraqis living in Jordan in 2007.

Protests during the ‘Arab spring’ of 2011 Between January and March 2011 Jordan was rocked by a wave of demonstrations for political reform, forming part of an ‘Arab spring’ of protest, triggered high food and fuel prices and youth unemployment, and led to regime change in Egypt and Tunisia. Jordan's protests involved rural Bedouin and, in urban areas, the Muslim Brotherhood, students, trade unionists, and leftist groups. The largely peaceful protests sought the removal of Prime Minister Rifai, improved employment prospects, action against high prices, and greater political freedom, but did not directly challenge the monarchy. On 1 February King Abdullah replaced Rifai with Marouf al-Bakhit, a former general and reformist prime minister. But protests continued, becoming violent on 25 March, with clashes with supporters of the king. King Abdullah calmed the situation by appointing opposition leaders to a committee to draw up electoral reforms, increasing wages for public servants and the military, and cutting fuel and food prices.

However, politics in Jordan remained unstable because of continuing popular pressure for faster reform. In October 2011 al-Bakhit resigned as prime minister, after a critical parliamentary vote. He was replaced by Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, a former judge at the International Court of Justice. He in turn resigned in April 2012 and was replaced by Fayez al-Tarawneh, who had been prime minister 1998–99.

Opposition boycott parliamentary elections In October 2012 King Abdullah responded to the changing political mood by appointing as prime minister Abdullah Ensour, a former minister and economist who supported democratic reform.

However, in violent protests in November 2012 in the capital Amman against the lifting of fuel subsidies, there were some calls for an end to the monarchy. Parliamentary elections were held in January 2013, but were boycotted by the main opposition, the Islamic Action Front, who claimed that the election law was biased in favour of supporters of the government.

Influx of Syrian refugees and war against IS From 2014 the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria caused strains on Jordan and its economy. By spring 2016 the country hosted over to 650,000 registered Syrian refugees and King Abdullah declared that the country had reached saturation point in its ability to take in more refugees. The country's budget had increased sharply and the activities of the jihadist Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq presented serious security challenges.

In September 2014 Jordan joined the US coalition against IS, launching airstrikes against IS targets in Syria. There was some internal opposition. But in February 2015 the country was shocked when IS posted a video on the internet of its brutal burning alive in a cage of a captured Jordanian pilot, Lt Muath Kasasbeh. King Abdullah responded by ordering the execution of two terrorist prisoners whose release IS had sought. Promising a harsh war against IS, Jordan embarked on a programme of airstrikes against IS.

In March 2015 Jordan also took part in Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes in Yemen, targeting Houthi rebels.

Parliamentary elections held under proportional representation For the September 2016 parliamentary elections, the electoral laws were amended to return to a system of proportional representation for the first time since 1989. This encouraged Islamic opposition parties to participate, including the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turnout remained low at 37%, but candidates from political parties won a fifth of the seats in the 130-member lower house, including ten for the IAF. The remaining seats were won by independent businessmen, professionals, and tribal leaders. Twenty of the elected deputies were women.

Prior to the elections, in May 2016, King Abdullah appointed Hani Al-Mulki, a former trade minister, as the new prime minister.







© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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