Jordan is a nation of six-and-a-half million people in the Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia, between Israel (to the west) and Iraq (to the east). It has a strategic location at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba and as the Arab country that shares the longest border with Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Its major environmental issues include:
- limited natural freshwater resources;
- soil erosion; and,
Jordan is susceptible to droughts and periodic earthquakes.
Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the UK received a mandate to govern much of the Middle East. Britain separated out a semi-autonomous region of Transjordan from Palestine in the early 1920s, and the area gained its independence in 1946. It adopted the name of Jordan in 1950.
The country's long-time ruler was King Hussein (1953-99). A pragmatic leader, he successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), various Arab states, Israel, and a large internal Palestinian population.
Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel in the 1967 war and defeated Palestinian rebels who attempted to overthrow the monarchy in 1970.
King Hussein in 1988 permanently relinquished Jordanian claims to the West Bank.
In 1989, he reinstituted parliamentary elections and initiated a gradual political liberalization; political parties were legalized in 1992.
In 1994, he signed a peace treaty with Israel.
King Abdallah II, King Hussein's eldest son, assumed the throne following his father's death in February 1999. Since then, he has consolidated his power and implemented some economic and political reforms.
Jordan acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2000, and began to participate in the European Free Trade Association in 2001.
In 2003, Jordan staunchly supported the Coalition ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and, following the outbreak of insurgent violence in Iraq, absorbed thousands of displaced Iraqis. Approximately two million Iraqis have fled the conflict in Iraq, with the majority taking refuge in Syria and Jordan.
A 2004 Agreement settles border dispute with Syria pending demarcation
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 elections were last held in November 2010 and saw independent pro-government candidates win the vast majority of seats.
Beginning in January 2011 in the wake of unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, as many as several thousand Jordanians staged weekly demonstrations and marches in Amman and other cities throughout Jordan to push for political reforms and protest government corruption, rising prices, rampant poverty, and high unemployment. In response, King Abdallah replaced his prime minister and formed two commissions - one to propose specific reforms to Jordan's electoral and political parties laws, and the other to consider limited constitutional amendments. In a televised speech in June, the King announced plans to work toward transferring authority for appointing future prime ministers and cabinet ministers to parliament; in a subsequent announcement, he outlined a revised political parties law intended to encourage greater political participation. Protesters and opposition elements generally acknowledged those measures as steps in the right direction but many continue to push for greater limits on the King's authority and to fight against government corruption. In September, a royal decree approved constitutional amendments passed by the Parliament aimed at strengthening a more independent judiciary and establishing a constitutional court and independent election commission to oversee the next municipal and parliamentary elections, slated for April 2012 and fall 2012, respectively. King Abdallah in October 2011 dissolved the Jordanian parliament and replaced the prime minister in response to widespread public dissatisfaction with government performance and escalating criticism of the premier because of public concerns over his reported involvement in corruption.
Location: Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia, between Israel (to the west) and Iraq
Geographic Coordinates: 31 00 N, 36 00 E
Area: 89,342 sq km (land: 88,802 sq km; water: 540 sq km)
Coastline: 26 km
Maritime Claims: territorial sea: 3 nm
Natural Hazards: droughts; periodic earthquakes
Terrain: mostly desert plateau in east, highland area in west; Great Rift Valley separates East and West Banks of the Jordan River. The highest point is Jabal Umm ad Dami (1,854 m) and the lowest point Dead Sea (-408 m).
Climate: mostly arid desert; rainy season in west (November to April)
|This Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image from the Terra satellite shows the Mediterranean Sea (left) and portions of the Middle East. Countries pictured are (clockwise from top right) Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt (across the Gulf of Aqaba), Israel, the disputed West Bank Territory, and Lebanon. In the center is Jordan. The lush, green vegetation along the Mediterranean coast and surrounding the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) in northern Israel and stands in marked contrast to the arid landscape all around. In Lebanon (and the border of Lebanon and Syria), bright white snow covers the peaks of the Jebel Liban Mountains. In the bottom right, a few scattered plots of green stand out against the orange sands of the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Source: NASA||Topography of Jordan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
Ecology and Biodiversity
Map source: World Wildlife Fund
People and Society
Population: 6,508,887 (July 2012 est.)
Jordanians are Arabs, except for a few small communities of Circassians, Armenians, and Chechens who 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 semi-nomadic. Approximately 1.7 million registered Palestinian refugees and other displaced persons, including Iraqis, reside in Jordan.
|A view of the Wadi Rum, the largest wadi or valley in Jordan.|
|The "Treasury" building (Al-Khazneh) at Petra was carved into the red-hued cliff face in the 2nd century B.C.|
|Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan. Source: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons|
|A farm in the mountains of Ajloun in north western Jordan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
Ethnic Groups: Arab 98%, Circassian 1%, Armenian 1%
0-14 years: 35.3% (male 1,180,595/female 1,114,533)
15-64 years: 59.9% (male 1,977,075/female 1,921,504)
65 years and over: 4.8% (male 153,918/female 160,646) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: -0.965% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 26.52 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 2.74 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -33.42 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 80.18 year
male: 78.82 years
female: 81.61 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 3.36 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Arabic (official), English (widely understood among upper and middle classes)
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 89.9% (2003 est.)
Urbanization: 79% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 1.6% (2010-15 est.)
The land that became Jordan is part of the richly historical Fertile Crescent region. Around 2000 B.C., 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 League of Nations awarded the territory now comprising Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to the United Kingdom 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 I. 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 September 1970.
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.
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. King Abdullah moved quickly to reaffirm Jordan's peace treaty with Israel and its relations with the U.S., and has since focused the government's agenda on economic reform, political development, and poverty alleviation.
Since assuming the throne in 1999, King Abdallah has implemented significant economic reforms, such as opening the trade regime, privatizing state-owned companies, and eliminating most fuel subsidies, which in the past few years have spurred economic growth by attracting foreign investment and creating some jobs.
Jordan's continuing structural economic difficulties, burgeoning population, and more open political environment have led to the emergence of a variety of small political parties. In parliamentary elections held November 2007, the Islamist opposition lost many of the seats it had gained in 2003. In November 2009, the King dissolved parliament. New elections were held November 2010; the Islamist opposition boycotted these elections. New elections are anticipated in the fall of 2012, after the new independent electoral commission, authorized by the 2011 constitution, is named.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy based on the constitution promulgated on January 8, 1952 and amended on October 1, 2011. 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 parliament. 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 King, who may dismiss other cabinet members at the prime minister's request, appoints the council of ministers, led by a prime minister. The cabinet is responsible to the lower house of parliament on matters of general policy and can be forced to resign by a two-thirds vote of "no confidence" by that body.
Responding to popular demand set against the context of the Arab Spring, in February 2011 King Abdullah dismissed the cabinet and named a new prime minister, charged with pursuing democratic reforms. In March, the King established a National Dialogue Committee mandated with writing new laws governing political parties and elections, and in April he created the Royal Committee to Amend the Constitution. On August 14, King Abdullah announced proposed amendments to the constitution intended to strengthen the role of the judiciary and to enhance the rule of law. Parliament passed 40 of the 42 amendments, and the King accepted these changes. The amended constitution is now referred to as the October 1, 2011 Constitution. Parliament is working to enact the legislative framework to implement the constitutional changes as well as the political party and electoral laws recommended by the National Dialogue Committee. In October 2011, in response to popular frustration over the pace of reform and anger over a proposed municipal elections law, the King again dismissed the cabinet and named as Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh, who had been serving on the International Court of Justice. He also appointed a new director of the General Intelligence Directorate, and his letter mandating that the new director pursue reform within the intelligence services was leaked to the media.
Legislative power rests in the bicameral parliament. The lower house of parliament, elected by universal suffrage to a 4-year term, is subject to dissolution by the King. The King appoints the 55-member upper house for a 4-year term. Jordan held elections for municipal councils and mayors in July 2007; 20% of the council seats were reserved by quota for women. New municipal elections are anticipated in mid-2012. The King dissolved parliament in November 2009; new elections were held November 9, 2010. Women hold 13 of the 120 seats, as one woman won a seat outright, above the new 10% quota for women. Only 25% of the current parliament held a seat in the previous parliament.
Government Type: constitutional monarchy
Capital: Amman 1.088 million (2009)
About 9,000 years ago, a settlement was founded in an area of rolling hills between the fertile Jordan River Valley to the west and desert in the east. Along the banks of the Wadi Amman and its tributaries, this settlement has alternately flourished and declined, but has remained continuously inhabited to the present day.
NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite captured this natural-color image of Amman, Jordan, on December 3, 2010. The city forms a rough V shape of gray. West of the city, the terrain is more rugged, with small valleys extending toward the Jordan River. Part of the Dead Sea appears southwest of Amman, and agricultural fields in the Jordan River Valley appear west of town. East of the city, the land is flatter.
The uneven terrain in this region is composed of sedimentary rocks—chalk, chert, limestone, and marl—likely deposited when this slab of Earth's crust was underwater. The rocks in this region date from the Cenomanian Stage to the Paleocene Epoch, or roughly 95 million to 55 million years ago.
Limestone and chert are good for holding water in aquifers, making them a valuable resource to the country. Less than 5 percent of Jordan’s land is arable, and just over 1 percent supports permanent crops. Fresh water is scarce, and drought and desertification pose perennial threats. A relatively moist area compared the deserts of eastern Jordan, Amman is home to more than 1 million of the country’s estimated 6 million residents. Source: NASA
12 governorates (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah):
Map source: Wikimedia Commons
Independence Date: 25 May 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under British administration)
Legal System: Mixed legal system of civil law and Islamic religious law; judicial review of legislative acts in a specially provided High Tribunal. Jordan has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction. The constitution provides for three categories of courts--civil, religious, and special. Administratively, Jordan is divided into 12 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.
International Environmental Agreements
Jordan is party to international agrements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 0.9 cu km (1997)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 1.01 cu km/yr (21% domestic, 4% industrial, 75% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 177 cu m/yr (2000)
Agricultural products: citrus, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, strawberries, stone fruits; sheep, poultry, dairy
Irrigated Land: 820 sq km (2008)
Natural Resources: phosphates, potash, shale oil
arable land: 3.32%
permanent crops: 1.18%
other: 95.5% (2005)
Jordan is a small country with limited natural resources. It is among the most water-poor countries in the world. The country is currently exploring ways to expand its limited water supply and use its existing water resources more efficiently, including through regional cooperation. Jordan also depends on external sources for the majority of its energy requirements. During the 1990s, its crude petroleum needs were met through imports from neighboring Iraq, often at concessionary prices. Since early 2003, Jordan has imported oil primarily from Saudi Arabia at concessionary and market prices. In addition, a natural gas pipeline from Egypt to Jordan through the southern port city of Aqaba is now operational. The pipeline has reached northern Jordan and construction to connect it to Syria and beyond is underway. Jordan developed a new energy strategy in 2007 aiming to develop more indigenous and renewable energy sources, including oil shale, nuclear energy, wind, and solar power.
Under King Abdullah, Jordan has undertaken a program of economic reform. The government has eliminated most fuel and agricultural subsidies, passed legislation targeting corruption, and begun tax reform. It has also worked to liberalize trade, joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2000; signing an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2001; and signing the first bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and an Arab country. Under the terms of the U.S.-Jordan FTA, which entered into force in 2001, the United States and Jordan agreed to phased tariff reductions culminating in the complete elimination of duties on nearly all products by 2010. The agreement contains labor and environmental provisions, and also provides for more open markets in communications, construction, finance, health, transportation, and services, as well as the strict application of international standards for the protection of intellectual property. In 1996, the U.S. Congress created Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) to support the peace process. QIZ goods, which must contain a certain percentage of Israeli input and enter the United States tariff- and quota-free, have also driven economic growth, particularly in the export of light manufactured products such as garments. Jordan exported $6.9 million in goods to the U.S. in 1997, when two-way trade was $395 million; according to the U.S. International Trade Commission, it exported $796.2 million in the first 10 months of 2009, with U.S. exports to Jordan valued at $976.9 million and two-way trade reaching $1.77 billion. In 2009, Jordan's economy continued to grow slightly but was hurt by lower than expected revenues and slower growth due to the global financial crisis.
In 1996, Jordan and the United States signed a civil aviation agreement that provides for "open skies" between the two countries, and a U.S.-Jordan Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) for the protection and encouragement of bilateral investment entered into force in 2003. The United States and Jordan also signed in 2007 a Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement to facilitate and strengthen scientific cooperation between the two countries, as well as a memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation. Such agreements bolster efforts to help diversify Jordan's economy and promote growth, and at the same time lessen reliance on exports of phosphates, potash, and recently textiles; overseas remittances; and foreign aid. The government has emphasized the information technology (IT), pharmaceuticals, and tourism sectors as other promising growth sectors. The low tax and low regulation Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) is considered a model of a government-provided framework for private sector-led economic growth.
Jordan is classified by the World Bank as a "lower middle income country." The per capita GDP is $4,700. According to Jordan's Department of Statistics, almost 13% of the economically active Jordanian population residing in Jordan was unemployed in 2008, although unofficial estimates cite a 30% unemployment rate. Education and literacy rates and measures of social well-being are relatively high compared to other countries with similar incomes. Jordan's population growth rate has declined in recent years and is currently 2.3% as reported by the Jordanian Government. One of the most important factors in the government's efforts to improve the well-being of its citizens is the macroeconomic stability that has been achieved since the 1990s. Jordan’s 2008 and 2009 budgets emphasized increases in the social safety net to help people most impacted by high inflation, but these increases were not included in the 2010 budget because of fiscal austerity plans and the low inflation rates during 2009. The average rate of inflation in 2009 was -0.1%. The currency has been stable with an exchange rate fixed to the U.S. dollar since 1995 at JD 0.708 to the dollar. In 2008, Jordan participated in a Paris Club debt buyback to retire more than $2 billion in debt using privatization proceeds which, at the time, reduced the percentage of external debt to GDP from 46% to 32%.
While pursuing economic reform and increased trade, Jordan's economy will continue to be vulnerable to external shocks and regional unrest. Without calm in the region, economic growth seems destined to stay below its potential. Jordan’s conservative banking sector was largely protected from the worldwide financial crisis but many businesses, particularly in the tourism and real estate sector, experienced a slowdown in 2009.
In 2011 the government approved two economic relief packages and a budgetary supplement, largely to improve the living conditions for the middle and poor classes. Jordan's finances have also been strained by a series of natural gas pipline attacks in Egypt, causing Jordan to substitute more expensive heavy fuel oils to generate electricity.
An influx of foreign aid, especially from Gulf countries, has helped to somewhat offset these extrabudgetary expenditures, but the budget deficit is likely to remain high, at nearly 10% of GDP excluding grants. Amman likely will continue to depend heavily on foreign assistance to finance the deficit in 2012.
Jordan's financial sector has been relatively isolated from the international financial crisis because of its limited exposure to overseas capital markets. Jordan is currently exploring nuclear power generation to forestall energy shortfalls. See: Energy profile of Eastern Mediterranean
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $36.82 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $28.4 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $5,900 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 65.2% (2011 est.)
Industries: clothing, fertilizers, potash, phosphate mining, pharmaceuticals, petroleum refining, cement, inorganic chemicals, light manufacturing, tourism
Currency: Jordanian dinars (JOD)