History Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan won its independence from Great Britain on May 25, 1946. Prior to that the country was known as 'the Emirate of Transjordan' which was established on April 11, 1921 by King Abdullah. Jordan's ruling family are from very noble Arab stock. The ruling family of Jordan, known as the Hashemites, are direct descendants of Prophet Mohammed's great grandfather who was called Hashem. Thus the name Hashemite means from Hashem. Transjordan's first ruler King Abdullah was the son of Al-Hussein bin Ali, who was the famous leader of the Great Arab revolt against Turkish rule spanning Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia (formerly known as Hijaz)in 1916. He was also the Sherif of Mecca which is Islam's holiest city, and later became known as the king of Hijaz, which is Islam's holiest land (spanning Mecca and Medina). Transjordan's first king, King Abdullah was assassinated by a Palestinian gunman in 1952 on the steps of the famous Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The assassin's bullet also hit his son Hussein. But Hussein was miraculously saved as the assassin's bullet hit a medal his father had given him, thus sparing his life. The murdered King Abdullah was replaced by his eldest son King Talal. However King Talal's rule was brief due to illness. As a result the reigns were handed to his second son Hussein. Upon turning 18 (May 2, 1953), King Hussein ruled Jordan until he died of cancer aged 63 (February 7, 1999). Upon King Hussein's death, his son Abdullah II took the reigns and has since been Jordan's King.
The Arab Cause
As the children and grand children of the leader of the great Arab revolt of 1916, whilst also being direct descendants of Prophet Mohammed, Jordan's Kings have continued the tradition of being involved in Arab causes in the Middle East, both directly and indirectly. Looking at the country's history since independence, one could observe that Jordan's political development and history has been shaped by a large extent through its role in the conflicts and developments of the Arab world. Jordan has been directly involved with the Palestinian cause since its creation. It has been to war with Israel in 1948 and in 1967. Prior to that Jordanian forces had been involved in hundreds of cross border skirmishes with Israel. Jordan also sent military assistance to support the Syrians during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Jordan has been home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, and according to estimates 65% of Jordan's population are of Palestinian origin. Until 1970 Jordan was also home to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The central role played by Jordan in the Palestinian conflict meant that on the political front Jordan had to work closely with other front line countries in the conflict such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The fact that Jordan was involved directly with the conflict also meant that its economy received support from richer Arab countries, as its own economy could not afford war expenses, development costs, and finances required for the housing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Political and Economic Development
Jordan's role and status in the Arab world started to change in 1970. In September of that year (also called Black September) King Hussein decided to expel the PLO from Jordan. This was due to the group's military activities in Jordan which were considered as infringement of Jordanian sovereignty by the King. During the conflict, King Hussein found his country being invaded by Syria, and condemned by every other Arab country in the region. After the conflict Jordan found itself in the cold in the Arab world. So much so that King Hussein was not informed about Syria and Egypt's plans to invade Israel in 1973. From September 1970 onwards, King Hussein decided to diversify Jordan's circle of friends and to expand the country's economy. As a result, Jordan started secret negotiations with Israel and expanded the scope of its relationship with the US. King Hussein did not abandon the Palestinian cause, nor did he abandon Jordan's relations with other Arab countries. King Hussein decided that Jordan's strategic interests may clash with its Arab neighbours again in the future, as it did in September 1970. Therefore as means of protecting Jordan's self interests, Jordan's economic and political relations had to be diversified to those outside the region , thus allowing the country to have more room to maneuver in the future .
Jordan's march towards economic development continued until the 1990s with limited success. This was due to lack of natural resources and the lack of an economy large or sophisticated enough to increase its dealings with the West. Subsequently Jordan found itself relying on Arab financial assistance, trade, and remittances from Jordanian workers in other Arab countries. Furthermore due to the large Palestinian population living in the country, Jordan could not make peace with Israel until the Palestinian - Israeli peace process had made progress. The absence of such a peace agreement meant that Jordan missed out on the potential economic rewards such as increased tourism, investment and aid from the US. Noting Jordan's continued reliance on regional political events and economies of its Arab neighbours, the country received its second economic and political shock upon the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2 1990. The invasion angered all Gulf countries, which is where majority of Jordanian workers worked. However Iraq was Jordan's biggest export destination, trade partner and petroleum provider. At the same time the Gulf countries close relations with the US was very unpopular with Jordan's majority Palestinian originated citizens.
Therefore in order to maintain political stability, whilst protecting Jordan's biggest export market, King Hussein found himself in a very difficult position of having to side with Iraq. This decision cost Jordan dearly, both in economic and political terms. King Hussein again found his country being alienated in the Middle East and in the global arena. A large group of Jordanian workers lost their jobs, Gulf countries stopped any economic assistance they were providing, investments were reduced and Jordan suddenly found itself home to a large group of returning Jordanians and Palestinians who were expelled by Kuwait. The Iraqi vs Kuwait war and its repercussions were the catalyst for the birth of the recent economic and political changes in Jordan. Having again suffered from over-reliance on regional politics, Jordan's diversification plans started to become reality. They were assisted by regional events too. The Israeli - Palestinian track started to make progress and heralded a new era after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. As a result King Hussein seized the opportunity and started Jordan's peace treaty with Israel which was signed in 1994. The peace treaty was a step forward in Jordan's diversification process as it opened up economic exchanges with Israel (trade) and the US (trade and aid). Furthermore the peace treaty expanded Jordan's economy through increase in investments and tourism. Plans were produced as means of strengthening the country's own economy, including calls for the reform of the Jordanian economy and its accession to the WTO as means of increasing global investment and trade in and with Jordan. Since the start of the economic reforms, Jordan has started to see an increase exports, investments, and trade agreements with other countries and entities such as the US, EU, Singapore.
The positive fruits of Jordan's diversification policy were witnessed during the second Gulf war, where loss of the Iraqi market had a smaller impact on the Jordanian economy. This was due to Jordan's improved economic and political relationship with the US, EU and the Gulf countries. The improved relationship translated itself into aid, economic assistance and increased trade which were crucial for the stability of the Jordanian economy during the war and loss the Iraqi market. Furthermore reforms for the political structure of the country were also drafted as means of increasing Jordan's political stability.
Jordan's constitutional infrastructure today consists of the following bodies:
The King, chosen by hereditary monarchy is the executive branch of the Jordanian political system. Jordan has bicameral legislation system which are:
- The National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma), is composed of the House of Notables or Senate (Majlis al-Ayan).This parliamentary body consists of 55 members which are appointed by the King for the duration of four years.
- The House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwaab) consists of 110 seats chosen through popular election for all Jordanians aged 18 and above. Out of the total, six seats are allocated to women, nine for Christians, three for Circassions and nine for Bedouins.
New Political parties need to receive a license from the Ministry of Interior. In order to qualify the parties must comply with certain laws, such as having a minimum of 50 members, and to respect for the Jordanian constitution and political pluralism. The latest Jordanian parliamentary elections which took place on June 17 2003 heralded the following results: tribal candidates and candidates of conservative social forces achieved majority vote and victory by capturing 84 parliamentary seats. The Islamic Action Front won only 20 seats. Leftist and nationalist political parties failed to win any seats in parliament.
By: Meir Javedanfar- www.meepas.com