Jordan is another major Arabic-speaking country, which lies close to the heart of the Holy Land of three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the relatively small country has played an important role in the politics of the region for nearly a century. Created shortly after World War I, the territory Jordan now occupies was once a portion of the Palestine. Before then, it was also a portion of the Ottoman Empire, which dissolved due to WWI. Jordan eventually gained its independence in 1946, after being a British mandate since the end of the war.
Today Jordan operates as a constitutional monarchy under its original constitution, signed in 1952 but which has been amended many times. The government of Jordan consists of two main leaders. The first of these is the head of state, the King. Currently, this is King Abdallah II. This position is a hereditary position, appointed by the previous king. The king also appoints the Prime Minister of the country as well. As of February 2011, this position was given to Marouf Al Bakhit after the previous prime minister was dismissed by the king, following the uprisings in countries across the region. Also dismissed from their positions were the members of the third area of Jordan’s executive branch, the Cabinet. The Cabinet is also appointed by the king in conjunction with the prime minister.
In addition to the executive branch, Jordan also has judicial and legislative branches. The main governing body of the country is known as the Court of Cassation, which is similar to the Supreme Court in the United States. The legislative sector of the government is bicameral and is known as the Majlis al-‘Umma, or the National Assembly in English. One of the bodies within this branch is the Chamber of Deputies, or the House of Representatives. The members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected according to districts. Within the Chamber, there are certain seats reserved for women, Christians, and certain minorities. The Senate-type body in the legislative branch is known as the House of Notables. There are sixty positions, or seats within this body and all of the members are appointed directly by the king.
The geography of Jordan has been a strong factor in shaping the history of the region. Due to its centralized location in the Middle East, the territory now occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan was considered invaluable to many earlier kingdoms and empires. Today, Jordan still plays a pivotal role in the politics of the region, even though the country lacks the natural resources that many of its neighboring Middle Eastern countries claim. The majority of Jordan’s land to the East is considered desert plateau. This area may be contributed to the arid climate Jordan experiences throughout most of the year. However, the country does experience a rainy season from November to April. To the West, there is a highland area. The Western boarder of Jordan follows the line of the Jordan River, which lies in the Jordan Rift Valley and marks the boarder between Jordan and Israel. Also located along this boarder is the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is one of the Earth’s saltiest bodies of water and is also the lowest point on Earth’s surface, excluding the oceans. The extreme salinity of the water creates harsh environments for most life forms, hence the name “Dead” Sea. The high salinity also makes it much easier for swimmers to float in the Dead Sea, a trait that draws tourists to the location.
Another major body of water for the country is the Red Sea. Without Jordan’s sixteen miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba in the South of the country, the kingdom would be considered completely landlocked. The land along the gulf was acquired from Saudi Arabia in 1965, through a land-trade for a significant amount of area in Jordan’s desert. Aqaba is also a city that lies on the Gulf. It is one of the primary commercial cities in Jordan, as well as a popular restort destination for tourists. Trade in the Gulf of Aqaba may be traced back as early as the fourth dynasty of Egypt, around 2500 BCE.
Although the present-day kingdom of Jordan only dates back to the end of World War II, civilization in the area dates back far longer. The earliest evidence of human activity in the area is traced back to the Paleolithic period. Most of this evidence is in the form of small tools. The first civilizations developed during the Neolithic Period (8500-4500 BCE). One of the most famous ancient sites for evidence of Neolithic peoples may be found at ‘Ain Ghazal, an ancient city on the outskirts of modern-day Amman in North-West Jordan, which was inhabited from about 7250 BCE up until 5000 BCE. Some of the most interesting finds for archaeologists are plaster figurines. The figures are an excellent example of craftsmanship at the time and include details such as facial characteristics and toes.
Most of the evidence of these early Transjordan peoples comes in the form of tools and art. Writing did not develop in the area until around 2000BCE, nearly one thousand years after writing systems developed in portions of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
During the Iron Age, from about 1200-332 BCE, there were several important settlements throughout the territory that is now Jordan. Occupying the area to the south of the Dead Sea, there was the Biblical Kingdom of Edom. Edom is recorded in the Bible as being present around 1200 BCE. However, the only archaeological evidence of the kingdom dates back to 800 BCE. In the northern portion of Jordan, there was the kingdom of Ammon. THe principle city of Ammon was Rabbah, which is sometimes referred to as Rabbath Ammon. The capital of Jordan, Amman, is on the present-day site of Rabbah and is named after this early kingdom. Between the kingdoms of Ammon and Edom, was the Kingdom of Moab. Moab is considered the sister kingdom of Ammon. According to Biblical records, the two cities are referred to as the “Children of Lot,” due to the belief that they were descendents of Lot and his daughters, who escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. These Kingdoms grew relatively wealthy due to trade and agriculture, as well as maintaining a strong defensive position. During the Assyrian Empire, these three kingdoms were able to remain independent through their wealth and by paying homage to the stronger Empire. By the time that the Assyrian Empire fell to the Babylonians in 612 BCE, a series of migrations took place among several of the groups in Transjordan. One of these was the Edomite journey out of Transjordan into the Palestine area.
While the Edomites were leaving Transjordan, there was another civilization just beginning to arrive out of Arabia. Traditionally nomadic, these peoples eventually settled down in the red sandstone cliffs of Jordan’s southern desert. Known as the Nabateans, they were also some of the original Arabic-speaking peoples to enter what is today Jordan. The Nabateans are famous for the remains that they left in the red sandstone they once inhabited- great, intricately carved buildings created directly out of the sandstone cliffs of their main city, Petra. To this day, the facades are considered a marvel and remain a popular tourist attraction. The Nabateans remained a strong force in the southern Transjordan region for several centuries. Their success lasted up until the first century BCE, after years of warfare against the Romans led to the fall of Petra and much of their territory at the hands of Herod the Great.
While the Nabateans flourished in the south, the northern portion of Transjordan was occupied by the Persian Empire. Under the Persians, much of the surrounding regions were conquered, including Egypt. The Ammonites and the Moabites struggled for control of the region. However, both kingdoms did work together to attack the newly-freed Jews, who returned to Israel to reestablish Jerusalem after Cyrus lifted their exile to Babylon.
Alexander the Great took control of the Persian Empire during a period of weakness that allowed Greek rule to be established within the region. Due to trade between the Greeks and their newly-conquered territories, which had existed in the region for centuries, there had always been a Greek presence in the region. However, under Alexander, Greek culture flourished in the Transjordan region. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his Achaemenid Empire underwent a power struggle, the result of which led to instability among his generals for several years. Eventually, Transjordan fell into the hands of the Ptolemies along with Egypt as well. They were in control from 301-198 BCE, and were followed by the Seleucids who ruled only from 198 – 68 BCE, with whom they fought over the territory for many years.
Towards the end of the Seleucid period of rule, Roman interest in the region spiked, due to the strategic location of Transjordan in regards to trades routes. In 63 BCE, Pompey initiated a vast military campaign to gain control of Jordan, as well as Palestine and Syria. Roman rule, much like that of the Greeks before them brought about many changed in the region. One of these was the creation of sophisticated roads, which the Romans were (and still are) famous for. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was the Via Nova Triana. This road stretched from the Gulf of Aqaba, northward into Syria. It was a strategic move, meant to further promote and facilitate Jordan’s lucrative trading industry. The Romans would introduced further improvements to the region, such as city development, over the next four centuries of their control.
The Romans would be followed by a period of Byzantine rule, after Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in 333 CE. With this event, Christianity began to spread throughout the region. There is a marked increase in churches during this time as a result. Due to the lavishness of these buildings, the time is understood to be a period of prosperity. However, by the sixth century this period of well-being declined with the arrival of a plague in the region. The population decrease that happened as a result weakened the Byzantine stronghold of Jordan and caused leadership to be taken over by the Sassanian Empire, which ruled for only fifteen years, before being taken back again by the Byzantines.
The Byzantines did not retain power in the region for long. A major force was growing in the form of the new religion of Islam. By 630 CE, Muslim conquerors were already gaining control of the Middle East and by 640 CE had taken control of the entirety of Jordan from the Byzantines. It was the initiation of a sequence of Muslim Empire that would control the region. Under the first, the Umayyad Empire, the area of Jordan flourished due to its close proximity to the capital of the empire, Damascus, which allowed for trading opportunities and monetary inflow through religious tourists to the area. However, under the Abbasid Empire the capital city was changed to Baghdad. This led to a period of decline in Jordan. Following the Abbasids was the Fatimid Empire, which spanned Egypt, Jordan and parts of Syria. The Fatimids were an Egyptian peoples, who took power in 969 CE. By the eleventh century, the Holy Wars had begun and foreign Christians captured Jerusalem as well as established control of strategic points in Jordan. Crusader threat was ended by the Ayyubid Dynasty of Egypt. The Ayyubids controlled the territory that had once belonged to the Fatimids, with the edition of the rest of Syria. This territory was then taken over by the Mamluks from Egypt around 1260 CE. Mamluk rule lasted until 1516 CE and was a time of rebuilding and prosperity for the people within Jordan. Eventually, the Mamluks were overcome by the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottomans would control Jordan as well as its neighbors until the end of World War I. Under the Ottomans, Jordan was generally regarded as valuable for is pilgrimage routes for religious travelers. Most of the construction during the time was to facilitate this source of income for the Empire. During the Ottoman Period, the population of Jordan decreased drastically from its numbers during Mamluk rule. A great number of the population also converted to more nomadic lifestyles than they had previously lived.
By the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was divided by new boarders, set up by the League of Nations. Among these was the British Mandate of Palestine. Within the mandate were the territories of Palestine and, what was then still known as, Transjordan. In 1922, the British officially divided the area into Palestine and Transjordan. Palestine remained under control of the British, while Transjordan was allowed to be independent. It was ruled by the Hashemite family. The British Mandate of Palestine officially expired on May 22, 1946 and the country officially became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1950.
Shortly after its independence, Jordan participated in its first war as an independent state. It was the Arab War against the formation of Israel. This war resulted in Jordan’s acquirement of the West Bank. However, this move was only initially supported by Pakistan and Britain. In the year 1951, King Abdullah paid a visit to the West Bank and Jerusalem, where he was assassinated by a Palestinian. His kingdom was taken over by his son King Hussein. Throughout the Fifties, personally liberties for Jordan’s citizens flourished. For example, freedom of speech and the press as well as other freedoms were all protected by the country’s newly signed constitution.
Tensions remained high in the Middle East following the Arab-Iraqi War. By the end of the Fifties, these tensions escalated into the Arab Cold War, during which the Hashemite crowns of both Jordan and Baghdad united, resulting in the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan. It was a short lived federation. It would be disbanded that same year, due to a coup in Baghdad. In order to protect himself from neighboring enemies, King Hussein requested the help of the British and United States air forces.
During the 1960’s Jordan still participated in warfare against Israel, specifically the Six Day War. During this war, Israel seized the West Bank from Jordanian control. Later, in 1988, Jordan relinquished all control of the area over to Israel. However, a Jordanian presence remains strong at Muslim and Christian holy places within the territory. Just three years after the Six Day War of 1967, Jordan actively expelled through violent force Palestinian resistance fighters within the country, who had grown in strength since the Six Day War’s commencement.
Since the early 1990’s Jordan has been actively participating in peace negotiations with Israel. In fact, Jordan has sought to remain at peace with its neighbors and upon the outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in 2000, offered aid to both sides. In 1999, the third king of Jordan, King Abdullah II, took the throne after his father’s death. Since his instatement as king, he has passed progressive reforms that encourage civil liberties as well as economic growth.