U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Jordan, October 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Area: 89,544 sq. km. (34,573 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Amman (pop. 1 million). Other cities--Irbid
(281,000), Az-Zarqa (421,000).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jordanian(s).
Population (est.): 3.9 million.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 95% (est.), Christian 5% (est.).
Languages: Arabic (official), English.
Education: Literacy (1992)--82%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1992)--27/1,000. Life expectancy
Ethnic groups: Mostly Arab, but small communities of Circassians,
Armenians, and Kurds.
Work force (750,000): Government and services--47%. Manufacturing and
mining--25%. Trade--16%. Agriculture--12%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Independence: May 25, 1946.
Constitution: January 8, 1952.
Branches: Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister (head of
government), council of ministers (cabinet). Legislative--bicameral
National Assembly (appointed Senate, elected Chamber of Deputies).
Judicial--civil, religious, special courts.
Political parties: Wide spectrum of parties legalized in 1992.
Suffrage: Universal at 19.
Administrative subdivisions: Eight governorates--Irbid, al-Mafraq, al-
Zarqa, Amman, al-Balqa, al-Karak, al-Tafilah, and Ma'an.
GDP (1994 est.): $6.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1994 est.): 5.5%.
Per capita GDP (1994 est.): $1,565.
Natural resources: Phosphate, potash.
Agriculture: Products--fruits, vegetables, wheat, olive oil. Land--10%
Industry (30% of GDP): Types--phosphate mining, manufacturing, and
cement and petroleum production.
Trade (1993 est.): Exports--$1.2 billion: phosphates, fruits,
vegetables. Major markets--Iraq, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Imports--$3.4
billion: machinery, transportation equipment, cereals, petroleum
products. Major suppliers--U.S., Iraq, Japan, U.K., Syria.
Official exchange rate (September 1995): 0.71 Jordanian dinar=U.S. $1.
* From 1949 to 1967, Jordan administered that part of former mandate
Palestine west of the Jordan River known as the West Bank. Since the
1967 war, when Israel took control of this territory, the United States
has considered the West Bank to be territory occupied by Israel. The
United States believes that the final status of the West Bank can be
determined only through negotiations among the parties concerned on the
basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Jordanians are Arabs, except for a few small communities of Circassians,
Armenians, and Kurds which 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 seminomadic. Most people live where
the rainfall supports agriculture. About 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs-
-including more than 950,000 registered refugees and displaced persons--
reside in Jordan, many as citizens.
The land that became Jordan is part of the richly historical Fertile
Crescent region. Its history began around 2000 B.C., when 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
At the end of World War I, the territory now comprising Israel, Jordan,
the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem was awarded to the United Kingdom by
the League of Nations 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
The mandate over Transjordan ended on May 22, 1946; on May 25, the
country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. It
continued to have a special defense treaty relationship with the United
Kingdom until 1957, when the treaty was dissolved by mutual consent.
The British mandate over Palestine ended on May 14, 1948, and the State
of Israel was proclaimed. Neighboring Arab states, including
Transjordan, moved to assist Palestinian nationalists opposed to this
development, resulting in open warfare between the Arab states and the
newly founded State of Israel. The armistice agreements of April 3,
1949, established armistice demarcation lines between Jordan and Israel,
leaving Jordan in control of the West Bank. The agreements expressly
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. Jordan
established three governorates on the West Bank: Nablus, al-Quds
(Jerusalem), and al-Khalil. 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. After repelling the Arab attack, Israel
extended its control to the Jordan River, including Jordanian-controlled
eastern Jerusalem. In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to the West
Bank but retained an administrative role pending a final settlement on
the West Bank. 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. Differing with the Jordanian
Government's policies, the heavily armed fedayeen constituted a growing
threat to the sovereignty and security of the Hashemite state. Tensions
between the government and the fedayeen increased until open fighting
erupted in June 1970.
Other Arab governments attempted to work out a peaceful solution, but by
September, continuing fedayeen actions in Jordan--including the
destruction of three international airliners hijacked and held in the
desert east of Amman--prompted the government to take action to regain
control over its territory and population. In the ensuing heavy
fighting, a Syrian tank force (camouflaged as a Palestinian force)
initially took up positions in northern Jordan to support the fedayeen.
By September 22, Arab foreign ministers meeting at Cairo had arranged a
cease-fire beginning the following day. Sporadic violence continued,
however, until Jordanian forces won a decisive victory over the fedayeen
in July 1971, expelling them from the country. Since then, the fedayeen
have not presented a threat to the Jordanian Government.
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. Except for a period of border tension with
Syria in 1980, it has been at de facto peace with all its neighbors. 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.
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy based on the constitution
promulgated on January 8, 1952. 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 National Assembly. 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 council of ministers, led by a prime minister, is appointed by the
king, who may dismiss other cabinet members at the prime minister's
request. The cabinet is responsible to the Chamber of Deputies on
matters of general policy and can be forced to resign by a two-thirds
vote of "no confidence" by that body.
Legislative power rests in the bicameral National Assembly. The 80-
member Chamber of Deputies, elected by universal suffrage to a four-year
term, is subject to dissolution by the king. Of the 80 seats, 71 must
go to Muslims and nine to Christians. The 40-member Senate is appointed
by the king for an eight-year term.
The constitution provides for three categories of courts--civil,
religious, and special. Administratively, Jordan is divided into eight
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.
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--King Hussein I
Prime Minister, Minister of Defense--Sharif Zayd Bin Shakir
Foreign Minister--Abdul Karim Kabariti
Ambassador to the U.S.--Fayez Tarawneh
Ambassador to the UN--Adnan Abu Odeh
Jordan maintains an embassy in the United States at 3504 International
Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008
King Hussein has ruled Jordan since 1953 and has survived 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. Islamists are represented in but do
not dominate the parliament. King Hussein has shown a commitment to
democratization, most importantly by ending martial law in 1991 and
legalizing political parties in 1992.
Jordan's continuing structural economic difficulties, burgeoning
population, and more open political environment have led to the
emergence of a variety of political parties. Moving toward greater
independence, parliament has investigated corruption charges against
several regime figures and has become the major forum in which differing
political views, including those of political Islamists, are expressed.
While King Hussein remains the ultimate authority in Jordan, the
parliament plays an important role.
Although Jordan in 1988 disengaged from the West Bank and ceased efforts
to restore the country's 1948-67 position, it retains considerable
influence in the West Bank--for example, regulating the operations of
Jordanian banks and issuing limited-validity Jordanian passports to West
Jordan is a small country with limited natural resources. Just over 10%
of its land is arable, and even that is subject to the vagaries of a
limited water supply. Rainfall is low and highly variable, and much of
Jordan's available ground water is not renewable. Jordan's economic
resource base traditionally has centered on phosphates, potash, and
their fertilizer derivatives; overseas remittances; and foreign aid.
These are its principal sources of hard currency earnings. Lacking
forests, coal reserves, hydroelectric power, or commercially viable oil
deposits, Jordan relies on natural gas for 10% of its domestic energy
needs. For the other 90%, Jordan depends entirely on its oil-producing
Although the population is highly educated, its high growth rate (3.4%)
and relative youth (more than 50% of Jordanians are under 16) will make
it difficult for the economy to generate jobs and sustain living
standards. Jordan's distance from other markets makes its exports less
competitive outside the region, and political disputes among its
traditional trading partners (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states)
frequently restrict regional trade and development.
Since 1987, Jordan has struggled with a substantial debt burden, lower
per capita income, and rising unemployment. From 1988-90, the official
cost of living index rose 56%, while the dinar lost 51% of its value
against the dollar. In 1989, Jordan concluded an 18-month standby
arrangement (SBA) with the IMF and achieved agreement with Paris Club
creditors to reschedule $573 million of debt. At the same time, to
increase revenues, the government raised prices of certain commodities
and utilities, triggering riots in the south. The mood of political
discontent that swept the country in the wake of the riots helped set
the stage for Jordan's moves toward democratization.
The SBA was derailed by economic consequences of the 1990-91 Gulf war.
While tourist trade plummeted, the Gulf states' decision to limit
economic ties with Jordan deprived it of worker remittances, traditional
export markets, a secure supply of oil, and substantial foreign aid
revenues. UN sanctions against Iraq-- Jordan's largest pre-war trading
partner--caused further hard-ships, including higher shipping costs due
to inspections of cargo shipments entering the Gulf of Aqaba. Finally,
absorbing up to 300,000 returnees from the Gulf countries exacerbated
unemployment and strained the government's ability to provide essential
In February 1992, Jordan renewed its commitment to pursuing long-term
economic growth and entered into another 18-month standby arrangement
with the IMF, followed by another Paris Club rescheduling of $771
million. Success in implementing its economic reform program will
depend upon how effectively the government can stimulate private
enterprise and encourage trade and investment in productive enterprises.
In 1992, economic performance was solid: With all IMF targets met by
wide margins, Jordan's $4.7-billion economy grew an impressive 11%.
Inflation was held to 6.8%, but unemployment persisted at high levels
(20%-25%). Although much of the 1992 growth resulted from non-recurring
factors--a construction boom and customs receipts generated by Gulf war
returnees--Jordan experienced growth of about 6% in 1993.
Further economic reform efforts are likely to be tempered by concerns
about effects on low-income voters. With parliament playing a more
active role in the formulation of economic policy, it may be difficult
to impose further belt-tightening measures. In the near term, Jordan
will continue to depend on foreign grants and concessional loans to
further its development efforts. While in the past the largest aid
flows have come from the Arab states, the United States and other
Western countries also have been important sources of development funds.
During the first half of 1994, Jordan's economy dipped into recession.
Its prospects for growth in the second half improved following Jordan's
additional rescheduling of debt with Paris Club creditors, decisions by
the U.S. and U.K. to forgive its official debt, and growing confidence
as a result of progress in the Middle East peace process.
Jordan has consistently followed a pro-Western foreign policy and
traditionally has had close relations with the United States and the
United Kingdom. These relations were damaged by support in Jordan for
Iraq during the Gulf war. Although the Government of Jordan stated its
opposition to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, popular support for Iraq
was driven by Jordan's Palestinian community, which favored Saddam as a
champion against Western supporters of Israel.
Since the end of the war, Jordan has largely restored its relations with
Western countries through its participation in the Middle East peace
process and enforcement of UN sanctions against Iraq. Relations between
Jordan and the Gulf countries have improved only slightly since the Gulf
Jordan signed a non-belligerency agreement with Israel (the Washington
Declaration) in Washington, DC, on July 25, 1994. Jordan and Israel
signed a historic peace treaty on October 26, 1994, witnessed by
President Clinton, accompanied by Secretary Christopher.
The U.S. has participated with Jordan and Israel in trilateral
development discussions in which key issues have been water-sharing and
security; cooperation on Jordan Rift Valley development; infrastructure
projects; and trade, finance, and banking issues. Jordan also
participates in the multilateral peace talks.
Jordan belongs to the UN and several of its specialized and related
agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and World Health Organization
(WHO). Jordan also is a member of the World Bank, International
Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC),
INTELSAT, Nonaligned Movement, and Arab League.
Relations between the U.S. and Jordan have been close for four decades.
A primary objective of U.S. policy, particularly since the end of the
Gulf war, has been the achievement of a comprehensive, just, and lasting
peace in the Middle East. Jordan's constructive participation in the
Madrid peace process is key in achieving peace.
U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan's commitment to democratization,
stability, and moderation. The peace process and Jordan's opposition to
terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests.
Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close
political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its
stability and move forward with democratization. Recently, though, a
declining U.S. foreign assistance budget has limited its ability to
Since 1952, the United States has provided Jordan with economic
assistance totaling more than $1.5 billion, including funds for
development projects, health care, support for macro-economic policy
shifts toward a more completely free-market system, and both grant and
loan acquisition of U.S. agricultural commodities. These programs have
been overwhelmingly successful and have contributed to Jordanian
stability while strengthening the bilateral relationship. U.S. military
assistance--provision of materiel and training--is designed to meet
Jordan's legitimate defense needs, including preservation of border
integrity and regional stability.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Wesley W. Egan
Deputy Chief of Mission--Robert Beecroft
The U.S. embassy in Jordan is located in Abdoun, Amman (tel. 820-101)
and is closed on all U.S. federal holidays and some Jordanian holidays.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department of
State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication
-- Washington, DC -- This material is in the public domain and can be
reproduced without consent; citation of this source is appreciated.
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