A regular player in regional peace efforts, Jordan must also confront challenges of its own to ensure the nation’s sustainability.
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The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan shares a border with Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Jordan is one of two Arab nations considered pro-Western due to its close alliance with the United States, European countries, and Israel.
For this reason, Jordan is sometimes called on to act as a mediator in the continuing conflict between Israel, Palestine and other Middle Eastern nations.
After the end of British control of Transjordan in 1946, King Abdullah, the second son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, became king over a newly independent Jordan.
Two years later, when the British mandate ended in Palestine, the combined forces of Transjordan and other Arab countries invaded Palestine. The West Bank and part of the Old City of Jerusalem remained in the hands of Jordan after the war. King Abdullah united the West Bank and Transjordan, thus forming the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1950.
In 1951, King Abdullah was assassinated, and his eldest son, Talal, succeeded him as king. Due to illness, he reigned for only one year before abdicating the throne. His son Hussein then became king upon turning 18 years old in 1953.
From 1953 to 1999, King Hussein ruled Jordan. Under his stewardship, he put down a Palestinian uprising, relinquished all claims to the West Bank, and signed a treaty with Israel. He also worked tirelessly to try to bring peace and prosperity to Jordan.
King Abdullah II assumed full constitutional powers when his father, King Hussein, died on February 7, 1999. Since then, he has instituted a number of changes to improve Jordan’s global image.
According to the royal website, King Abdullah II has been working on the advancement of civil liberties, making Jordan one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. He has been involved in enacting legislation that guarantees women a full role in the kingdom’s socioeconomic and political life.
Jordan has a literacy rate of nearly 90 percent, and spends 4.9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education, according to the most recent estimates provided by the CIA World Factbook.
The main tourist attraction in Jordan is Petra. Considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is a majestic city intricately carved out of sandstone cliffs by its earlier settlers, the Nabataeans.
Thousands of tourists visit Petra each year to view its grandeur, and see other historical ruins. Jordan’s service industry accounts for over 60 percent of the nation’s GDP.
Despite possessing oil reserves, Jordan remains almost wholly dependent on imported oil, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This has put a strain on the country’s ability to fund social programs.
Jordan has long wrestled with severe water shortages. Inadequate water supplies threaten to derail the nation’s long-term plans for growth and sustainability.
According to the World Health Organization, Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water resource availability, per capita, in the world. Water scarcity could become an even greater problem over the coming years as the population is projected to relatively quickly double.
Jordan’s stability, religious tolerance and hospitality are attractive to refugees fleeing wars and persecution in their own countries. As a result, the nation faces the challenge of providing for refugees entering its borders.
“Official figures put Jordan’s current population at 5.7 million, not including hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. There are more than 600,000 Iraqi refugees, nearly 250,000 Egyptian workers and hundreds of thousands of other Arab nationals—including Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese—already in Jordan” (IRIN News).
Jordan’s population, which is over 90 percent Arab, is traditionally conservative. Yet, with modern technologies such as the Internet and cable television, a change is evident.
A Gallup poll about perceptions of Western culture in Islamic nations reported that “in all of the countries surveyed, respondents view Western values as having a negative effect on local values.” Of those polled in Jordan, 53 percent responded that Western values had a “very negative influence” on their society.
Despite many citizens’ negative perceptions of the West, Jordan maintains close ties with the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of State, “Since 1952 the United States has worked closely with Jordan to improve the lives of Jordanian citizens. Development assistance totaling nearly $6 billion has resulted in dramatically improved health indicators, road and water networks, hundreds of schools built, thousands of Jordanians in critical fields educated and trained in the U.S., and grants and loans for U.S. agricultural commodities…These programs are an essential contributor to a strong bilateral relationship centered on a stable, reform-oriented Jordan.”
Jordan also joined the United States in its war on terror after a 2005 terrorist bombing destroyed three hotels in Amman. In an effort to track down those responsible and to prevent further attacks, Jordan sent troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite the disapproval of its Arab neighbors.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said, “We’re talking about finding the root causes, finding the root of where terrorists plan and plot, and trying to stop them right there and then” (The New York Times).
Even though the socioeconomic programs have borne some levels of success, much work lies ahead to overcome the immediate challenges now threatening to prevent Jordan from realizing its fullest potential.
In a taped message to the nation on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim festival, King Abdullah II summed up how Jordan will face its future challenges.
“We will continue reform, modernisation and progress in all aspects—political, economic, social and administrative—to achieve comprehensive development that will have a positive impact on people’s lives and enable them to have the decent living they’re entitled to by their country and society. I am aware of the tough economic circumstances, and as I have said in the past, and as you always say, better to bear our own burdens than allow others to carry them for us.”