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Antiquity and Middle Ages

The territory of Jordan was in earlier times an important crossroads of trade routes. For a long time, there was a constant wave of urbanisation and then a transition to the nomadic culture of the Bedouins. The very first signs of human life date from about 10,000 years ago, the Stone Age. Around 6000 BC, Jericho was founded, one of the oldest cities in the world. Between 2700 and 2300 BC, the city-states that ruled this region were abandoned for unknown reasons.

During the Bronze Age (1950-1200 BC), the population became nomadic again and the influence of Pharaoh's Egypt grew. For a short time, there was even a pharaoh, Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 B.C.), who ruled over what is now Jordan, which was then part of the kingdom of Canaan, which further consisted of Syria and Israel. In 1230 BC three independent states were founded in Jordan: Ammon in the north, Edom in the south and in between Moab. The rise of these states can be explained by the presence of trade routes with the Arabian peninsula, such as the incense route to Yemen. This trade did the three states no harm, but they were regularly conquered, for example by Assyrians (732 BC), Babylonians (612 BC), and Persians (539 BC).

In 330 BC, Jordan was conquered by Alexander the Great. In the heyday that followed, Jordan fell under the Hellenistic empires of the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria. Existing cities were Hellenised (the official language was Greek, for example) and new cities were founded. At this time, the Nabataean Empire arose in southern Jordan, with Petra as its capital. By 85 BC, this empire had expanded to Mecca and Medina and as far as Damascus in Syria.

In the year 64 AD, Jordan was conquered by the Romans and a powerful trade federation came into being after the amalgamation of ten or so trade towns called Decapolis.

After the Romans, Jordan was occupied by the Byzantines (324-636) and again experienced a cultural and economic boom. Even when the Jordanian territory was conquered by Muslim armies from Arabia after the Battle of Yarmuk in 636, things continued to go well. For example, Jordan was centrally located between the capital of the Arab-Muslim empire, Damascus, and Mecca, the city to which many Muslims go as pilgrims. Gradually, the official language became Arabic and Islam the dominant religion.

In the 9th century, Jordan was thrown back into the limelight. The capital of the Muslim kingdom became Baghdad and trade through the desert was replaced by trade through the Red Sea.

From Ottoman territory to British mandate area

In 1516, the area was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, but despite a revival due to a new pilgrimage route to Mecca, Jordan remained a remote corner of the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century. It was not until that century that the Ottomans again attempted to make the area habitable.

After the First World War Jordan more or less acquired its present form. In 1916, the emir of Mecca, Sharif Hussein, declared the Arab uprising against the Turks. Together with his sons Abdallah and Faisal, a Bedouin army was formed and in 1918, with the help of British troops, Damascus (Syria) was occupied. In early 1919, the nationalist Syrian Congress proclaimed Faisal king of Syria and Abdallah king of Iraq, which included present-day Jordan.

The ultimate aim of all this was to create a large Arab state. However, the French and British were not in favour and after the San Remo Conference in February 1919, the entire Middle East was divided between the European powers. France received the mandate over Syria and Lebanon and Great Britain the mandate over Palestine and Iraq. The border was drawn between the French mandate area of Lebanon and Syria and the British Palestine. Trans-Jordan, the area east of the Jordan, belonged from then on to the mandate area of Palestine.

After a conference in the Egyptian capital Cairo in March 1921, things suddenly looked very different. Abdallah had planned to march on Damascus in winter to fight the French. In Cairo it was now decided that Abdallah would abandon his claim to the throne of Iraq in favour of his brother Faisal. Abdallah would then become ruler of Trans-Jordan, but would have to abandon his plan to attack the French. This separated Trans-Jordan from Palestine and changed its western border to the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba.

On 25 May 1923, Trans-Jordan was granted independence by the British. In 1924, Abdallah's father Hussein was driven out of the Hidjaz by the Saudis. He had proclaimed himself caliph of all believers, which was not accepted by the Saudis. Saudi troops initially advanced unopposed to Amman, but they were then defeated by Abdallah, aided by the British.

It was then immediately clear that the British were calling the shots in Abdallah's economically impoverished country, especially in the areas of finance and foreign affairs. Abdallah's dependence was even enshrined in a number of so-called 'treaties of friendship' and the Bedouin army 'Arab Legion' was commanded by a British general, John Bagot Glubb, aptly called 'Glubb Pasha'. Abdallah's ambition to create a Greater Syria slowly faded away as he was seen as helping the British by superpowers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and it would also upset the fragile balance of power in the region.

Jordan independent

In 1945 the Arab League was formed, of which Jordan also became a member. On 22 March 1946 Britain recognised Trans-Jordan as a fully independent Hashemite Kingdom. This gave Abdallah more room to spread his wings, after he had already responded positively in 1937 to the British proposals to add the Arab part of Palestine to Trans-Jordan. Abdallah was also in constant contact with Zionist political leaders and was therefore very controversial in the Arab world.

In the late 1940s, Abdallah tried to achieve his goal of annexing the Arab part of Palestine with the help of Zionist leaders.

The fact that in November 1947 the United Nations decided to divide Palestine was very convenient for him. A non-aggression pact was even concluded, which meant that the Arab Legion would occupy the Arab part of Palestine in exchange for Jordan's promise that it would do nothing against the proclamation of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948. Abdallah's pledge was not acceptable to almost everyone, but on 15 May 1948 troops of the Arab Legion actually invaded Palestine and eventually annexed the West Bank. The area thus created was now officially called Jordan.

However, future problems were already present in the bud: around 450,000 Bedouin from Trans-Jordan were suddenly joined by around 650,000 Palestinians, who were much better educated and above all more politically aware. Furthermore, the Palestinians had few rights and almost all lived in refugee camps

Period Hussein

In 1951, Abdallah was assassinated when it became known that he had negotiated with the Israelis. He was succeeded by his 18-year-old grandson Hussein, who was proclaimed king on 11 August 1952. Abdallah's son Talal had already been found unfit to rule for health reasons.

At that time, the radical republican pan-Arabism of the Egyptian president Nasser prevailed in the Middle East and Hussein had a hard time with it. He was very dependent on foreigners, and that was a thorn in the flesh of a nationalist like Nasser. Hussein nevertheless tried to go along with the pan-Arab endeavour, and thought he had taken a step in the right direction by dismissing the British 'Glubb Pasha'.

He thought this would make him more popular and optimistically called free elections for 21 October 1956. The surprise was great, however, when the elections were won by the radical pro-Egyptian Palestinian politician Suleiman al-Nabulsi of the National Socialist Party, with many supporters among the modern Palestinian elite. Nabulsi's ultimate goal was that the Hashemite royal house should give way in order to solve the Palestinians' case. The first to do so was to cancel the friendship treaty with Britain, much to the anger of Hussein. He fought the nationalists of Nabulsi with the help of the Americans, and made good use of the so-called Eisenhower doctrine, which meant that the United States could intervene in Middle Eastern countries that felt threatened by communism. Hussein made eager use of this and began to portray the Nabulsi government as communists. On 10 April 1957, Hussein sent the cabinet home, but the pan-Arabists struck back. The army was asked to chase Hussein and his entourage away, but the conspirators were arrested and a state of emergency was declared.

The internal problems had been solved for the time being, but the threat from the outside was still present. The Suez Crisis strengthened pro-Egyptian sentiments in the country. A new political crisis in April 1957 led to the resignation of Prime Minister Naboelsi, a ban on all political parties and the reversal of Naboelsi's decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. In February 1958, Jordan entered into a federation with Iraq in response to the Syrian-Egyptian union (United Arab Republic). The United Arab Republic (VAR= Egypt, Syria and Yemen) in particular had been a major threat since the late 1950s, and in a country like Iraq a bloody coup d'état brought an end to the rule of Hussein's nephew, Faisal II. In response, the federation with Iraq was dissolved. American support in particular kept Jordan on its feet. As a result, the king followed a pro-Western course and his relations with President Nasser of Egypt became increasingly strained. Repeated attacks were made on Hussein, but he often miraculously escaped. In 1961, the VAR fell apart and Hussein had survived the pan-Arab endeavour. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were the only countries to support Jordan in that difficult period.

Palestinian issue

An even greater threat in the coming years would be Palestinian nationalism. Most Palestinians in Jordan were very disappointed by the collapse of the VAR and decided that only armed struggle could bring the road to Arab unity closer. Hussein, however, was fiercely opposed to this and preferred that the Palestinians integrated into Jordanian society. With this attitude Jordan threatened to disintegrate internally.

Important countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq, however, supported the Palestinians' efforts and it was therefore not surprising that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established at an Arab summit in 1964 on Egypt's initiative.

Despite its objections to these developments, Jordan, under pressure from the Arab countries, took part in the Six Day War against Israel in June 1967, which however ended disastrously for the Arab coalition. Egypt lost the Sinai, Syria the Golan Heights, Jordan the West Bank of the Jordan and, on top of that, received around 300,000 Palestinian refugees. The country was increasingly troubled by the constant attacks by Palestinian guerrillas ('fedayien') against Israel. Hussein said that he supported the Palestinian organisations, but this made little impression on the various groups, especially al-Fatah. Their ultimate goal remained the overthrow of Hussein's regime with the help of the fedayeen.

In September 1970, a short-lived but intense civil war broke out between Hussein's Bedouin army and the Palestinian liberation organisations, eliminating the latter as a political factor in Jordan (Black September). In the summer of 1971, their last support points were cleared.

The power of the Palestinian factions grew alarmingly and in 1970 there was a confrontation between the Palestinians and Hussein's Bedouin army. Despite help from Syria, the fedayeen were driven out of Jordan in the summer of 1971 and sought refuge in Lebanon.

After the flight of the Palestinians, a diplomatic offensive began over the question of who had sovereignty over the Palestinians, in other words, were the Palestinians on the occupied banks Jordanians or did sovereignty lie with the Palestinians and did they therefore have the right to their own state of Palestine. The United Nations recognised Jordan as a sovereign state over the West Bank and considered the Palestinian problem as a refugee problem. To the great displeasure of Hussein, the Arab world considered the PLO to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people (Arab Summit October 1974), which was also granted the right to establish a national authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This implicitly meant that the PLO would have authority over the Palestinians in Jordan. After the king was forced to resign himself to this decision following strong resistance, he officially renounced his claims to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on behalf of the Palestinians and pledged continued support for the restoration of Palestinian rights.

First Gulf War

Only when Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979 and the PLO adopted a more moderate stance did the complicated situation become clearer. Hussein broke off relations with Egypt as a result of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and the subsequent negotiations on Palestinian autonomy. Relations with the PLO, which were still strained, were further strengthened.

In the First Gulf War between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988) Jordan sided with Iraq and provided mainly logistical support. This led to serious tensions with neighbouring Syria. Since 1986, however, there has been a cautious rapprochement with Syria. The ties with Iraq remained close, not in the least because Iraq supplied Jordan with (cheap) oil.

Intifada and Jordan renounces West Bank

In 1983, there was another attempt at the so-called Jordanian option: Palestinian self-government in association with Jordan. However, the negotiations failed due to the resistance of radical elements in the PLO, who were opposed to recognising Israel. Attempts by King Hussein to increase his following in the West Bank and secret negotiations with the Israeli minister Peres did not lead to concrete results. In December 1987 the 'intifada' broke out, the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories.

As a result, Hussein officially relinquished the West Bank on 30 July 1988. The Trans-Jordanian population was very much in favour of this step by Hussein, although it never became clear that he really wanted it. They suspected that the Palestinians wanted to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state. This nationalistic attitude was reinforced by the attitude of the Israelis, who had long regarded Jordan as a Palestinian state. In the meantime, Jordan had re-established relations with Egypt in September 1984 and was working within the Arab League for Egypt's return, which finally materialised at the Casablanca Summit in May 1989.

After a series of cabinet changes, in April 1985 Zaid al-Rifai again became Prime Minister. In the late 1980s his government was confronted with the Palestinian question and increasing economic problems. A series of price increases recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) led to violent riots in the major cities in April 1989, after which Hussein sacked Rifai, accused of corruption, and announced new elections. These elections resulted in November 1989 in a surprising victory for Islamic fundamentalists, who were, however, not included in the new government of Moedar Badran.

Second Gulf War

Because of Iraq's oil wealth, the two countries became financially and economically intertwined. When Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, Jordan was dragged into the conflict. The (Palestinian) Jordanian population loved the anti-Israeli and anti-American attitude towards the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Hussein could not ignore this. He still tried to mediate in the conflict, but especially relations with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia deteriorated considerably, even when Iraq was clearly losing.

In July 1992, a law was passed allowing the formation of political parties. Five parties were legalised in December, and a sixth in February 1993.

Relations with Egypt, which had been disrupted, did not improve until 1994 and relations with friendly Iraq were strained by the United Nations' boycott of Iraq. As a result, Jordan lost its most important market and continued to be deprived of cheap Iraqi oil. Despite negative statements about Saddam Hussein, they tried to stay on good terms with both camps.

After the second Gulf War, relations with the West improved again. The peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours, which began in October 1991, was favourable to Jordan, which had all along remained in contact with Israel. Relations with the United States were also restored and the participation of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation in the negotiations revived Hussein's hopes for a future confederation between the Palestinians and Jordan.

The publication of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel in September 1993 was therefore a slap in the face for Hussein. The accords provided for mutual recognition and the creation of an autonomous Palestinian area, probably resulting in an independent Palestine.

After initial hesitation, Hussein accepted the accords and made it clear to the nationalist Trans-Jordanians that such a state would not be the signal to expel all Palestinians from the country. He also announced that Jordan would henceforth follow its own course and would not take any notice of its Arab neighbours. From now on, therefore, there would be direct negotiations with the Israelis, culminating in the so-called Washington Declaration on 25 July 1994, in which mutual cooperation was the most important point. Outspoken pain points of both parties were shifted to the future. Relations with the United States also improved considerably, resulting in the cancellation of part of Jordan's debt to the United States. A new high point followed on 26 October, with the signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel.

In 1995, King Hussein clearly distanced himself from the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, whom he had regarded as a political friend at the time of the Second Gulf War. After Saddam's sons-in-law fled to Jordan in August 1994, King Hussein received them personally and the Jordanian monarch called on the Iraqi leader to resign.

In the course of 1996, relations with Israel cooled considerably because of the rigid and uncooperative attitude of the Netanyahu government. Relations with Saudi Arabia, which had been disrupted since the Gulf War, were restored and relations with Kuwait normalised. In October 1996 King Hussein was the first Arab head of state to visit the Palestinian territories, legitimising Arafat's authority.

Hussein the mediator

In 1997, Hussein tried to play a mediating role in the stagnating peace process in Israel, but this was not much appreciated in his own country. The conflict between government and opposition deepened when the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), decided to boycott the November 1997 elections for the House of Representatives. Left-wing and pan-Arab political parties and many well-known Jordanian political figures joined in, putting a temporary end to Jordan's experiment with democracy.

In 1998, Jordan's opposition to Israel increased due to Israel's obstructionist Prime Minister Netanyahu. King Hussein, however, continued his efforts to restart the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, despite his treatment for cancer.

In early 1999, King Hussein ended a palace coup; his brother Crown Prince Hassan was dismissed as heir to the throne in favour of his son Abdoellah. Hussein died on 7 February and his son was sworn in as Abdullah II as the new king. Hussein and Queen Noor's eldest son, Hamza, became the new crown prince. Abdullah's appointment of the conservative Abd al-Rauf al-Rawabdeh as Prime Minister was a setback for progressive Jordan, but in the second half of the year Abdullah seemed to fulfil his promise of democratisation.

Municipal elections were held on 14 and 15 July 1999. The main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, ran again for the first time since 1995. It won 72 seats and seven mayoral posts. Left-wing opposition parties won only six seats. On 30 August 1999, Jordan closed all HAMAS offices and several leaders were arrested and later expelled from the country. Abdullah II continued his father's foreign policy in general and supported the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians..

21th century

King Abdullah interferes heavily in the composition of the government. The cabinet that the King formed after the parliamentary elections in autumn 2003, led by Prime Minister Faisal Fayez, was radically changed a year later. On 7 April 2005, the King again replaced the cabinet with a more reformist government team led by Prime Minister Adnan Badran. Two months later, Badran again had to replace some of his ministers. Priorities of successive cabinets have been administrative reforms, improving the effectiveness of public policies and improving the economic situation.

In November 2007, there were parliamentary elections in which pro-government factions won and the politically moderate Nader Dahabi was elected prime minister. In August 2008, King Abdullah visits Iraq; he is the first Arab leader to visit Iraq since the 2003 US occupation. In July 2009, a military tribunal sentences an Al-Qaeda militant to death for the murder of an American diplomat in Amman. In December 2009, King Abdullah changed the government and appointed a new prime minister to implement economic reforms. In November 2010, parliamentary elections were held, boycotted by the opposition, which were not surprisingly won by the government candidates. In 2011 the Arab Spring also reached Jordan and several changes in the government team were made by the king. In April 2012 the new Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh takes office. In January 2013, parliamentary elections take place again, following the same scenario as in 2010. In April 2013, Abdullah Ensour becomes prime minister. In September 2014, Jordan is one of four Arab countries to participate in bombing attacks on IS in Syria. In February 2015, the world is shocked by images of IS burning alive a captured pilot. Jordan responds by stepping up its fight against IS. Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, Jordan has received massive amounts of refugees, in February 2016 King Abdullah declares that the saturation point has been reached. In August 2017, the border between Iraq and Jordan was reopened after successes in the fight against IS. Since October 2020, Bisher Al- Khasawneh has been the prime minister.


Allan, M. / Reishandboek Jordanië en Syrië

Grünfeld, R. / Syrië, Jordanië en Libanon

Haan-van de Wiel, W.H. de / Jordanië, Syrië

Jordanië, Syrië

Meijer, R. / Jordanië : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen : Novib

Rauch, M. / Jordanië
Van Reemst

Weiss, W.M. / Jordanië

Wills, K. / Jordan
Lucent Books

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info