issue 163 - September 1986
The Tunbridge Wells of the Middle East; is how Jordan's quiet capital, Amman was once described. Yet the oasis of calm is a mirage - Jordan's prosperity is propped up by Western Aid.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, where King Husein has reigned supreme for 33 years, is a creation of the British who installed Husein's grandfather as Emir of Transjordan in the 1920s. The country gained full independence in 1947.
Jordan's ties with the West today take the shape of large chunks of foreign aid, which funds 40 per cent of the government's spending. Aid from Middle East countries has fallen as OPEC's fortunes have declined with the price of oil, pushing Jordan further into the arms of the West.
Self-reliance is not Jordan's strong point and it desperately needs aid to finance the import bill, which is four times greater than the hard dollars its exports earn. Nearly everything is imported - even the long jellabah robes worn by the men have 'Made in China' labels.
A big blow to the country was the loss of the West Bank to Israel during the 1967 war. An area that includes Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the West Bank contains a third of Jordan's three million people. Its occupation triggered a fresh wave of Palestinian refugees into the East Bank where they now make up 60 per cent of the population.
The Palestinians are not the only immigrants. A common sight are guest workers in the more humble jobs. Egyptians labour on the building sites; Filipinos have carved a niche at the lowly end of hotel work; and no middle-class household is complete without a Sri Lankan housemaid who will sleep in the bathroom or on the stairs for wages a Jordanian wouldn't touch.
For a well-off developing country that boasts a 70-per-cent literacy rate, there is still poverty among the nomadic Bedouin and the Palestinians left in the refugee camps. The Bedouin women might still have to trudge a mile or so for water. The Palestinian refugee camp at Beka's, dwarfed by a large satellite disc, still has fresh sewage running down the streets. And when the winter rain rushes down the hills on which Amman is built, it often washes away a few shacks perched on the slopes.
Husein's efforts to find a solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem stem from his wish to regain the West Bank. And his role as mediator ensures Western aid. He strongly supports UN Resolution 242, which implies recognition of Jordan's rights to the West Bank but also implicitly acknowledges the existence of Israel - anathema to the PLO. Disagreement over the Resolution was one of the reasons for the collapse of a Jordanian-Palestinian agreement earlier this year, which was aiming to unravel the Israeli problem.
Husein walks a tightrope in such negotiations. Amman may seem a sleepy town, but the Palace dozes with one eye open.
Leader: King Husein lbn Talal
Economy: GNP per capita $1,640 (US $11,490)
People: 3.4 million (including West Bank)
Health: Infant mortality 62 per 1,000 live births (US 11 per 1,000).
Culture: Arab (mainly Sunni Muslim), elite influenced by the West.
|Constitutional Monarchy; parties banned in 1957; no general elections since 1967.||