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new internationalist
issue 252 - February 1994

Country profile: Jordan

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GLENN HARVEY / CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] GLENN HARVEY / CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown]

Currently at the centre of the Middle East peace process, the desert kingdom of Jordan has during the past 40 years reflected the conservative but skilful leadership of its ruler, King Hussein.

The state of Jordan was created by the British after World War One. They plucked Hussein's grandfather out of present-day Saudi Arabia to lead the new nation and to ensure its allegiance to the colonial power. Jordan's role in more recent years has been one of conciliation rather than allegiance to one side or another.

This did not seem to be the case in 1970, when Jordanians perpetrated the 'Black September' massacre of Palestinians. But after the Arab-Israeli war in 1973 the King signalled a change of policy by re-establishing relations with the PLO. In 1979 he declined to endorse the Camp David Agreement between the US, Israel and Egypt but that excluded the Palestinians, and in 1985 he and the PLO's Yasser Arafat sealed their reconciliation by announcing a joint peace initiative. Hussein cancelled claims to the West Bank in 1988, which Jordan had annexed in 1948 and lost to Israel in the 1967 war.

On the domestic front, Jordan has made moves towards democracy - largely in response to rioting in the late 1980s against IMF-imposed price hikes and corruption among the élite. In November last year the first multi-party elections since 1956 were held and resulted in stronger conservative tribal blocks that will strengthen Hussein's hand in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Culturally, Jordan is considered to be more open than most other Arab countries. But although the country has made great efforts fighting disease, illiteracy and infant mortality, one-third of the population live in poverty. And with debt standing at seven billion dollars, state resources are often channelled towards repaying interest rather than meeting the needs of the people.

After the Gulf War Jordan lost its main trading partner in Iraq. The loss of around $800 million annually from remittances sent back by Jordanians in the Gulf also dealt a heavy blow. But the influx of returnees has contributed to a surge of new business investment.

Western foreign aid, suspended to punish Jordan for its pro-Iraq stand during the War, is trickling back. And Hussein retains international credibility for his diplomatic skills. Years of de facto Israeli-Jordanian peace look set to be formally recognized in a peace accord following the Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough last autumn. Hussein is seen by some as central to the success of this. Many Palestinians regard him as their protection from those who live on the East Bank and by that group as their safeguard against Jordan becoming Palestine. Hussein says that Jordan is a haven for all - provided, that is, they want to be Jordanians. Whether this legacy will live on once Hussein has gone remains to be seen.

Jill Hamburg


LEADER: King Hussein Ibn Talal

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $1.050 (US $22,240)
Monetary unit: Jordanian dinar
Main Exports: Phosphates and potash Most Jordanians work in agriculture, but potash, phosphates and allied industries are the most important domestic industrial sector.
Main Imports: Machinery, food, animals, oil and chemicals

PEOPLE: 4.3 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 25 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: More than half of Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs. Of the others, known as East Bankers or Transjordanians, many are descendants of desert-dwelling Bedouin, similar to those of Saudi Arabia, the original home of the kingdom's ruling dynasty.
Religion: 80% Sunni Moslems, 20% Christians, a small number of Shi'ite Moslems.
Language: Arabic (official), English spoken by many.

Sources. Third World Guide 1993/4; The State of the World's Children 1994; World Bank Report 1992; The Middle East Review 1993/4; Middle East Economic Digest; Simon Edge; The Economist 6/11/93; The Independent 12/11/93.

Last profiled in September 1986



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Large middle class prospers but many people live in poverty.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
89% male
70% female

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Less dependent on foreign aid since the Gulf War.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Civil society among the freest in the Arab world; some radical Muslims in prison.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Women visible in opposition to Gulf War; one woman MP. But traditional attitudes persist outside the cities.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
68 years (US 76 years) Lower in rural areas, and among indigenous population.

1986 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]



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New Internationalist issue 252 magazine cover This article is from the February 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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