Jordan, formally known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is a Western Asian Arab kingdom situated on the east shore of the Jordan River. Bordered by Saudi Arabia in the east and south, with Iraq in the northeast, Syria in the north, Israel, Palestine and the Dead Sea to the west, as well as the Red Sea in the far southwest. Strategically positioned at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Jordan is one of the world’s most important trading routes. As the capital, Amman is Jordan’s most populous city and is also the country’s economic, political and cultural center.
Jordan today has been inhabited by people since the Paleolithic Age. At the end of the Bronze Age, three strong kingdoms emerged here: Ammon, Moab and Edom. Later rulers are the Nabataean Kingdom, the Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. After the great Arab uprising against the Ottomans in 1916 during the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was divided by Great Britain and France. In 1921, the Emirate of Transjordan was established by Abbdullah I, who was the Emir at the time, and it became a British protectorate. Jordan became an independent country in 1946 when it became officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. Jordan conquered the West Bank during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and the name of the state was changed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1949. As a founding member of the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, it is believed that Jordan is one of the two Arab countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel. The country is a constitutional monarchy, but the king has extensive executive and legislative powers.
Jordan is a relatively small semi-arid, almost landlocked country with 9.5 million inhabitants. Sunni Islam, which is practiced by about 92 % of the population, is the dominant religion in Jordan. It coexists with an indigenous Christian minority. Jordan is considered one of the safest Arab countries in the Middle East and has avoided long-term terrorism and instability. In the midst of the surrounding turbulence, it has been very hospitable and, as early as 1948, took in refugees from almost all surrounding conflicts, especially the estimated 2.1 million Palestinians and the 1.4 million Syrian refugees living in the country. The Kingdom is also a haven for thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing the Islamic State. While Jordan continues to receive refugees, the recent large influx from Syria has put a heavy strain on national resources and infrastructure.
Jordan is considered a country with “high human development” and an economy with “high middle income”. One of the smallest economies in the region, the Jordanian economy is very attractive to foreign companies with a skilled workforce. The country is an important tourist destination and also attracts medical tourism due to its well-developed health sector. Nevertheless, a lack of natural resources, a large influx of refugees, and regional turbulence have affected economic growth.
Tourism in Jordan
The tourism sector is considered the cornerstone of the economy and is an excellent source of jobs, hard currency and economic growth. During 2010, Jordan has been visited more than 8 million tourists. The outcome was revenues from tourism of $3.4 billion, out of which $4.4 billion comprised medical tourists. Most of the tourists who come to Jordan come from European and Arab countries. The tourism sector in Jordan is severely affected by the regional turbulence. The recent impact on the tourism sector was caused by the Arab Spring, which deterred tourists from all over the region. Jordan recorded a 70% decline in the number of tourists between 2010 and 2015.
Jordan is home to approximately 100,000 archaeological and tourist attractions, figures provided by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Among the well-preserved historic landmarks are Petra and Jerash, which is Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction and an icon of the kingdom. Jordan is part of the Holy Land and has several biblical attractions that attract the activities of pilgrims. These include biblical sites: Al-Maghtas, in which Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist, Mount Nebo, Umm ar-Rasas, Madaba and Machaerus. The Islamic heritage sites include the shrines of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions including Abd Allah ibn Rawahah, Zayd ibn Harithah and Muadh ibn Jabal. Ajlun Chateau, which was built by the Ayyubid Islamic king Saladin in the 12th century A.D. during his war with the Crusaders, is also a popular tourist attraction.
Modern entertainment and recreation in urban areas, mainly in Amman, also attracts tourists. In recent years, the nightlife in Amman, Aqaba and Irbid has developed with an increasing number of bars, discos and nightclubs. However, most nightclubs have a limit of unaccompanied men. Alcohol is common in tourist restaurants, liquor stores, and even some supermarkets. Valleys such as Wadi Mujib and hiking trails in different parts of the country attract adventurers. In addition, seaside recreation is available at several international resorts on the shores of Aqaba and the Dead Sea.
Since the 1970s, Jordan became a leading medical tourist destination in the Middle East. A study conducted by the Jordanian Association of Private Hospitals revealed that 250,000 patients from 102 countries were treated in Jordan in 2010, compared to 190,000 in 2007, representing a turnover of more than one billion dollars. According to the World Bank, Jordan is the leading medical tourism destination in the region and the fifth largest in the world. The majority of patients come from Yemen, Libya and Syria due to the ongoing civil war in these countries. Jordanian doctors and medical staff have gained experience in treating war patients after years of receiving such cases from various conflict zones in the region. Jordan is also a hub for natural treatments in the Ma’in Hot Springs and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is often referred to as a “natural spa”. It contains 10 times more salt than the average ocean, making it impossible to submerge. The high concentration of salt in the Dead Sea has proven to be therapeutic for many skin diseases. The uniqueness of this lake attracts many Jordanian and foreign vacationers, which has stimulated investment in the region’s hotel sector.
Geography of Jordan
Wadi Rum’s similarity to the surface of Mars has made it a popular tourist and movie attraction, including scenes from The Martian (2015).
Jordan has a strategic position at the crossroads of several continents: Asia, Africa and Europe in the Levant region of the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization. It covers an area of 89,341 square kilometers and stretches 400 kilometers between its northernmost and southernmost points; Umm Qais and Aqaba. The Kingdom is located between 29 ° and 34 ° in the north and between 34 ° and 40 ° in the east. The east is a dry plateau, irrigated by oases and seasonal rivers. Large cities are located mainly in the northwest of the kingdom because of their fertile soils and relatively frequent rainfall. They included Irbid, Jerash and Zarqa to the northwest, as well as the capital Amman and Al-Salt in the midwest and Madaba, Al-Karak and Aqaba to the southwest. The capital cities in the east of the country are the oasis cities Azraq and Ruwaished.
In the west, a mountainous area of farmland and evergreen Mediterranean forestry suddenly falls into the Jordan Rift Valley. The Rift Valley includes the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, which separates Jordan from Israel as well as the Palestinian Territories. Jordan has a 26 kilometer coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, but is otherwise a landlocked country. The Yarmouk River, an eastern tributary of the Jordan River, forms part of the Jordanian-Syrian border to the north (including the occupied Golan Heights). The other borders are formed by several international and local treaties and do not follow well-defined natural characteristics. The highest point is Jabal Umm al Dami, 1,854 m (6,083 ft) above sea level, while the lowest is the Dead Sea – 420 m (-1378 ft), the lowest point on earth.
Jordan has a wide variety of habitats, ecosystems and biota due to its diverse landscapes and environments. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature was founded in 1966 to protect and manage Jordan’s natural resources. Nature reserves in Jordan include the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the Azraq Wetlands Reserve, the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve and the Mujib Nature Reserve.
More than two thousand plant species have been recorded in Jordan. Many flowering plants bloom in the spring after the winter rains, and the type of vegetation depends largely on the amount of rainfall. The mountainous regions of the northwest are covered with forests, while further south and east the vegetation becomes busier and turns into steppe vegetation. The forests cover 1.5 million dunums (1,500 km2) or less than 2% of Jordan. This makes Jordan one of the least forested countries in the world, the international average is 15%.
Demographics of Jordan
The last census conducted in 2015 showed a population of approximately 9.5 million. 2.9 million (30%) of the population was non-citizens, which includes both refugees and illegal immigrants. Jordan had 1,977,534 households in 2015 of an average of 4.8 people per household . The vast majority of Jordanians are Arabs, representing 98% of the population. The rest are considered Circassians, Chechens and Armenians. With population growth, it has become more sedentary and urban. In 1922, almost half of the population (about 103,000) was nomadic, while nomads made up only 6 % of the population in 2015. Amman’s population, which was 65,754 in 1946, has grown to over 4 million in 2015.
Immigrants and refugees
Jordan was home to 2,117,361 Palestinians in 2015, most of whom were Jordanian citizens. The first wave of Palestinian refugees arrived during the 1948 Israeli Arab War and culminated in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1990 Gulf War. In the past, Jordan had given citizenship to many Palestinian refugees, but recently Jordanian citizenship has been granted only in rare cases. Approximately 370,000 of those Palestinians live in UNRWA refugee-camps. After Israel’s takeover of the West Bank in 1967, Jordan revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians to thwart any attempt to resettle them permanently from the West Bank to Jordan. West Bank Palestinians with family in Jordan or Jordanian citizenship received yellow cards guaranteeing them full Jordanian citizenship rights upon request.
While 700,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqis arrived in Jordan after the 2003 war in Iraq, most of them returned. However, many Iraqi Christians (Assyrians / Chaldeans) settled temporarily or permanently in Jordan. Immigrants also include 15,000 Lebanese who arrived after the Lebanon war in 2006. Since 2010, more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan to escape the violence in Syria. The kingdom has continued to show hospitality, despite the considerable influx of Syrian refugees putting pressure on the country. The effects largely affect Jordanian communities, as the vast majority of Syrian refugees do not live in camps. The effects of the refugee crisis include competition for employment opportunities, water resources and other state-provided services, as well as pressure on the national infrastructure.
As of 2007, Assyrian Christians represented as many as 150,000 people, most of whom were East Aramaic-speaking Iraqi refugees. The Kurds have a population of some 30,000 and, like the Assyrians, many are refugees from Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Descendants of Armenians who sought refuge in the Levant during the Armenian genocide of 1915 are approximately 5,000 and reside mainly in Amman. There are also a small number of ethnic Mandeans living in Jordan, also mainly refugees from Iraq. About 12,000 Iraqi Christians sought refuge in Jordan after the Islamic state took over the city of Mosul in 2014. Several thousand Libyans, Yemenis and Sudanese have also sought asylum in Jordan to escape the instability and violence in their homeland. According to the 2015 Jordanian census, 1,265,000 Syrians, 636,270 Egyptians, 634,182 Palestinians, 130,911 Iraqis, 31,163 Yemenis, 22,700 Libyans and 197,385 other nationalities reside in the country.
There are about 1.2 million illegal migrant workers and about 500,000 legal migrants in the Kingdom. Several thousand female foreigners, predominantly from the Greater Middle East and Eastern Europe, are employed in nightclubs, hotels, and bars throughout the Kingdom. The American and European expatriate communities are concentrated in the capital, as the city is home to many international organizations and diplomatic offices.
Religion and languages in Jordan
Sunni Islam is the dominant religion in Jordan. Muslims represent about 92% of the country’s population; 93% of them, in turn, identify themselves as Sunni – the highest percentage in the world. There are also a small number of Ahmadiyya Muslims and a few Shiites. Many Shiites are Iraqi and Lebanese refugees. Muslims who convert to another religion as well as missionaries of other religions face social and legal discrimination.
Jordan has some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, with a history dating back to the first century after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Christians now make up about 4% of the population, compared to 20% in 1930. This is due to the high immigration rates of Muslims to Jordan, as well as higher emigration rates of Christians to the west and higher birth rates of Muslims. There are approximately 250,000 Jordanian Christians, which according to a 2014 estimate by the Orthodox Church are all Arabic-speaking. This survey excluded smaller Christian groups and also excluded the thousands of Western, Iraqi and Syrian Christians residing in Jordan. Jordanian Christians are remarkably well integrated into Jordanian society and enjoy a high level of freedom, though they are not free to evangelize Muslims. Christians traditionally held two ministerial positions and were reserved 9 of 130 seats in parliament. The highest political position attained by a Christian is deputy prime minister, held by Marwan al-Muasher in 2005. Christians were also influential in the media. Smaller religious minorities include the Druze and Baha’is. The majority of Jordanian Druze reside in the eastern oasis town of Azraq, in some villages along the Syrian border, and in the town of Zarqa, while most Jordanian Bahá’ís live in a village called Adassiyeh on the shores of the Jordan Valley.
The official language is Standard Modern Arabic, a literary language taught in schools. Most Jordanians are native speakers of one of the non-standard Arabic dialects known as Jordanian Arabic. The Jordanian Sign Language is the language of the deaf community. English, although without official status, is widely spoken throughout the country and is the de facto language of commerce and banking, as well as having co-official status in the education sector; almost all university-level courses are taught in English and almost all public schools teach English along with Standard Arabic. Other languages such as Chechen, Circassian, Armenian, Tagalog and Russian remain popular in their communities. French is optional in many schools, mainly in the private sector. German is an increasingly popular language among the elite and well-educated; it was probably introduced on a larger scale after the start of the German-Jordanian University in 2005.
Economy of Jordan
Jordan is classified by the World Bank as a country with “higher middle income”. However, approximately 14.4 % (as of 2010) of the population live below the national poverty line. With a GDP of USD 38.210 billion (2015), the economy grew by an average of 4.3% per year between 2005 and 2010 and by about 2.5% from 2010 onwards. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita grew by 351% in the 1970s, decreased by 30% in the 1980s and then increased by 36% in the 1990s. The Jordanian economy is one of the smallest in the region and the country’s population suffers from relatively high unemployment and poverty rates.
The Jordanian economy is relatively well diversified. Trade and finance together account for almost one-third of GDP; transportation and communications, public utilities and construction account for one-fifth; and mining and manufacturing account for almost another fifth. Regardless of plans to increase the private sector, the state continues to be the dominant force in the Jordanian economy. Net development assistance to Jordan in 2009 amounted to USD 761 million; according to the government, about two-thirds of this was provided as grants, half of which was direct budget support.
The official currency is the Jordanian dinar, which is tied to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR), corresponding to an exchange rate of US$1 ≡ 0.709 dinar, or approximately 1 dinar ≡ 1.41044 dollars. In 2000, Jordan joined the World Trade Organization and signed the Free Trade Agreement between Jordan and the United States. This made Jordan the first Arab country to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. Jordan also has FTAs with Turkey and Canada. Jordan enjoys an advanced status with the EU, which has allowed better access to export to European markets. Due to slow domestic growth, high energy and food subsidies and a bloated public sector workforce, Jordan normally has annual budget deficits. These are partially offset by international aid.
The major recession and the turbulence caused by the Arab Spring have depressed Jordan’s GDP growth and affected trade, industry, construction and tourism. Tourist arrivals have declined sharply since 2011. Jordan’s finances have also been severely affected by 32 attacks on the Sinai natural gas pipeline, which supplied Jordan from Egypt by Islamic nationals, which led to the use of more expensive heavy fuel oils for power generation. In November 2012, the government cut subsidies for fuel and increased the price. The decision, which was later overturned, led to large-scale protests throughout the country.
Jordan’s total foreign debt in 2012 amounted to USD 22 billion, equivalent to 72% of GDP. In 2016 the debt reached USD 35.1 billion, equivalent to 90.6 % of GDP. This significant increase is due to the effects of regional instability. Decline in tourism activity, lower foreign investment, higher military spending, debts of electricity companies due to attacks on the Egyptian pipeline, accumulated interest on loans, collapse of trade with Iraq and Syria, and expenditures for the reception of Syrian refugees. According to the World Bank, Syrian refugees have cost Jordan more than $2.5 billion annually, equivalent to 6 % of GDP and 25 % of the government’s annual revenues. Foreign aid covers only a small portion of these costs, 63 % of the total costs are borne by Jordan.
Because of a relatively modern education system, the proportion of skilled workers in Jordan is among the highest in the region in sectors such as ICT and industry. This has drawn significant foreign investment to Jordan and has enabled the country to export its workforce to Persian Gulf countries. Remittance flows to Jordan increased rapidly, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s, and remain an important source of external finance. Remittances from Jordanian expatriates amounted to US$3.8 billion in 2015. This is a significant increase in remittances compared to 2014, when remittances reached more than $3.66 billion and Jordan was ranked as the fourth largest recipient in the region.