The History of Jordan

As part of the Fertile Crescent connecting Africa and Asia, the area now known as Jordan has long been a major transit zone and often an object of contention among rival powers. It has a relatively well known prehistory and history. Neolithic remains from about 7000 bc have been found in Jericho, the oldest known city in the world. City-states were well developed in the Bronze Age (c.3200–2100 bc). In the 16th century bc, the Egyptians first conquered Palestine, and in the 13th century bc, Semitic-speaking peoples established kingdoms on both banks of the Jordan. In the 10th century bc, the western part of the area of Jordan (on both banks of the Jordan River) formed part of the domain of the Hebrew kings David and Solomon, while subsequently the West Bank became part of the Kingdom of Judah. A succession of outside conquerors held sway in the area until, in the 4th century bc, Palestine and Syria were conquered by Alexander the Great, beginning about 1,000 years of intermittent European rule. After the death of Alexander, the whole area was disputed among the Seleucids of Syria, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and native dynasties, such as the Hasmoneans (Maccabees); in the 1st century bc, it came under the domination of Rome. In Hellenistic and Roman times, a flourishing civilization developed on the East Bank; meanwhile, in southern Jordan, the Nabataean kingdom, a native Arab state in alliance with Rome, developed a distinctive culture, blending Arab and Greco-Roman elements, and built its capital at Petra, a city whose structures hewn from red sandstone cliffs survive today. With the annexation of Nabataea by Trajan in the 2nd century ad, Palestine and areas east of the Jordan came under direct Roman rule. Christianity spread rapidly in Jordan and for 300 years was the dominant religion.

The Byzantine phase of Jordan's history, from the establishment of Constantinople as the capital of the empire to the Arab conquest, was one of gradual decline. When the Muslim invaders appeared, little resistance was offered, and in 636, Arab rule was firmly established. Soon thereafter, the area became thoroughly Arabized and Islamized, remaining so to this day despite a century-long domination by the Crusaders (12th century). Under the Ottoman Turks (1517–1917), the lands east of the Jordan were part of the Damascus vilayet (an administrative division of the empire), while the West Bank formed part of the sanjak (a further subdivision) of Jerusalem within the vilayet of Beirut.

During World War I, Sharif Hussein ibn-'Ali (Husayn bin 'Ali), the Hashemite (or Hashimite) ruler of Mecca and the Hijaz, aided and incited by the United Kingdom (which somewhat hazily promised him an independent Arab state), touched off an Arab revolt against the Turks. After the defeat of the Turks, Palestine and Transjordan were placed under British mandate; in 1921, Hussein's son 'Abdallah was installed by the British as emir of Transjordan. In 1923, the independence of Transjordan was proclaimed under British supervision, which was partially relaxed by a 1928 treaty, and in 1939, a local cabinet government (Council of Ministers) was formed. In 1946, Transjordan attained full independence, and on 25 May, 'Abdallah was proclaimed king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, King 'Abdallah annexed a butterfly shaped area of Palestine bordering the Jordan (thereafter called the West Bank), which was controlled by his army and which he contended was included in the area that had been promised to Sharif Hussein. On 24 April 1950, after general elections had been held in the East and West banks, an act of union joined Jordanian-occupied Palestine and the Kingdom of Transjordan to form the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Th is action was condemned by some Arab states as evidence of inordinate Hashemite ambitions. Meanwhile, Jordan, since the 1948 war, had absorbed about 500,000 of some 1,000,000 Palestinian Arab refugees, mostly sheltered in UN-administered camps, and another 500,000 nonrefugee Palestinians. Despite what was now a Palestinian majority, power remained with the Jordanian elite loyal to the throne. On 20 July 1951, 'Abdallah was assassinated in Jerusalem by a Palestinian Arab, and his eldest son, Talal, was proclaimed king. Because of mental illness, however, King Talal was declared unfit to rule, and succession passed to his son Hussein I (Husayn ibn-Talal), who, after a brief period of regency until he reached 18 years of age, was formally enthroned on 2 May 1953.

Between the accession of King Hussein and the war with Israel in 1967, Jordan was beset not only with problems of economic development, internal security, and Arab-Israeli tensions but also with diffi culties stemming from its relations with the Western powers and the Arab world. Following the overthrow of Egypt's King Faruk in July 1952, the Arab countries were strongly influenced by "Arab socialism" and aspirations to Arab unity (both for its own sake and as a precondition for defeating Israel). Early in Hussein's reign, extreme nationalists stepped up their attempts to weaken the regime and its ties with the United Kingdom. Notwithstanding the opposition of most Arabs, including many Jordanians, Jordan maintained a close association with the United Kingdom in an effort to preserve the kingdom as a separate, sovereign entity. However, the invasion of Egypt by Israel in October 1956, and the subsequent Anglo-French intervention at Suez, made it politically impossible to maintain cordial relations with the United Kingdom. Negotiations were begun to end the treaty with Britain, and thus the large military subsidies for which it provided; the end of the treaty also meant the end of British bases and of British troops in Jordan. The Jordanian army remained loyal, and the king's position was bolstered when the United States and Saudi Arabia indicated their intention to preserve Jordan against any attempt by Syria to occupy the country. After the formation of the United Arab Republic by Egypt and Syria and the assassination of his cousin, King Faisal II (Faysal) of Iraq, in a July 1958 coup, Hussein turned again to the West for support, and British troops were flown to Jordan from Cyprus.

When the crisis was over, a period of relative calm ensued. Hussein, while retaining Jordan's Western ties, gradually steadied his relations with other Arab states (except Syria), established relations with the USSR, and initiated several important economic development measures. But even in years of comparative peace, relations with Israel remained the focus of Jordanian and Arab attention. Terrorist raids launched from within Jordan drew strong Israeli reprisals, and the activities of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) often impinged on Jordanian sovereignty, leading Hussein in July 1966, and again in early 1967, to suspend support for the PLO, thus drawing Arab enmity upon himself. On 5 June 1967, an outbreak of hostilities occurred between Israel and the combined forces of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. These hostilities lasted only six days, during which Israel occupied the Golan Heights in Syria, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, and the Jordanian West Bank, including all of Jerusalem. Jordan suffered heavy casualties, and a large-scale exodus of Palestinians (over 300,000) across the Jordan River to the East Bank swelled Jordan's refugee population (700,000 in 1966), adding to the war's severe economic disruption.

After Hussein's acceptance of a cease-fire with Israel in August 1970, he tried to suppress various Palestinian guerrilla organizations whose operations had brought retaliation upon Jordan. The imposition of military rule in September led to a 10-day civil war between the army and the Palestinian forces (supported briefly by Syria which was blocked by Israel), ended by the mediation of other Arab governments. Subsequently, however, Hussein launched an offensive against Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan, driving them out in July 1971. In the following September, Premier Wasfi al-Tal was assassinated by guerrilla commandos, and coup attempts, in which Libya was said to have been involved, were thwarted in November 1972 and February 1973.

Jordan did not open a third front against Israel in the October 1973 war but sent an armored brigade of about 2,500 men to assist Syria. After the war, relations between Jordan and Syria improved. Hussein reluctantly endorsed the resolution passed by Arab nations on 28 October 1974 in Rabat, Morocco, recognizing the PLO as "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people on any liberated Palestinian territory," including, implicitly, the Israeli-held West Bank. After the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979, Jordan joined other Arab states in trying to isolate Egypt diplomatically, and Hussein refused to join further Egyptian-Israeli talks on the future of the West Bank.

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the resulting expulsion of Palestinian guerrillas, Jordan began to coordinate peace initiatives with the PLO. These efforts culminated in a February 1985 accord between Jordan and the PLO, in which both parties agreed to work together toward "a peaceful and just settlement to the Palestinian question." In February 1986, however, Hussein announced that Jordan was unable to continue to coordinate politically with the PLO, which scrapped the agreement in April 1987. The following year the King renounced Jordan's claim to the West Bank and subsequently patched up relations with the PLO, Syria, and Egypt. In 1990, owing largely to popular support for Saddam Hussein, Jordan was critical of coalition efforts to use force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Relations with the United States and the Gulf states were impaired; Jordan lost its subsidies from the latter while having to support hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war and the aftermath. Jordan's willingness to participate in peace talks with Israel in late 1991 helped repair relations with Western countries. In June 1994, Jordan and Israel began meetings to work out practical steps on water, borders, and energy which would lead to normal relations. And, later that year, Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, ending the state of war that had existed between the two neighbors for decades. Relations with the major players in the Gulf War also improved in the years after the war. In 1996, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait were well on the way toward establishing normal relations.

Internally in the 1980s, Hussein followed policies of gradual political liberalization which were given new impetus by serious rioting over high prices in 1989. In that year, for the first time since 1956, Jordan held relatively free parliamentary elections in which Islamists gained more than one-third of the 80 seats. Martial law was ended in 1991 and new parliamentary elections were held in 1993. The King's supporters won 54 seats with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies taking 18 places, the largest bloc of any party. However, the 1997 elections were boycotted by a number of opposition groups, who complained of unfair election laws, and the new upper house of parliament appointed by King Hussein did not include any members of Islamist groups.

In 1998 Hussein underwent treatment for cancer in the United States and delegated some of his powers to his brother, crown prince Hassan, who was next in the line of succession to the throne. The following winter, however, Hussein named his son Abdallah heir apparent. On 8 February 1999 King Hussein died, ending a 46-year reign; his funeral was attended by dignitaries from countries throughout the world. King Abdallah II pledged his support for the Middle East peace process, a more open government, and economic reforms requested by the IMF. However, there was widespread uncertainty about how the untested 37-year-old heir would meet the challenges thrust upon him.

His first year in power reassured many observers, both at home and abroad. Domestically, he pushed through a series of trade bills that helped pave the way of the country's admission to the WTO, which came in April 2000, and declared his intention of implementing wide-ranging administrative and educational reforms. On the international front, Abdallah played a role in the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria and also took a firm stance against the presence of Islamic extremists in his own country, driving the radical Hamas organization out of Jordan.

Abdallah dissolved parliament in June 2001, elections were postponed twice, and were held in June 2003. Independent candidates loyal to the king won two-thirds of the seats. In October 2003, a new cabinet was appointed following the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb. Faisal al-Fayez was appointed prime minister. The king also appointed three female ministers. In April 2005, a new cabinet was sworn in, led by Prime Minister Adnan Badran, after the previous government resigned amid reports of the king's unhappiness over the pace of reforms.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Jordan enacted a series of temporary laws imposing sharp restrictions on the right to public assembly and protest. A law broadened the definition of "terrorism," and allowed for the freezing of suspects' bank accounts. The number of offenses carrying the death penalty was increased, and journalists who publish articles which the government deems harmful to national unity or to be incitement to protests were subject to three years' imprisonment.

In October 2002, senior US diplomat Laurence Foley was assassinated outside his home in 'Ammān. In April 2004, eight Islamic militants were sentenced to death for their role in the assassination.

In March 2005, Jordan returned its ambassador to Israel after a four-year absence. Jordan had recalled its envoy after the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000.