Middle East

Jordan is a very different place from the country it was 17,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers roamed a largely fertile and wetter terrain. As the country became more arid so the east and southern part of the country became desert; people moved towards the valley of the River Jordan and the northern uplands.

By 2000 BC trading amongst communities saw an influx of peoples from Egypt and Mesopotamia. By 1000 BC the Kingdom of Ammon covered a large part of present day Jordan and remained until around 332 BC.

By 168 BC a new Kingdom of Nabataea had established itself around the now fabled Petra and established the Arabic language, but they were then annexed by the Romans who arrived around 106 AD.

By the 7th Century the area we now know as Jordan was absorbed into the Umayyad Empire which stretched into Turkey and across North Africa. A transition took place around 750 AD as the Umayyad Empire faded and the Abbasids took over. Jordan was largely neglected by the Abbasids and the region was regularly invaded by various peoples including the Mongols, the Crusaders, Ayyubids and Mamlukes.

In 1543 the Ottomans started their expansion out of Turkey and very soon they were in control of the Transjordan region. As is typical of the Ottomans though, their rule was built around local semi-autonomous rulers.

Briefly, in the 1830s the region was invaded by a new Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, but the British preferred the weak Ottoman sultan and intervened. The Ottomans remained in the region until just after the First World War when they were defeated and the League of Nations created the territory of Transjordan.

Abdullah Ibn-Hussain became the Emir of Transjordan on 1st April 1921 and with independence in 1946 he became King of Jordan until his assassination in 1951. But before all this could happen the Ikhwan tribes started raiding Transjordan from the south in 1922/1924 and threatened to destabilise the whole country. The day was only saved because of a small force of Royal Air Force aircraft that were able to destroy much of these marauding forces from the air.

On 2nd April 1929 the country held its first general election when sixteen members were elected along with an eight member Cabinet. Elections were held roughly every three years, apart from the Second World War years and on 25th May 1946 the country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan.

By 1947 political parties had been banned in Transjordan and in 1948 the country joined other Arab League countries in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict which resulted in a victory for Israeli forces. In 1951 Abdullah Ibn-Hussain was assassinated by a Palestinian and succeeded by Talal Ibn Abdullah, his son, but he was forced to abdicate due to ill health in favour of his son, Hussein Ibn Talal.

The early part of Hussein’s reign was not easy and in one period of nine months, five prime ministers came and went. As a pro-western monarch King Hussein had a tough time especially from Egypt and Syria, but with the help of American money the economy slowly picked up and his popularity improved.

In 1954 elections were held in which political parties were allowed to stand but the majority of those elected were independents and in 1956 the first party of any stature emerged when the National Socialist Party won 11 of 40 seats.

In 1958, following the formation of the United Arab Republic in a merger between Egypt and Syria, Jordan and Iraq announced the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan. Neither merger was to last more than a few months.

The 1950s were also a time of experimentation, with a new constitution allowing freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association Jordan was setting a new path. By 1961 much of that had stopped and the 1961 elections were held with a ban on political parties; that ban was to last until 1992.

In 1967 the Arab Israeli conflict started all over again and Jordan saw a major influx of Palestinians. Martial law was declared and it was only in April 1992 that the King abolished martial law and in the July allowed the formation of political parties. Some 26 parties were registered by 1997 but in the June nine parties merged to form the National Constitutional Party. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood also formed a party at this time, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

In 1994 Jordan finally negotiated a peace with Israel and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty was signed on 26th October 1994.

Elections were held in 1997 but again it was the independents who took the majority of seats, taking 75 of the 80 seats.

On 7th February 1999 Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein succeeded his father King Hussein after he died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma; King Hussein had ruled for 46 years and had steered Jordan through a series of Middle Eastern crises including the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

King Abdullah II has worked to liberalise the economy and open up politics. It hasn’t always worked and on 16th June 2001 he disbanded parliament and allowed Prime Minister Ali Abdullah Ragheb to rule by decree. New elections were eventually held in 2003 and the Islamic Action Front were back, winning 17 seats, the only other party to win seats was the Jordan Socialist Arab Rebirth Party (Baath) which took one seat, the remainder went to Independents most of whom are supportive of the monarchy. Fresh elections were held in 2007 and 2010 but each time the Independents took the majority of seats.

With the Arab Spring of 2011 it was of little surprise that Jordanians demanded greater political freedoms. Reform remains slow and the 2013 general election is being boycotted by the IAF because changes to electoral law which increase the number of seats for political parties did not go far enough and the system still favoured independent candidates.

King Abdullah II is Head of State.

Jordan has a bicameral National Assembly consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate has 55 members appointed by the King. The House of Representatives has 110 members elected by proportional representation across 45 constituencies for a four year term. The number of seats in the House of Representatives will be increased to 150 seats in the 2013 general election and the number of reserved seats will go up to 27 from 17.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Jordan at joint 57th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 48 (where 100 is least corrupt).