Jordan engaged in an ongoing political reform process

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East, in a region often termed the Levant. Jordan’s bordering countries include Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, Israel and Palestine to the west, and Syria to the north. In total, Jordan covers 89,342 sq km of land and shares 1635 km of land border with Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the south, Jordan has access to the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aqaba. The kingdom’s topography can be divided into three distinct sections. First is the Jordan Valley, which is part of the Great Rift Valley and runs from north to south in the western part of the kingdom. Second is the Highlands, an area which runs north to south in central Jordan. The third section is the Badia, a desert in the eastern portion of the country that runs to the Iraqi border.

Population & Demographics 

According to the Department of Statistics, Jordan’s population reached 6.68m as of the end of 2014. In recent years, however, this number has swelled as a result of incoming refugees from neighbouring countries. Due to the Syrian crisis Jordan has received more than 1.4m Syrians (627,287 registered as refugees as of August 2015, as well as around 700,000 Syrians who were in Jordan before the outbreak of the crisis and are unable to return), constituting 20.6% of Jordan’s population, with 83% of refugees living outside refugee camps in host communities.

Jordan is a young country, with a median national age of 21.8. According to the most recent figures, of the total population, nearly 60% is under the age of 25 and 37% is under the age of 15. The kingdom also has a high fertility rate: at the end of 2012, this stood at 3.5 children per woman.

Main Cities

With only 17% of the total population living in rural areas, the kingdom’s population is primarily concentrated in cities. The three largest cities are Amman, Irbid and Zarqa. Amman, the capital and economic hub, is located in the north-west of the country, with 2.58m people living within the predominantly urban Amman Governorate. In 2014 the Amman Governorate accounted for 38.7% of Jordan’s total population, according to the Department of Statistics. The governorate of Irbid, the capital of which is the university town of the same name 60 km north of Amman, has a population approaching 1.2m. The third major city, Zarqa, is located northeast of Amman, and is increasingly becoming known as Jordan’s industrial hub. Its governorate has a population of over 994,000 and constitutes nearly 15% of the population. These three areas contain 71% of Jordan’s total population, with the remaining 29% dispersed throughout the other nine governorates.

As Jordan’s sole port city, Aqaba is an important infrastructural node, lying in the south of the country on the coast of the Red Sea. Its governorate, which has a population of 145,500, has been transformed over the past decade, maintaining one of the highest population growth rates in the kingdom and witnessing significant developments in the transport and tourism sectors.

Historical Background

The monarchs of Jordan belong to the Hashemite dynasty, which traces its genealogy back to Prophet Muhammad. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has officially been an independent sovereign state since 1946. King Abdullah I was the country’s first monarch. Abdullah I’s son, Talal bin Abdullah, succeeded King Abdullah I to the throne in 1951, but ruled for a short period of time. In 1952 he abdicated the throne to his son Hussein for health reasons. Becoming king at the age of 17, Hussein ruled Jordan for 46 years until his death in 1999. Under King Hussein’s leadership, Jordan witnessed a number of transformative events both domestically and regionally. He also presided over broad political and economic liberalisation policies. These efforts included the lifting of martial law, the legalisation of political parties and the holding of the country’s first elections in decades. In 1999 King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein ascended to the throne. King Abdullah II is married to Queen Rania and together they have four children – Crown Prince Hussein, Princess Iman, Princess Salma and Prince Hashem. The decade-and-a-half of King Abdullah II’s rule has seen a persistent continuation of his father’s commitment to economic and political reform. Revisions to more than one-third of the constitution in 2011 have led to greater pluralism, stability, social inclusion, liberalisation and transparency.

Religion, Language & Culture

Approximately 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslim, while 4-6% are Christian. Most Christians subscribe to Greek Orthodox beliefs and they are free to practise throughout the kingdom. As in many other nations, religion plays a key role in Jordanian culture and everyday life. The Hashemites trace their lineage directly to Prophet Muhammad, which gives King Abdullah II a special standing within the Islamic community. Moreover, there are many religiously significant sites throughout the kingdom. These include Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the location where Jesus was baptised and a recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list in July 2015, and Mount Nebo, the site where it is said Moses was given a view of the Promised Land. As a result there are ongoing efforts to boost interest in religious tourism and pilgrimage.

Arabic is the official language of the kingdom and is used in the education system, media, literature, formal occasions and official communication. The local dialect (Aamiyeh) is spoken in daily life and is often referred to as Levantine Arabic. It shares many similarities with the colloquial Arabic spoken throughout the region, as well as with the Egyptian and Saudi dialects. English is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in urban areas, and is commonly used in business. Moreover, English is widely taught in schools throughout Jordan.

Jordanian culture is mainly derived from the tradition and customs of the Bedouins, an Arab group descended from nomadic desert tribes. Bedouin traditions such as storytelling, poetry and singing are still important within contemporary Jordanian culture. Another characteristic of Jordanian society is its welcoming hospitality; this is often correlated with the Bedouin custom of always accepting visitors due to the harsh conditions of the desert. These Bedouin values remain a key part of Jordanian society and maintain considerable influence.

Political Framework

Since King Abdullah II ascended to the throne, Jordan has been engaged in an ongoing political reform process with the objective of promoting a greater role for citizens in politics and allowing for differing perspectives to be included in the decision-making process.

The parliament is bicameral and known as the National Assembly. The body is comprised of two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies includes 150 popularly elected representatives who serve four-year terms. Each is accountable to a local constituency. The Senate includes 75 seats, each of which is appointed by the king for four-year terms. During the summer of 2012, the system to elect officials to the Chamber of Deputies was altered from a one-vote system to a two-vote system, in which MPs are chosen from both their local constituency and from lists on the national level. A key institution is the Royal Hashemite Court, as it acts as a link between the king and government bodies such as the parliament, army and security forces. The Royal Hashemite Court plays an important role in communicating the king’s vision and guidance to the government.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, who has been in office since October 2012 and was reappointed in March of 2013, currently leads the government. The king chooses the prime minister following consultations with parliament, which also has the power to grant or deny the government a vote of confidence. The current prime minister has a Cabinet of 18 ministers, who are a mix of career politicians and technocrats with experience relevant to their particular ministry’s mandate. Government reshuffles have become less common in Jordanian politics, a matter that was previously cited as a limiting factor in the development of long-term ministry strategies.

Political Opposition

Jordan’s parliament is comprised of independent politicians with diverse interests informed by their constituencies. This differs from many Western-style democracies in which political parties often dictate policy narratives. The largest and most organised political opposition group is the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which is the Jordanian political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the IAF participated in parliamentary elections throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, the party boycotted elections in both 2010 and 2013, citing unfair electoral processes. As a consequence of this, it is not currently represented in parliament.

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The Report: Jordan 2015

The Report

This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Jordan2015. Explore other chapters from this report.