Jordan, or by its official name – the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (al-Urdun in Arabic), borders Syria in its north, Israel in its west, Saudi Arabia in its southeast and Iraq in its northeast. Its capital is Amman.
With an area stretching some 35,637 miles, only 15% of it land, mostly in its west, is populated. The rest is a nearly uninhabitable desert.
Jordan – the essentials
Jordan is home to some five million people. Most are Jordanians, 98%, are Arab – with a majority of Palestinians and a Hashemite minority; 1% of the residents are Circassians and 1% Armenian.
The kingdom has been independent since May 25, 1946; and is ruled by a constitutional monarchy, headed by King Abdullah II.
Aerial view of Amman (Photo: Reuters)
Religion wise, 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims, 6% are Christians – Greek-Orthodox and some 2% are Druze and Shiite Muslims.
Arabic is the official language in Jordan, with English and French being somewhat of secondary languages. Other languages, such as Armenian, are understood and spoken by their respective populations.
Jordan's main industries are wheat, barley, citrus, textiles, phosphate mining, none-organic chemicals, light industries and tourism.
Jordan has been greatly influenced by world powers, past and present: Being the only significant Arab urban center east of the Jordan River, the Ottoman and British empires, Syria and Iraq; as well as by Egypt, the Bedouin tribes roaming through it desert and even Israel, all contributed to its character.
Ancient times: Jordan's history can be traced back to the Stone Age – archeological findings located between the Jordan River and Jericho indicate the existence of several vast communities living in the area. The late Stone Age, through to the Bronze Age saw the area ruled by Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Hittite kingdoms.
The area was also home to the biblical kingdoms of Canaan, Moab, Amon and Edom, the tribes of Midian the Amorites and the ancient kingdom of Israel.
The various kingdoms clashed often, conquering one power's territories only to lose them to another. The sporadic rivalry continued until the Babylonians conquered the area in the sixth century BC. The Babylonians were ousted by the Greeks, which were driven out by the Romans in 63 BC. In 474 AD, the area suffered a mass earthquake, which left it largely in ruins.
A reminder of ancient times. Petra (Photo: Elad Gershgoren)
The seventh century saw the Jordan River area taken over by Umar Ibn Al-khattab's Muslim empire. The Crusades swept through in the 12th century, but by the end of 100 years, the region was back under the Muslim rule of the Mamluks.
The Ottoman Empire took over in 1517, ruling from the 15th to 19th century, in which time the region's economy declined, many of its communities were abandoned, and the Bedouin nomads populated the area.
Recent times: Jordan's inception as a modern political power came about in the early 20th century: The British ruled the area as part of the mandate given to them on Israel and the Trans-Jordan area, and in 1923 it were recognized by the British rule as an independent emirate, naming the Emir Abdullah aI ibn Hussein – son of Mecca Sharif, Hussein ibn Ali, its ruler.
In 1946 Jordan became a sovereign nation and Abdullah became king, but the new country's economy and military remained dependent on the UK. Abdullah reportedly conducted secret negotiations with the head of the Jewish settlements in Israel, suggesting Jordan will not object to the creation of a Jewish state, should he be allowed to take over the Arab parts of east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Jordan's king dared not oppose the Arab nations when they declared war in the newly formed State of Israel in 1948, but refrained from sending his armies into actual battle. After taking over several of Israel's territories in the 1948, Jordan officially changed it name from an emirate to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
King Abdullah was assassinated by Palestinian radicals in 1951, while visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Abdullah was succeeded by his son, Talal, who was forced to abdicate due to health reasons – reportedly suffering from schizophrenia. Talal was followed by his son Hussein, who ascended the throne in 1952 and was formally named king of Jordan in May 1953.
The port of Aqaba (Photo: Reuters)
The first few years of Hussein's rule were tumultuous: He survived several attempts on his life, annulled Jordan's defense treaty with Britain, dismissed the government, crushed a coup, reestablished relations with the UK and formed stronger diplomatic ties with the US.
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the relations between Israel and Jordan begin escalating: Jordanian Fedayeen – "the self sacrificing" – began infiltrating Israel from Gaza and the West Bank and carrying out deadly attacks; forcing Israel to retaliate by sending its special forces units to raid Jordanian military posts in the West Bank.
In 1967, Jordan joined forces with Syria and Egypt and attacked Israel. The end of the Six Day War saw all three defeated and Jordan ceding control of the West Bank to Israel.
Hussein's rule then came under threat from within: The Palestine Liberation Organization increased its operations in the kingdom, clashing with Hussein's forces to the point of all-out war. The escalations finally culminated in 1970's Black September riots, during which Hussein was able to crush the PLO's infrastructure, driving its operatives out of Jordanian realm.
The king's actions against the PLO resulted in a pan-Arabian ban on Jordan; leading to two failed Syrian attacks on it.
Jordan did not take part in the Yom Kippur War, but was forces to support the Rabat Summit's decision to recognize the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians in Israel. The late 70s saw the relations between Jordan and Syria, and Jordan and the PLO thaw. In 1984 Jordan reestablished full diplomatic relations with Egypt – banned by the Arab League at the time for signing a peace treaty with Israel and in 1985, the king signed an official treaty with the PLO. The treaty was annulled in 1986, as Jordan once again drove the organization's members out of the country.
Following the 1987 intifada, Hussein announced Jordan "constitutionally disengaged" from the West Bank, at the same time stressing the Palestinians residing in the kingdom's realm will remain its equal-rights citizens.
King Hussein played an active role in 1991's Madrid Peace Summit. In 1994, Israel and Jordan signed an official peace treaty, establishing full diplomatic relations.
Signing the Israel-Jordan peace treaty (Photo: AP)
Jordan's relations with Israel were strained in 1997, following a failed assassination attempt by Mossad agents on Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal, which took place on Jordanian soil – in Amman. In an attempt to restore correct relations between the two, Israel agreed to Jordan's demand to release 70 Palestinian prisoners and than Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Shortly before his death, King Hussein named his son – Abdullah II – as his successor. Abdullah ascended the throne in February of 1999.