Jordan - Political background

For four centuries, the territory constituting present-day Jordan was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Liberated from Turkish rule in 1918, this area became part of British-administered Palestine under a League of Nations' mandate. In 1921, the British divided the mandate. Land east of the Jordan River was designated as Transjordan and given nominal self-rule as an emirate under Abdullah ibn Hussein. Transjordan became a fully independent state in 1946, and Abdullah was proclaimed king. In 1948, Transjordan joined other Arab countries in a war against the newly created state of Israel. During this conflict, the Transjordanian army crossed the Jordan River and occupied parts of the river's West Bank and the old city of Jerusalem. In 1950, the Arab-held West Bank was formally annexed by Transjordan, and the kingdom was renamed Jordan. Following Abdullah's assassination in 1951, his son Talal became king. Talal, who suffered from schizophrenia, was deposed by the Jordanian parliament in 1952. His 17-year-old son, Hussein, assumed the full powers of the monarchy on 2 May 1953.

In the early 1960s, friction between Jordan and Israel grew over rights to the waters of the Jordan River and over problems posed by displaced Palestinian refugees. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) formed, vowing to restore Arab claims to the territory now constituting Israel. The PLO's use of Jordan to launch raids into Israel provoked reprisals against the kingdom, further increasing tensions in the region. In 1966, Jordan withdrew its support of the guerrillas, prompting the PLO to urge the overthrow of King Hussein. The 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors proved disastrous for Jordan, which lost control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. By 1970, a growing PLO military presence in Jordan had begun to threaten the government's authority. In September of that year, clashes erupted between the Jordanian army and the PLO forces, resulting in a defeat for the guerrillas and the expulsion of PLO fighters. Jordan did not participate in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. In 1974, under pressure from other Arab nations, King Hussein recognized the PLO as the sole representative of West Bank Palestinians. On 31 July 1988, he severed Jordan's legal and administrative ties with the West Bank, effectively relinquishing Jordanian claims to the territory.

Jordan's 1951 constitution established a limited monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. In practice, the monarch has preponderant powers as chief executive and head of state. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is vested with the power to declare war, conclude peace, and sign treaties. He appoints a prime minister who forms the cabinet. The prime minister and members of the cabinet are responsible to Parliament but serve at the king's discretion. The legislative body is the National Assembly. It consists of the Senate (whose 40 members are appointed by the king) and the Chamber of Deputies (whose 80 members are popularly elected to four-year terms). The king has the right to dissolve the National Assembly and postpone general elections indefinitely. A ban imposed on political parties in 1963 was not lifted until 1992. Candidates belonging to organized opposition groups, however, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and independent Islamic candidates displayed significant strength in the 1989 general elections.

In the early 1990s, new restrictions were placed on the media, and political freedoms curtailed. Electoral laws were also changed to favor pro-monarchy candidates at the polls. Subsequently, the 1993 and 1997 general elections returned parliaments friendly to the throne. (The 2001 elections were postponed and are to be held in June 2003). Following tradition, Jordan's constitution designates the king's eldest son be crown prince and heir to the throne. In 1965, the constitution was altered to allow the king to name his younger brother, Hassan bin Talal, to the post.

Under the leadership of King Hussein, Jordan emerged as a modern state. However, the country's political institutions are weak, and democratic rights and freedoms are restricted. The monarchy draws its main support from East Bank Jordanians


and the Bedouin desert tribes. Wealthier and moderate Palestinians also tend to be supportive.

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