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Jordan - NEWS BRIEFINGS
Jordan | 21.06.2007
Jordan's pharmaceutical industry is continuing to play a key role in bolstering the kingdom's exports.

Jordan - COUNTRY PROFILE

Geography

Jordan has a lengthy sandy border of over 700 km with Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, and with Iraq in the north-east. Directly to the north is Syria, and the border with Israel and the West Bank is defined by the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the Wadi Araba down to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Much of the eastern region of the country is part of the Syrian Desert, on a plateau rising to a maximum elevation of around 1000 metres. The area is dry with small mountains or sand dunes and salt flats. Further to the west the north-south axis of the country is more heavily populated with mountains peaking at just over 1700 metres helping moisture to accumulate for settlements. Just to the west of this range the land falls to a depth of 411 metres below sea level at the Dead Sea, a highly saline inland sea and the world's lowest point. The River Jordan flows from the north into the Dead Sea, but to the south the Wadi Araba is dry as it rises to the Red Sea.

Recent History

Following World War II and the dissolution of the mandates in the region, Jordan became an independent state in May 1946 under the Hashemite King Abdullah I. The British had named the area east of the Jordan River Transjordan, but in 1950 Jordan and the West Bank were declared one after the war with Israel in 1948.

King Hussein, Abdullah's grandson, took over in 1953 and reigned over a period of prosperity, much of it as a result of international aid and tourism interest in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This source of revenue largely disappeared after the 1967 war with Israel, which also deprived Jordan of much of its agricultural land and forced dispossessed Palestinians to seek shelter in Jordan. Internal strife erupted in the early 1970s, severely threatening the King's hold on power - especially in the autumn of 1970, which is known as Black September, with the result that most Palestinian activists moved to Lebanon. King Hussein was largely regarded as a monarch who managed to balance relations with the global powers of his day, and who sought to satisfy the demands of his diversified population.

In 1989 King Hussein resumed parliamentary elections, but the 1991 Gulf war brought economic stagnation and popular support, largely from Jordanians of Palestinian origin, for Saddam Hussein. Jordan cut ties with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - which have now been restored - as it sought an Arab solution to the invasion. Jordan's situation began to recover in the first half of the decade and in 1994 Hussein was in a strong enough position to sign a peace treaty with Israel, prompting fears amongst his Palestinian subjects that they would be squeezed out of negotiations altogether.

Hussein's brother Hassan was crown prince for 34 years, but was ousted in favour of Hussein's son Abdullah just weeks before Hussein's death in February 1999. Abdullah has continued his father's efforts towards popular representation, although worsening relations with Israel because of the continuing Palestinian Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza have spurred him to improving once-cold relations with neighbours such as Syria and Turkey. With poor natural resources, Jordan has usually looked to world powers for economic support in return for its political support in the region and to ensure its own political stability.

Government and Politics

Major Political Players:

King Abdullah II: Monarch with considerable power who may dissolve parliament, dismiss the prime minister and appoint new cabinets.

Marouf al-Bakhit Appointed prime minister in November 2005. Appointed after the bombings in Amman in the same month, his background as former national security chief gives emphasis to current concerns over security.

Ziad Fareiz: Became deputy prime minister and minister if finance in the November 2005 reshuffle.

The Jordanian Constitution dates from January 1952, and the legal system today combines Islamic and French codes of law. The monarch appoints the prime minister, who appoints the cabinet in consultation with the monarch. The upper chamber of the National Assembly is the 40-member Senate, also appointed for a four-year term by the monarch from designated categories of public figures. The lower chamber is the House of Representatives, which has 104 members elected by popular vote based on proportional representation for a four-year term. Suffrage is universal from the age of 18 years, and the vast majority of the seats in the chamber are filled by independents.

Martial law was implemented in Jordan after the 1967 war with Israel and remained officially in place until April 1992, although martial law had been relaxed since 1989. In July 1992, just over a year after Jordan adopted a national charter outlining the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government, parliament formally legalised political parties.

National elections for the lower house are to be held every four years, but in July 2001 the king held them up on the recommendation of his cabinet, which claimed that it needed more time to prepare after amendments to the election law. Under a new law the number of seats was raised from 80 to 110, largely to accommodate the growing populations of cities such as Amman, and suffrage was brought down to 18 years. Elections were finally held in June 2003, with two-thirds of the seats in the lower house going to independent candidates loyal to the king.

The country's largest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the 1997 elections. It claimed that the one man-one vote system introduced in 1993 led to it receiving fewer votes and wanted the system changed. In 2003, 17 candidates from the opposition Islamic Action Front were elected to the Lower House.

Following King Hussein's trip to Washington and the signature of the Washington Declaration with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in July 1994, the two countries signed a formal peace accord in October 1994 at a ceremony in Wadi Araba. Palestinians in Jordan, which constitute around half of the 5m population, claim that they have been marginalised since the uprising of September 1970, and the peace treaty further roused their anger. Although Jordan has not re-appointed an ambassador to Tel Aviv in the light of the most recent Intifada, it has continued its economic joint ventures with Israel, known as QIZs, which employ around 13,000 Jordanians.

Population

Following the wars against Israel and the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 many Palestinians fled to Jordan, and they - or their descendants - now account for around two-thirds of the Jordanian population. Differing priorities and views have often led to confrontation with the Jordanians originally from the East Bank, although Jordan was the only country to grant citizenship to all Palestinian refugees.

Ethnically the vast majority - 98% - of Jordanians are Arab, with some Circassian and Armenian minorities. Around 92% of the population is Sunni Muslim, with a further 6% Christian, mainly Greek Orthodox.

Beginning from a very low base, Jordan has had to work hard to bring its health and educational facilities in line with its neighbours. In 1988 the Jordanian government embarked on an ambitious 10-year plan at a cost of $1bn to improve the quality and relevance of education in the country. This was followed by another four-year plan ending in 2002. By 2003 Jordan had a literacy rate surpassing 90%, from around one-third in 1960, but a shortage of vocational skills critical for a developing economy remains.

Jordan's government tends to focus more on providing primary health care for its citizens, leaving tertiary health care to the private sector. By the mid-1990s almost every Jordanian child was fully immunised and there were some 16 doctors for every 10,000 people.

The population is estimated to be growing at a rate of over 2.78% annually, still lower than the figure of the early 1980s but high enough to cause the government concern over water resources and unemployment. Official figures put unemployment around 16%, but independent estimates range from 25% to 30%. As 36% of the population is under the age of 14 Jordan's economic growth will have to keep up.

Economy

Jordan is a small country with relatively few natural resources and the demographic pressures of a large population influx at certain times. Aside from the many Palestinians that have come from the West Bank, the 1991 Gulf war saw an end to remittances from Jordanians in Gulf countries and their return home, often to unemployment. The government's resources were over-stretched and it had to stop making most debt payments. By 1992 the situation had improved as the savings of workers who returned from the Gulf began to make its presence felt. In the years 1992 to 1995, Jordan's annual growth rate averaged around 9%, but this fell back in the second half of the decade to around 1.5%.By 2004, real growth had returned however, hitting around 5% in GDP terms that year.

One of Jordan's ongoing problems has been its debt, with the country's external arrears estimated to be $8.2bn by the end of 2002. At almost 34% of GDP this is high, but lower than estimates for the previous year that show it to have been over 85% of GDP. In 1999 Jordan secured a debt rescheduling agreement from the Paris Club, supposed to be the last, but like many other countries in the region the continuing violence in the Middle East and the war against terrorism have had their effect. Trade with the West Bank is estimated to be down around 50% and tourism numbers have dropped sharply. The King and the prime minister have been visiting Jordan's main creditors, such as Japan, France, the UK and Germany, since September 2001 to press for debt cancellations. Jordan supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, although as a result it lost a lucrative oil deal with the Baghdad regime. The deal had provided Jordan with its entire oil needs, either for free or in return for Jordanian goods, which has been a major economic headache for the government ever since. Instability in Iraq following the end of the Saddam Hussein regime saw Amman become a major staging post for international contractors, with the docks at Aqaba overwhelmed by the inflow of goods and equipment bound for its eastern neighbour. With instability unlikely to go away for the near future in Iraq, Jordan is set to make up for its losses from the Gulf war through increased trade.

Amman receives around $1.2bn in aid annually, which is around 12% of its GDP. In 1999 it embarked on a $164m programme with the IMF to support economic reforms in Jordan. In April 2000 it joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and recently ratified a new agreement with the EU. In 2004 its total imports were valued at around $7.6bn, double that of its exports.

Privatisation has been one of the areas of success in the Jordanian economy recently, with proceeds from the sale of state holdings equalling more than $1bn since 1999. This helped to reign in some of the outstanding external debt, raised the central bank's reserves and reduced the size of the public sector from around 70% before privatisation to under 50%.

The Jordanian government has also made efforts to encourage trade and foreign investment. Despite some dispute over their political implications, the qualified industrial zones (QIZs) that Jordan operates together with Israel have largely been a success and Jordan has proved generally accommodating to foreigners wishing to invest in the country through the Jordan Investment Board, which can offer tax breaks and other incentives. According to officials, Jordan receives twice the level of per capita foreign investment than its larger neighbour Egypt does.

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