Historical Introduction

Since the earliest times, Jordan has been a region of human settlement where civilisation prospered. It has been home for several waves of Semitic Arab migrations. Landmarks of past civilisations built by its inhabitants are still in view. Jordan will always take pride in the imprints made by Arab tribes which came from the Arabian Peninsula in Pre-Islamic times and contributed at an early date to the establishment and maintenance of ties between the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean region. The city of Petra, built by the Nabatean Arabs in southern Jordan, stands as a symbol of Arab staying power, determination and contribution to the region as a whole.

The rise of Islam in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina bearing the message of enlightenment and inspiration to mankind, and its spread beyond the confines of the Arabian Peninsula, was met with opposition by existing powers. Mu’ta saw the first collision between Muslims and Byzantines, leading to the fall of a number of Muslim martyrs. Islam then registered a decisive victory along the banks of the Yarmouk. As one of the five legions of Syria, Jordan became a steadfast base and springboard for conquest and liberation. Since then, it has remained part of the Islamic Arab state and a point of contact between the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries.

From the beginning of the twelfth century onwards, during the Mamluke and Ottoman periods, the region was regulated by specific administrative arrangements. Like neighbouring Arab states, Jordan saw the establishment of local administration councils with popular participation. However, during the latter phase of Ottoman rule, Jordan was the subject of discrimination exercised by the Union and Progress Committee against the Arab national identity, which led to a rejection of Turanian policy and a rebellion against the rule of those embracing this policy. The uprising was an inevitable consequence of Turkification, oppression, economic malaise, administrative corruption and the inability of the Ottoman Empire to provide a modicum of security of stability for the Arab countries as a whole. Thus the national and renascent aim of the Great Arab Revolt, which began on the ninth of Sha’ban 1334 A.H. (tenth of June, 1916 A.D.), was to unite the countries of the Arab East into one Arab state which would embrace Iraq, the Hejaz and Greater Syria, including Jordan and Palestine.

It was on this basis that Prince Faisal I announced the establishment of the first Arab government in Damascus on 5 October, 1918. However, on 22 October, Britain issued a statement dividing Greater Syria into three regions. This was done not only pursuant to the Sykes-Picot agreement, concluded in 1916, but also to enable Britain to fulfil its promise to the Zionist Movement to establish a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Meeting in Damascus on 6-8 March 1920, the people’s representatives in the Arab East rejected any division of Arab territory, declared the unity and independence of Syria, defined its physical boundaries, and declared Faisal I King. Refusing to recognise the will of the Arab nation, Britain and France agreed at the San Remo Conference on 25 April 1920 to impose a French mandate on Syria and Lebanon and a British mandate on Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. Despite Arab opposition to those imperialist designs, a new reality was imposed by force as a result of military superiority established over Arab fighters in several battles, the last of which was at Maysalun on 27 July, 1920.

Prior to the fall of Arab rule in Syria, British forces had retreated from Syrian territory and the French captured Damascus. French forces, however, did not enter Jordan, which remained free of foreign occupation. When Trans-Jordan was placed under British influence, as called for by the Sykes-Picot agreement, the British High Commissioner in Palestine named a number of his officers to administer the territories east of the Jordan.

The Umm Qeiss agreement, concluded in a meeting on 2 September 1920 between a delegation representing the northern region and one of those officers, launched the first national political platform in Trans-Jordan. In that meeting the people called for the establishment of an Arab government in the country independent of the Mandatory government of Palestine. It called for Trans-Jordan to join Syria when union became possible. Jewish immigration to the region should be stopped and the sale of land to Jews prohibited.

In order to maintain control, Britain attempted to disrupt the unity of the Jordanian people through the establishment of local governments in Irbid, Salt and Karak. Failing to ensure security, protect the population or improve worsening economic conditions, these governments soon collapsed. Jordanians regarded the Zionist Movement as the larger threat both to themselves and to the Arab nation as a whole. The Balfour Declaration, issued on 2 November 1917 and calling for the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, was a powerful danger signal to Jordanians and other Arabs of the impending threat of Zionist designs. They moved to resist it and thwart the Zionist programme with every possible means. The raid launched from northern Jordan on 20 April 1920 against British military camps and Jewish settlements in Bisan and Samakh was but one chapter in the struggle and sacrifice by Jordanians in defence of Palestine remaining Arab. Support by Jordanians for the Arab character of Palestine was demonstrated in numerous ways, including popular rallies held on various national occasions.

Upon his arrival in Ma’an on 11 November 1920, Prince Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein received the full support of Jordanians and the free Arabs who flocked to Jordan, foremost of whom were members of the Independence Party, an Arab group that had publicly launched its activities a year earlier in Iraq and Syria. They all lent their support to Abdullah’s bid to liberate Syria from French rule and restore its legitimate Arab government. Thwarted by the Anglo-French alliance, Prince Abdullah forged ahead with the implementation of the principles and aims of the Great Arab Revolt, persisting in his drive to foil the designs of the Allies after they betrayed its leader Sharif Hussein Ibn Ali, who had sacrificed all, including his life, for the defence of Arab principles and rights in Palestine.

On 29 March 1921, the British reached a political settlement with Prince Abdullah calling for the establishment of the first unified national government in Trans-Jordan, over which he would preside. With participation by members of the Independence Party, the new government clearly demonstrated the national spirit of allegiance which informed the Jordanian populace. In cooperating with their brethren from the Independence Party and placing their faith in them as administrators of the country, in line with the aims of unity, freedom and independence enunciated by the Great Arab Revolt, they ensured that Jordan became a safe haven for those Arabs who were struggling against French occupation of Syria and British occupation of Palestine. The next four years witnessed a bitter struggle between the national aspirations of the new government, including its search for the liberation of Syria, and British and French interests in the region. This tug-of-war culminated in the extension of the British Mandatory authority to administrative, financial and military affairs in Jordan and led to the banishment from Jordan of the members of the Independence Party.

Despite recognition by Britain of the independence of the Emirate of Trans-Jordan on 25 May 1923, and despite a promise to strengthen relations between the two countries and to define the constitutional position of Trans-Jordan, the first Anglo-Jordanian treaty, concluded on 20 February 1928, failed to respond to Jordanian demands for a fully sovereign and independent state. This failure led to widespread disaffection with the treaty among Jordanians, prompting them to seek a national conference, the first of its kind, to examine the articles of the treaty and adopt a plan for political action. The conference was held on 25 July 1928, with the participation of a large number of leaders, notables and thinkers. Regarding itself as a legitimate representative of the Jordanian people, the conference set up an executive committee to lead the national Jordanian movement. It also issued a Jordanian National Charter. This was the first political document at the national level with a defined platform and as such was a watershed in the history of the Jordanian political and national struggle. It defined the basic political constants for that phase and underlined several important concepts. Among them were:

1. The Emirate of Trans-Jordan is an independent and sovereign Arab state within its recognised geographic borders. It is administered by an independent government headed by His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein and his successors.
2. No recognition is accorded to the Mandatory Principle except in so far as it constitutes an impartial form of assistance for the country’s benefit, provided that such assistance be defined through an agreement or treaty to be concluded between Trans-Jordan and Britain on the basis of reciprocal rights and mutual benefits without prejudice to national sovereignty.
3. The Balfour Declaration calling for the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine is contrary to Britain’s official undertakings and commitments to the Arabs and runs counter to religious and civil laws known to the world.
4. All parliamentary elections held in Trans-Jordan on a basis contrary to that of true representation or on the basis of the government not being answerable to parliament shall not be regarded as representative of the will or sovereignty of the nation under constitutional rules, but rather as an artificial election with no true representational value. Decisions taken by such elected members on any political, financial or legislative rights shall not have any force of law which the people will recognise. They shall rather be regarded as symptomatic of behaviour exercised by the Mandatory Authority on its own responsibility.
5. All military conscription not authorised by a responsible constitutional government will be rejected, since conscription is an indivisible component of national sovereignty. No costs will be borne on behalf of any occupying foreign force, and any levy imposed of this nature shall be regarded as money usurped from the country’s needy workers and peasants. Any extraordinary legislation not based on justice, the common good or the true needs of the people shall be regarded null and void. No financial loan concluded before the establishment of parliament shall be recognised. No disposition of public lands shall be effected before approval by parliament. Any sale concluded before parliament has been assembled shall be regarded as lacking validity.

These important principles governed the political struggle of the Jordanian people for many subsequent years until the conclusion of the second Anglo-Jordanian treaty on 17 June 1946, on the basis of which Britain recognised the independence of Trans-Jordan under the name of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Immediately following the initialling of the new treaty on 22 March 1946, municipal councils in the Kingdom adopted a number of resolutions expressing the Jordanian people’s desire for a declaration of independence on the basis of a system of constitutional monarchy. The Jordanian Legislative Council met on 25 May 1946, and voted unanimously to declare Jordanian territories a fully independent state with a representative, hereditary, monarchic government, to pronounce fealty to King Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein as the constitutional monarch at the head of the Jordanian state, with the title of His Majesty the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and to amend basic Jordanian law accordingly.

The foundations of the Jordanian State gradually became stronger. Political, social and economic awareness on the part of the Jordanian people were constantly on the rise, leading to demands for popular participation in the political decision-making process as well as for greater democracy, parliamentary representation, an end to British imperialist presence and eradication of its effects on internal policies and Jordan’s Arab and international relations.

As a result of the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s determination to implement the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, conditions in Palestine rapidly deteriorated. The Palestinian Arabs were placed under emergency rule. Their successive uprisings and armed rebellions were brutally suppressed, thus preventing any form of independence for Palestine or the establishment of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Palestine was opened up for Jewish immigration—civilian, military and political. A Jewish force was trained to fight alongside British forces in the second World War.

Thus, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 on 29 November 1947, calling for the partition of Palestine, and when the British Mandate came to an end on 15 May 1948, the Jewish Agency had acquired all the requisites of a state, whereas the Palestinian people were left defenceless in the face of terrorism and oppression. Arab regimes, which were then under imperialist influence, stemmed the supply of arms to the Palestinians, thus enabling the Jews, in collusion with the British, to occupy by force three quarters of Palestine on which they established their state. Large numbers of Palestinians were forcibly evacuated from their homes.

The Jordanian Arab Legion, fighting alongside other Arab armies, performed with well-attested bravery. It succeeded in holding on to those Palestinian territories which later became known as the West Bank of the Kingdom. Its glorious and honourable defence of Jerusalem, together with other battles in defence of Palestine, led to the fall of 370 martyrs and about a thousand wounded. The total strength of the Arab Legion at the time did not exceed five thousand men, armed with light weapons and limited munitions under direct British command. In addition, Jordanian volunteers took part in the fighting, side by side with Palestinian commandos and their Arab brethren who had flocked to the defence of Palestine.

Solidarity between Jordanians and Palestinians again proved to be a most important development in the wake of the 1948 war, when the two banks of the Jordan entered into a union within the framework of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Representing both banks, the Jordanian Parliament, on 24 April 1950, took the historic decision of ratifying the union.

Political and institutional developments continued apace. In January 1952, King Talal I promulgated the new Constitution passed by Parliament. The Constitution declared that the Jordanian people were part of the Arab nation, that the system of government in Jordan was a hereditary parliamentary monarchy and that the people were the source of all powers.

On 11 August 1952, King Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Upon His Majesty’s assumption of his constitutional powers on 2 May 1953, the democratic process was invigorated. A period of great rapport with the people strengthened public aspiration for greater freedom coupled with the establishment and upgrading of the institutional framework of a modern state. Economic, political and intellectual development picked up momentum, as did Jordanian political movements. Parliamentary life flourished. In 1954, the Constitution was amended to strengthen the democratic base. Coming into effect on 1 November 1955, the amended constitution ensured that government was answerable to parliament. The government was required to present its programme to parliament and seek a vote of confidence.

On 1 March 1956, His Majesty King Hussein Arabised the high command of the Jordanian Armed Forces through removal of British officers. This momentous achievement served to emphasise national sovereignty and strengthen the Jordanian people’s solidarity with their leadership. It was fully in accord with King Hussein’s determination since he assumed power to ensure Jordan’s freedom and further its independence. It also fulfilled the aspirations of Jordan’s people and Armed Forces to achieve liberation from foreign domination. This was amply demonstrated following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in the same year, when Jordan’s King, government and people stood firmly by the side of Egypt in resisting the tripartite Israeli-French-British aggression against an Arab country.

The first parliamentary elections held on the basis of political and party pluralism took place in the latter part of 1956. During the tenure of the parliamentary government that ensued, the Arab Solidarity Agreement was signed (January 1957) and the Anglo-Jordanian Agreement was abrogated (13 March of the same year), followed by the evacuation of British forces from Jordan. However, that period proved to be short-lived and the democratic process was interrupted for a variety of internal and external reasons.

When Israel launched its aggression against the Arab countries on 5 June 1967 by attacking Egypt, Jordan joined the war under unified Arab command regardless of any consideration except its commitments to the Arab League Charter and the Arab Joint Defence Treaty. The ensuing occupation by Israel of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Sinai was a terrible blow with the gravest of consequences for Jordan and the entire Arab World. However, the Battle of Karama on 21 March 1968, was a turning point. Not only did it check the slide towards deterioration and defeat but also proved that unity, sacrifice and a determination to hold fast were essential ingredients for ensuring victory and dissipating the myth of the enemy’s invincibility.

The painful events of September 1970 proved no barrier to the continued unity and stability of the Jordanian people. Through their allegiance to their roots and their profound understanding of the dangers of disunity and disarray, Jordan’s people were soon able to heal the rift and transcend the effects of that period.

The National Arab Union, established in 1971, was an attempt at reform through bridging the then existing political vacuum. However, the Union was a single political organisation which was incapable of embracing the various political forces in the country or permitting them to operate on a multi-party basis. It was not long before the Union was dissolved and its enabling law abrogated.

Since the mid-seventies, as a result of growing political awareness by the Jordanian public and of substantial economic and social development, Jordan has embarked on a new era marked by significant achievements. Among these was the establishment of several large productive enterprises and the completion of major infrastructure. The economy registered high levels of growth accompanied by great expansion in education in most regions of the country, including universities. However, these developments were not matched by equivalent progress in the political field. The absence of popular participation and the narrow base of decision-making, whether in political or economic matters, have had a negative impact in recent years on public performance and have led to a loss of public confidence in state institutions. There were other internal factors, both economic and financial, as well, together with the fact that some Arab governments failed to honour their financial commitments to Jordan, as stipulated by the Baghdad Summit of 1978, at a time when Jordan’s defence burden was on the rise. The assumption was that the Arab nation would never abandon Jordan as it stood along the longest lines of confrontation with Israel, which was heavily supported by world Jewry and the United States, among many others. These factors combined led to a worsening situation by the end of the eighties, culminating in a political and economic crisis which affected most sectors of Jordanian society. With the eruption of events in southern Jordan in April 1989, a sense of tension prevailed there and in other regions of the Kingdom.

Marking an important turning-point in public affairs, these events led to a comprehensive review of official as well as popular policies and actions at all levels. His Majesty the King decided to expedite the resumption of parliamentary life interrupted in the wake of severing ties with the West Bank on 31 July 1988. General elections were held in late 1989, thus putting in place the first component of democratic practice. Peaceful movement towards greater democracy had begun. With it came a climate of political openness marked by a frank exchange of views and communication between the people and the institutions of government. A wide-ranging political dialogue ensued, with active participation by intellectuals, political leaders and all other segments of society. The democratic situation thus conceived gave rise in a variety of ways to a meeting of the minds between the Jordanian people and their leadership on the need for profound and comprehensive reform and reconstruction in all fields.