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Jordan. At a Crossroad

Like many political fruits of the Sykes-Picot agreement, Jordan is a relatively new State in an ancient land. It was created in 1950, evolving from ‘The Emirate of Transjordan’ (in Arabic: Imarat Sharq-Al-Urdun) – a British protectorate. Jordan is important for Christians. It is home to many Biblical places – including Mount Nebo – and many visit the country on pilgrimage. The Kingdom of Jordan, however has reached the brink of the abyss. It has welcomed refugees from its neighboring countries.

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Jordan occupies a space of arid land between the Jordan River and the Iraqi desert; it imports almost all the resources it uses It faces water shortages, has no energy resources and its economy worsens daily. The Jordanian economy has always been weak. Since 2011 it got weaker. Jordan has lost many tourists frightened by the upheavals in the Middle East, even though the country has remained politically stable. But its two major trading partners, Syria and Iraq, have both been embroiled in a civil war that has effectively cut off trade with Jordan. As most of its neighbors, Jordan operates in a clear international context well defined. It has its own domestic problems, but foreign policy, based on close ties to the West and the Gulf, is not negotiable. The monarchy has been reasserting strength and prestige. This exposes Amman to the risk of Islamic extremism.

The Historical Context

Now, it’s known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Yet its territory boasts a rich and millennial history. Because of its geographical location, just about all Near Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations – Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Nabataean, Hittite, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Turk and Crusader – have crossed it at one point or another. Each of these has contributed to its culture. This mixture of Arab and Bedouin civilizations has been completed over the centuries by the influx of refugees from wars – including the Crimean war.

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Jordan welcomes many visitors and is home to one the famous ancient city of Petra. Once known as Reqem, Petra is emblematic of Jordan’s role as a cultural crossroads. The Nabateans, who built Petra, spoke a language similar to Arabic and Aramaic. Their alphabet evolved into the one used for Arabic. The Nabateans were originally Semitic nomads originating in the Arabian Peninsula. Before the Roman occupation of the Near East, the Nabateans controlled the caravan routes that led to the Hijaz and Hadramawt regions of Arabia famous for their myrrh and frankincense – two precious commodities of the ancient world. The Nabateans took over the caravan routes from the Sabaeans (i.e. from the Kingdom of Saba – now part of Yemen), a pre-Islamic Arab population native of Yemen.

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After 395 AD and the East-West partition of the Roman Empire, Jordan became Byzantine. It was one of the first lands to fall to the Islamic conquests in the seventh century. It was governed by several dynasties (Umayyad, Abbasids, Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke). It was then conquered by the Crusaders, who settled there between 1150 and 1189 and built many castles in the desert, still very visited today – such as Karak. In 1516, it was the Ottomans took control of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

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The modern Kingdom of Jordan is tied to the Hashemite tribe and – eventually – dynasty. The Hashemites, an influential Arab tribe from Mecca, fought alongside the British (remember T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia) to expel the Ottomans. In exchange for their help against the Ottomans – allied with Germany in WW1 – the Hashemites demanded and obtained their own Arab kingdom, while French and British divided the region between them as part of the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. The British divided the Arab province into three military zones: Palestine (British), Lebanon/Syria (French) and the Desert interior went to the Hashemites, but under strong British influence. (A.B.)

 

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