Monday, September 21, 2015

Map on Monday: JORDAN

The Physical Ecology, Communal Loyalties, and Geopolitics of Jordan

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

Physical Geography of Jordan (click to enlarge or click here for original size)

Physical Ecology: Natural Resources and Physical Geography

Jordan is a middle-eastern nation slightly smaller than the US state of Indiana. The vast majority of Jordan is dominated by desert and heat, be it the Syrian Desert in the northeast or the Arabian Desert in the south. Sand dunes and salt flats are commonplace as one travels into Jordan from the west. Destructive dust storms from the southwest are common during the month or so before or after a dry season in summer. In its western periphery, the Jordanian steppe-highlands run north-south forming a barrier with Israel. At elevations of 2,700-3,000 feet, the landscape overlooks the world's most physically depressed regions: the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. This narrow strip of land in Jordan's west is also the most fertile (less than 2.5% of Jordan's land is arable) and is also where most of its population lives. With the exception of sixteen miles of coast on the Gulf of Aqaba in the extreme southwest, Jordan is a landlocked nation. Among Jordan's natural resources are phosphates (in the south), potash, and oil shale (Jordan holds the 5th-highest reserves worldwide), which it exports along with fertilizers and knit sweaters.     

Communal Loyalties: Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Arabs make up 98% of Jordan's population. Jordan's overall population of just under 8 million is concentrated in the northwest in and around the capital of Amman. Jordan's religious landscape is dominated by Sunni Islam - in fact, Jordan has the highest percentage of Sunni Muslims in all the nations of the world (roughly 93% of Muslims in Jordan identify as Sunni). Christians make up a mere 6% of the nation's population, yet Islamic-Christian relations in Jordan are amicable and Jordan generally protects the religious freedom of Christians. By tradition, Christians hold two cabinet posts in the government and are given nine seats (out of 150) in the Jordanian Parliament. Christians own the most popular TV channel in the nation, and are also very influential in business.

Jordan is ruled by the Hashemite dynasty - a family which claims descent from the prophet Muhammad. The Hashemite royal family once held great influence across the middle east. The great grandfather of Jordan's current king was a driving force behind the Arab nationalist movement against the Ottoman Empire's caliphate. He sought to become the ruler of a "Greater Syria" (for more on Greater Syria, see the communal loyalties section of our Map on Monday post on Syria). which would have encompassed what is today Jordan, Sunni-Syria, Iraq, and a great part of western Saudi Arabia. In the waning days of World War I, the Hashemites threw their support to the Allies. After the war the Hashemites ruled the western edge of what is today Saudi Arabia, and with it the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. In 1921, Hashemite influence expanded to Iraq and Jordan. Hashemite rule in the region was checked, however, by Wahhabi warriors of Saudi Arabia in 1925 when Mecca and Medina were captured for the Saudis (with British support). In 1958, the Hashemite King of Iraq, Faisal II, was assassinated. Iraq then entered a time of internal strife which ultimately led to the rise of the Ba'athist party and Saddam Hussein. Today the Hashemite ruling family remains a source of communal loyalty in Jordan - but could one day resume its wider role in the region.

Geopolitics: Political Geography and Foreign Policy

Jordan borders Israel and the West Bank to its west, Syria in the north, Iraq in the east, and Saudi Arabia to the south. Its port town of Aquba in the extreme south gives Jordan access to the Red Sea. Although relations with Israel today are stable, Jordan has been involved in wars with Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Each war sought the annihilation of the Jewish State. Following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank (a move recognized only by Iraq, Pakistan, and Britain). Control of the West Bank was lost after Jordan's costly defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967. Today Jordan is involved in two ongoing conflicts. The first is against the Islamic State, which has spread across western Iraq and southeastern Syria - both areas along Jordan's borders. The brutal murder of a Jordanian pilot has led to the nation's more active participation in the campaign against the Islamic State. Jordan is also involved in fighting against the Houthi, Shiites of Yemen. This war against the Houthis is more than a mere proxy war with Iran - it is an intra-Islamic war between Sunnis and Shiites with the aim of the destruction of the Shia. Wahabbis - of which all 9/11 terrorists were members - are leading this fight as they did for Mecca and Medina, and pressing other Sunni nations, such as Jordan, to join in.

For more information on Jordan, visit its page on the CIA World Facebook.
A September 2016 interview with King Abdullah of Jordan. He will be a large part of the solution in the Mideast. 

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