Jordan's King Abdullah has started to establish a more stable democracy
Jordan has three main zones. First, there is the Jordan Valley region, which lies to the east of the Jordan river and finishes in the south at the Red Sea, which is the world's lowest body of water. Second, further to the east and running parallel with the valley, are the eastern uplands, whose elevation is mostly 600 to 900 metres. Thirdly, beyond the uplands, and occupying around 80% of the country to the east and north, is the desert.
Most people live in the upland areas and almost everyone is Arab. But there are numerous social divisions based on politics and history. One group consists of the ‘East Bankers’—descendants of the people who lived on the East Bank of the Jordan prior to 1948. The second, and now making up around 60% of the population, are descendants of the Palestinian refugees who crossed the river from the West Bank following the formation of the state of Israel in 1948—who were followed by another surge in 1967 when Jordan lost control of the West Bank to Israel. A third group are the immigrant workers, around 7% of the population—the majority from Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
The population is young and growing—at around 3% per year. This has put severe pressure on public services. Nevertheless the government does seem determined to invest in a high quality health service, and especially in education on which it spends 20% of the budget.
With relatively little by way of industry or natural resources, Jordan has relied heavily on the service industries that account for more than 70% of GDP. Many of these, including transport and communications, derive from Jordan's close links with its neighbours.
Agriculture is divided between fairly primitive rain-fed cereal production in the uplands and the higher-tech irrigated farms of the Jordan valley that are largely given over to fruit and vegetables, some of which are exported, and rely significantly on immigrant labour, generally from Egypt. Water is a perennial problem. Groundwater is rapidly being exhausted. Planned projects include conveying water from Disi in the south to Amman.
Industry is limited. The most significant enterprises are the state-owned mining operations that extract potash and phosphates. Jordan is the world's third largest exporter of raw phosphates. However the government has also been creating special duty-free economic zones, such as the one at Aqaba, to encourage investors.
In recent years industrial output has been boosted by manufacturing, particularly of garments, in ‘qualifying industrial zones’ which have duty-free access to the US market.
$4 billion in migrant remittances
Tourism is also becoming more important, but one of the most reliable sources of foreign exchange is migrant remittances. Though Jordan is home to many immigrants, it also has around 900,000 Jordanians overseas, most of whom work in the Gulf states, and who send home $4 billion in remittances each year.
Since the late 1980s, Jordan has been burdened with a large external debt and has had to turn to the World Bank which required a far-reaching programme of structural adjustment. In addition, however, good relations with many donor countries have enabled Jordan to benefit from substantial flows of aid.