Making progress: A highly educated population possesses the key to future development
Amid regional turbulence, Jordan remains relatively stable and cohesive. This is a key advantage that the kingdom offers to foreign investors, who continue to use the country as a base for targeting growth markets in the region, and who are stepping up their involvement in core domestic industries such as energy, health care and information technology. Jordan’s stability, along with its culture of tolerance and friendliness, is also a key point of attraction for tourists, who annually flock to Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba in impressive numbers.
Rising budget deficits and energy prices, as well as persistently high unemployment and a severe lack of natural resources are key issues for the government. Moreover, recent administrations and policies have emphasised that economic reforms must be coupled with changes to the voting system that expand and deepen the scope of political participation. To this end, the government has recently established a national dialogue committee, and promulgated a number of constitutional changes and more liberalised election laws.
POPULATION & DEMOGRAPHICS: Jordan’s population stands at roughly 6.5m. Out of this total, an estimated 82% live in major urban areas such as Amman (home to nearly 40% of the population), Zarqa, Irbid, Madaba and Aqaba. As in many Middle Eastern countries, young people constitute a major portion of the population, with 95% of people in the kingdom under the age of 65. The median age among all Jordanians is 22, with the median age for women at 22.4 and for men at 21.8.
Additionally, current population figures do not typically include the number of refugees residing in Jordan, which has the most refugees in the world per-capita. Palestinian and Iraqi refugees have long resided in the country, and the numbers are on the rise with a recent influx of Syrian refugees due to political unrest in the neighbouring nation. As a result, the continually growing refugee population has placed even greater pressure on the country’s public infrastructure and limited resources.
The quality of Jordanian health care is evident in its average life expectancy of 80 years and its status as a major medical tourism destination. Overall, expenditures on health care make up about 4.5% of the kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Jordan’s population is not demographically diverse, with 98% of citizens classified as Arab, and the other 2% equally divided between Circassians and Armenians. Whereas 92% of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims, about 6% belong to Christian communities. The rest mostly belong to small groups of Druze and Shia Muslim communities throughout the country.
The official language of Jordan is Arabic, yet English is also widely spoken, especially among the younger generations and the business community.
EDUCATION: Boasting one of the best school systems in the region, Jordan prides itself on having a highly educated population. More than 13% of government spending goes towards primary and secondary education. Although the literacy rate for males (95%) is higher than for females (88%), women outnumber men in higher education institutions.
Education is compulsory for all children under the age of 15 and is provided by the government at no cost. Usually a child’s education begins at age four with two years of preschool, followed by 10 years of primary education and two years of secondary school or vocational training to finish at 16 years of age.
Upon completing secondary coursework, students are required to take the Certificate of Secondary Education Exam, a test that largely dictates what career paths learners can pursue.
Jordan is home to several high quality academic institutions, including the University of Jordan, widely regarded as one of the best schools in the region. Perhaps the strongest testament to the quality of education is the high number of Jordanians who are recruited by employers to fill vacancies in nearby nations, particularly in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The flipside to high quality education, however, is that this has resulted in brain drain, with many of the most talented Jordanian graduates leaving home for higher paying jobs and seemingly better benefits packages abroad.
POLITICS & GOVERNMENT: Jordan gained independence in 1946, established its first constitution in 1952, and since then has been governed by a constitutional monarchy. Since its initial ratification, the country’s constitution has been amended several times, most recently in late 2011 under decree from the Royal Court. His Majesty King Abdullah II came into the position in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hussein. The king holds executive authority with the power to sign, execute and veto all laws. Appointed by King Abdullah II in May 2012, the current prime minister, who serves as head of government, is Fayez Al Tarawneh. The Jordanian cabinet is appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the king.
Legislative power rests in the National Assembly, which consists of two branches: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has 60 members who are appointed by the king for fixed four-year terms. The Chamber of Deputies has 120 popularly elected members, 12 seats of which are reserved for women, nine are reserved for Christian candidates, nine for Bedouin candidates and three for those of Circassian descent. Under a newly proposed elections law, the total number of seats in parliament would be increased to 138, while the number reserved for women would be raised to 15.
GEOGRAPHY: Sharing borders with Israel, the West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is located in the heart of the Levantine region. It occupies a total area of 89,342 sq km, roughly the same size as Portugal or the United Arab Emirates. Jordan’s coastline consists of a small sliver on the Red Sea in the south of the country, home to the port city of Aqaba. In 1965 Jordan and Saudi Arabia negotiated an agreement regarding their respective borders that resulted in an exchange of territory extending the Jordanian coastline by about 18 km to its current total of 26 km. In total, Jordan claims three nautical miles as its territorial sea.
Jordan’s terrain can be divided into three distinct areas, from west to east: the Jordan Valley, the Mountain Heights Plateau and the Badia desert region. The Jordan Valley forms part of the larger Great Rift Valley that stretches from northern Syria to central Mozambique. Most of Jordan’s major cities, including Amman, Zarqa and Irbid, are located in the central Mountain Heights Plateau.
The Badia desert region accounts for the majority of the kingdom’s total area. The highest point in the country is Jabal Umm Al Dami, in the south near the Saudi Arabian border, at 1854 metres. The lowest point in the country, and in fact the world, is the Dead Sea, at 408 metres below sea level.
NATURAL RESOURCES: Jordan is considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world in terms water resources – a disadvantage that has forced Jordan’s policymakers to partake in some creative solutions in partnership with its neighbouring water-scarce countries, international development organisations and foreign investors. Energy resources are also a significant issue, as the kingdom possesses few oil or natural gas reserves and must import fuel for nearly all of its needs.
Recent turmoil in Egypt, which has led to several attacks on the Sinai gas pipelines, has resulted in skyrocketing energy costs and shortages. As a result, Jordan is exploring new forms of alternative energy such as solar and wind power, as well as oil shale. According to some estimates, Jordan has the world’s fourth-largest volume of oil shale reserves.
In addition, newly discovered deposits of uranium have made nuclear energy a potential solution to energy shortages. As a step in that direction, Jordan has signed more than a dozen international cooperation agreements in this field.
One natural resource that is plentiful in Jordan is its phosphates. The country is one of the largest exporters of phosphates in the world. Combined with potash, the two minerals account for around 33% of the nation’s total annual exports.
CLIMATE: Jordan has a Mediterranean climate. In the winter and early spring the daytime high temperatures average around 13°C. Cooler temperatures are not uncommon, however, and occasionally there is snowfall. Nearly all of the country’s annual precipitation falls between the months of November and April, making way for dry, hot summers.
Jordanian summers are not nearly as mild as its winters, with daytime highs averaging around 32°C. In July and August, the hottest months of the year, the thermometer can read above 40°C. As Jordan is mainly a desert environment, 90% of the nation’s territory receives less than 200 mm of rainfall each year, with some areas receiving as little as 25-50 mm.