The Society

The Society

WHEN THE AMIRATE of Transjordan was created by the British in 1921, the vast majority of the people consisted of an assortment of tribally organized and tribally oriented groups, some of whom were sedentary cultivators and some nomadic or seminomadic. The total population was fewer than 400,000 people. By 1988 nearly 3,000,000 people, more than half of whom were Palestinians, inhabited the region east of the Jordan River-Dead Sea-Gulf of Aqaba line, referred to as the East Bank. The term Palestinians refers narrowly to citizens of the British mandated territory of Palestine (1922-48). In general usage, however, the term has come to refer to Muslims or Christians indigenous to the region between the Egyptian Sinai and Lebanon and west of the Jordan River-Dead Sea-Gulf of Aqaba line who identify themselves primarily as Palestinians. Narrowly defined, the term Transjordanian referred to a citizen of the Amirate of Transjordan (1921-46). Generally speaking, however, a Transjordanian was considered a Muslim or Christian indigenous to the East Bank region, which was within the approximate boundaries of the contemporary state of Jordan. The formerly rural society of Jordan had been transformed since independence into an increasingly urban one; by 1985 nearly 70 percent of the population resided in urban centers that were growing at an annual rate of between 4 and 5 percent.

In the late 1980s, class polarization was increasingly evident. Nonetheless, a variety of social forces (such as national identity and regional or tribal affiliation) continued to cut across class lines. The uprooting of so many East Bank citizens from their places of origin contributed to social fragmentation. In addition to the Palestinians, who retained a strong sense of national identity and outrage at the loss of their homeland, many Transjordanians had migrated from their rural and or desert villages to urban centers in search of work for themselves and education for their children. Many Transjordanians thus shared a sense of loss and rootlessness.

Probably the most important force supporting cohesion and integration was the Arab-Islamic cultural tradition common to all but a few members of the society. Arabic, a potent force for unity throughout the Middle East, was the mother tongue of the overwhelming majority of residents. Also, more than 90 percent of the population adhered to Sunni Islam. These commonalities, although important, have been insufficient to forge an integrated society.

Every year since the late 1950s, increasing numbers of Jordan's youth have received formal training in the country's rapidly expanding education system. By the late 1980s, all children aged six years to twelve years were attending free and compulsory primary schools. Nearly 80 percent of children between the ages of thirteen and fifteen attended three-year preparatory schools, also free and compulsory. But possession of an education, once a near certain vehicle for upward mobility, no longer guaranteed employment. Unemployment was probably one of the most critical issues facing Jordan in the late 1980s. It was accompanied by growing political frustration and radicalization over the Palestinian uprising (intifadah) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Country Studies main page | Jordan Country Studies main page