Hashemite Monarchy in Jordan (1914 - 1953)

Coat of arms Hashemite monarchy in Jordan
Coat of arms Hashemite monarchy in Jordan

Like many other postcolonial states in the Middle East, the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan has largely artificial boundaries drawn by European imperial powers. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, divided the territories of much of the Middle East between themselves as the previous empire of the Ottoman Turks collapsed in the wake of World War I.

As part of the Sykes-Picot wartime agreement between Britain and France, the territory that is now Jordan came under British tutelage. In 1921, having secured the League of Nations' official mandate for the territories of Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq, the British government created the Emirate of Transjordan through an agreement with its new ruler, Emir Abdullah (later King Abdullah I) of the Hashemite family.

The Hashemites had fought with the British in the "Great Arab Revolt" against the Ottoman Turkish Empire during World War I. But shortly after the war ended, the Hashemites were defeated and expelled from Arabia by their rival Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, who ultimately carved out the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In the postwar mandate period, the British government decided to install two brothers of the House of Hashem, Abdullah and Faysal, in their mandates of Jordan and Iraq, respectively. This move was in large part intended as a reward for Hashemite support in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Since its beginnings, Jordan has developed into a modern state that has long defied predictions of its imminent demise. What began as the British mandate of Transjordan in 1921 evolved into the Emirate of Transjordan at the time of independence from Britain in 1946, and finally into its current form as the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan beginning in 1949.

The Hashemite monarchy pointedly emphasized its Islamic lineage, especially the direct Hashemite family line descending from the prophet Muhammad. Beyond this emphasis on a religious and cultural source of legitimacy, the monarchy also established itself immediately as the premier and centralized political power in the emerging Jordanian state.

It would come to dominate the economy through reliance on a large public sector and also predicate its rule on co-option of key constituencies, including ethnic and religious minorities, while also relying on the armed forces that benefited from extensive royal patronage.

Given its location, Jordan was from the outset deeply involved in the various dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. By the time of Jordanian independence in 1946, tensions were peaking in neighboring Palestine between Jews and Arabs over the issue of Zionist versus Palestinian aspirations to full statehood.

When the United Nations voted to partition Palestine between the two peoples in 1947 and Israel declared its independence the following year, Jordan's Arab Legion was one of the Arab armies that attacked the new state, joining fighting that had already begun between the two communities.

In what remains one of the most controversial moves in the history of modern Middle Eastern politics, King Abdullah formally annexed the West Bank to his Jordanian kingdom in 1950. The debate ever since has turned on whether Abdullah's move preserved Arab territory from complete Israeli control or whether he foreclosed the possibility of a smaller Palestinian state by annexing the territory.

Abdullah paid for that decision with his life, when he was gunned down in East Jerusalem by a Palestinian nationalist in 1951. After a brief transitional period during which his son, Talal, was judged mentally unfit to rule, Abdullah's grandson Hussein became king in 1953.