Urban Areas and Urbanization

Jordan Table of Contents

From ancient times, Middle Eastern society has been characterized by the interaction of nomads and peasants with the urban centers. The region's highest achievements in cultural, political, economic, and intellectual life took place in the vibrant cosmopolitan centers. Arab-Islamic claims to be one of the world's major civilizations rest largely on the products of city populations.

No major urban center existed in what is now Jordanian territory until the late 1940s. East Bank towns served as local markets and administrative centers rather than as centers of high culture. Truncated by external political considerations rather than by internal social or cultural realities, the East Bank consequently lacked the kind of long-established metropolis that for centuries had dominated other parts of the Middle East.

Amman, the major city of the East Bank, had ancient roots, but in the 1980s it was scarcely more than a generation old as a modern city. The Circassians were the first permanent inhabitants of Amman, settling there in 1878. In 1921 Amir Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi established his capital in Amman. It passed its first decades as a provincial trading center and garrison on the margin of the desert. In 1943 Amman had only 30,000 inhabitants. As capital of the new kingdom of Jordan, Amman grew over the next three decades into a booming, overcrowded metropolitan center. Population growth was largely a function of the influx of Palestinians since 1948. A high birth rate and internal migration, however, have also been prominent features of the urbanization process.

In 1989 Amman lacked both the old quarters characteristic of most Middle Eastern cities and an established urban population with a unified cultural outlook and an organic bond to the indigenous society of the area. Its people were a mixture of all the elements of the country. Circassians and Christians, rather than Muslim Transjordanians, set the tone before the arrival of the Palestinians, who in the late 1980s probably constituted 60 to 80 percent of its population. The smaller towns of the East Bank retained a good deal of the traditional kin- and quarter-based social organization characteristic of Middle Eastern towns.

In rapidly urbanizing areas such as Amman, the quasi-paternal relationship of the rich to the poor had begun to break down and the old egalitarian values had given way to class distinctions based on income and style of life. Increasingly evident, class polarization was fueled by remittances from those working abroad. Remittances were invested in residential property, thus driving up the cost of land and housing. New urban areas, dotted with lavish stone villas and supermarkets and boutiques supplied with expensive imported items, coexisted with overcrowded areas where a jumble of buildings housed the multitudes of the lower-middle class and the poor. Furthermore, Western culture had introduced foreign ideas among the educated that gradually estranged them from the culture of the masses. Cultural and recreational facilities, for example, were limited to the well-to-do because of the high membership fees in the clubs that provided them.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress