JORDAN: A History of Jordan

By Quilliam, Neil | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

JORDAN: A History of Jordan


Quilliam, Neil, The Middle East Journal


JORDAN A History of Jordan, by Philip Robins. London, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xvii + 204 pages. Map. Chron. Notes to p. 223. Bibl. to p. 232. Index to p. 243. $60 cloth; $22 paper.

Philip Robins has written a succinct and accessible history of Jordan. He has researched and produced an informative book that should serve as an ideal companion for undergraduates.

Robins writes with authority; and it is clear that he is not only familiar with the contours of Jordan's history, but he is also conversant with the historical and contemporary personalities that have shaped the country. The "almost" omnipresence of Jordan's leading families within the political élite makes it possible to trace the story of the state through a network of family trees - the Majalis, Rif'ais, al-Talls and so on. As one breezes through the book, the dramatis personae seem to appear in every chapter, despite it covering 137 years. Hence, the author manages to draw the reader into the inner circle of each generation of Jordan's decision-makers - and make them feel part of the furniture.

A History of Jordan pays considerable attention to the struggles within domestic political scene, as it considers the tensions between the Transjordanian communities -the Hashemites and their dream of panTransjordan and the more localised followers of Transjordanian nationalism. Of course, the author juxtaposes this intra-Transjordanian tension against the ambitions of the Palestinian nationalists of the post-1967 order and the 1948 Palestinian Jordanians, who were resigned to Jordanian citizenship. Robins depicts the struggle for the heart of the state and touches upon the critical issues of identity, Arab nationalism, rentierism and economic dependency.

On the whole, Robins offers an orthodox version of Jordanian history. It is a familiar narrative compiled into one very readable volume. Although it does not offer any new insights into Jordan's history, it does, nevertheless, provide an historical analysis of the choices made by Jordan's leadership since the inception of the state, and this allows one to place Jordan's contemporary decision-making process within context. For example, one is struck by the cyclical nature of events that have come to shape Jordan's history, and that will most likely shape its future. Robins argues that, despite its leading personalities, and many analysts' overemphasis on the role of Kings Abdullah and Husayn, Jordan's path to statehood has been shaped primarily by its strategic position and a dependence upon external patrons.

This idea was present at the outset of Transjordan's history, when it teetered on the edge of empire in 1867. …

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