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The country's popular image abroad encompasses not much more than proud desert nomads ruled by a wise king, and almost nothing is known of Jordan's mountains and beaches, castles and ancient churches, the urbanity of its people and richness of its culture. However, in the last decade the country has woken up to marketing its spectacular assets to the world. Tourist facilities are now well advanced, and for the curious few, there is no better time to visit.

Although surrounded by instability, Jordan is the safest country in the Middle East by quite a long way, a comforting fact that allows you to switch your concentration away from suspicious packages towards the stunning landscapes around you. The country is largely desert, but this one bland word covers a multitude of scenes, from the dramatic red sands and towering cliffs of the far south to the endless stony plains of volcanic basalt in the east. Also packed into this tiny wedge of land are the lush olive- rich hills of the north, teetering over the plunging rift of the Jordan Valley, which in turn runs down to the Dead Sea, lowest point on earth. The center of the country is carpeted with tranquil fields of wheat, which are cut through by expansive canyons and bordered by arid, craggy mountains. At the southernmost tip of the country, beaches fringe the warm waters of the Red Sea, harboring some of the most spectacular coral reefs in the world.
Jordan is part of the land bridge linking Europe, Africa and Asia, and has seen count - less armies come and go -Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Christian Crusaders and more - all of whom have left evidence of their conquests. There are literally thousands of ruins and archeological sites from all periods in every corner of the country. In addition, Israel and Palestine, Jordan's neighbors to the west, have no monopoly on biblical history: Lot sought refuge from the fire and brimstone of the Lord in Jordan; Moses,. Aaron and John the Baptist all died in Jordan; and Jesus may well have been baptized here. Even the Prophet Muhammad passed through.

And yet the country is far from being stuck in the past. Amman is a thoroughly modern capital, and Jordan's respectable economic growth means that grinding poverty is the rare exception rather than the rule. Kids may sell you cigarettes or offer to shine your shoes, but more desperate begging goes on in the streets of any European or North American city than in the whole of Jordan. Government is stable, with leanings towards full democracy, and, due largely to the unique political astuteness of King Abdullah the 2nd, manages to be simultaneously pro-Western, pro-Arab, founded on bedrock of Muslim authority and dedicated to ongoing peace with Israel. Domestic extremism is virtually non-existent. Women are better integrated into positions of power in government and business than almost anywhere else in the Middle East, military conscription was abolished in 1991, and Jordanians are exceptionally highly educated -at anyone time, more than a third of the entire population is enrolled at an educational institution. Traditions of hospitality are ingrained, and taking up some of the many invitations you'll get to tea or a meal will expose you to an outlook among local people that is often as cosmopolitan and world-aware as anything at home.

Jordan has small ethnic minorities of Circassians and Chechens, as well as a Christian Arab minority, but well over ninety percent of the country's populations are Muslim Arabs. Most people take great pride in their ancestry, and whether they're present or former desert-dwellers (Bedouin) or from a settled farming tradition, most are born into a sub-clan of one of the dozens of tribes whose lands spread out over the entire Middle East. Aside from representing a noble heritage, tribes also wield a great deal of institutional power in Jordan, and, in theory, serve as community mouthpieces on the national stage -most members of Jordan's lower house of parliament are independents elected on a tribal ticket. In effect, the system seems shot through with nepotism, serving to muffle local voices, but most rural people in particular still stay loyal to their tribe above political considerations.

The Rough Guide
Matthew Teller

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