The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan encompasses boundaries defined by the Allied victors of World War I. Emir Abdullah, son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, whose ancestry can be traced to the Prophet Muhammad, was awarded Trans-Jordan, the former Ottoman territories east of the Jordan River, in gratitude for Arab support during the war against the Ottoman Empire. Under British supervision, the Emirate of Trans-Jordan moved toward independence in 1946; with independence, Emir Abdullah became King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. In 1949, with the annexation of the West Bank, the name of the country was changed to the Kingdom of Jordan.
In 1951, King Abdullah was assassinated in front of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by forces that felt the king was working for reconciliation with the new State of Israel. Abdullah's 14-year-old grandson, the future King Hussein, was at his side when he was struck down. Hussein ruled from 1953 until his death in 1999, bringing his country through more than 4 decades of wars and crises, walking a delicate tightrope between the larger powers in the Middle East. During this time, Jordan has absorbed and given citizenship to more than a million refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as to more than 300,000 Palestinians expelled from Kuwait and other Gulf states in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. In the last years of his life, King Hussein made the search for peace in the Middle East into a personal crusade. Few in the region will forget his committed words and presence at the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin or his personal condolence visits to the mourning Israeli families of Beit Shemesh, whose children had fallen victim to terrorism. Hussein's son, the Western-educated, innovative King Abdullah, has vowed to continue his father's work for peace.
In a land devoid of oil and with few natural resources, Jordan has created one of the most progressive and energetic societies in the Middle East, but the burden of absorbing so many refugees, largely without help from the outside world, has taken its toll on the nation's economy. The opportunities afforded by peace may turn this trend around. If it does, tourism will be an important element in Jordan's economic revival.