This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Jordan, a country about which I know very little. Here are some basic, introductory facts.
If you picture a large desert kingdom then you are halfway there. The northern part of the country is arable with substantial spring rains, and there is a chain of mountains along the western portion of the country There are some substantial urban centers, including the capital, Amman, but for the most part Jordan is desert. Unlike many Middle Eastern countries, Jordan does not have any oil resources. Despite this Jordan has one of the freest and most robust economies in the Arab world.
Politically, Jordan is located in a pretty tough neighborhood. To the west is Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. To the south is Saudi Arabia, east is Iraq, and to the north, Syria. Because of its location Jordan has had to play a diplomatic balancing act to stay out of the many regional tussles. Jordan has avoided armed conflict for over 50 years and is one of only two Arab countries to recognize Israel. Most Jordanians I met credit their current monarch: King Abdullah II, and his father before him, King Hussein, with maintaining the country's peace and prosperity
Jordan has about 10 million inhabitants and the majority are Sunni Muslim. Jordan is one of the most progressive muslim countries in the world, ranking number one amongst Arab countries in the Human Freedom index. It is one of very few Arab or African states in which homosexuality is not a crime. Queen Rania is a prominent social and political figure; she eschews traditional head covering and is known for championing progressive causes.