AKABA , Jordanian port on the northeastern corner of the Gulf of Eilat. Due to freshwater wells in the vicinity, it has constituted, since antiquity, an oasis in an otherwise hot desert devoid of life. Under Roman rule it was called Aelana, and an army post was stationed there. In the early Arab period, the town had an important Jewish community. In the tenth century, Akaba was a large port, and the Crusaders made it a key position in their outer defense line. In the 12th century, however, the town began to decline and remained little more than a wayfarers' station on the pilgrims' road to Mecca. A change came in 1906 when the border between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire was demarked along the Rafah-Taba line (following a British-Ottoman encounter known as the "Akaba Incident"). Once again Akaba became the focus of international interest in World War i when the Hashemite Arab Army under Amir Feisal and T.E. *Lawrence conquered it from the Turks on July 7, 1917. They made it their headquarters from which raids into Transjordan and Syria were organized. Akaba was also the meeting place of Amir Feisal with Chaim *Weizmann in June 1918. Administratively Akaba belonged to the Ottoman province of Hijaz and, after wwi, to the Hashemite Kingdom of Hijaz. When the Saudis ousted the Hashemites in 1925, the British annexed Akaba (and its neighboring district of Maʿān) to the Emirate of Transjordan. Under the Mandate the British built a harbor there, but the place remained of minor importance until the end of Israel's *War of Independence (1948) when it became Jordan's only outlet to the sea. In the 1950s, the port was enlarged and the highway to Maʿān and ʿAmmān improved. In 1961 a deep-water port was inaugurated, and installations for the storing and loading of phosphates and for the discharge of oil were built. The port's annual capacity was increased to 600,000 tons, the number of ships calling rose from 173 in 1954 to 667 in 1966, and the tonnage of goods handled rose from 92,000 to 1,200,000. In 1965 following a Jordanian-Saudi territorial-exchange agreement, Jordan was given a 25-km.-long coastline south of Akaba which contributed to the development of the town and of its harbor. In 1972 an international airport was opened and a railroad later connected Akaba with the north. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) and the Iranian blockade of Iraq's seaports, Akaba became the main lifeline of the Iraqi economy and war machine and most of the country's imports and exports went through its harbor (18,000 out of the 30,000 containers passed through Akaba in 1982 originating in or destined for Iraq). During the 1980s the harbor was greatly expanded with Iraqi financial aid, reaching an annual capacity of over six million tons. In 2002 the town numbered 70,000 inhabitants (as opposed to 11,000 in 1967). Its economy was based on port services, foreign and internal tourism, fishing, and some farming. Following the Jordanian-Israeli peace accord of 1994, the Akaba Special Economic Zone (asez) was founded to offer economic incentives and business opportunities to encourage job-creating foreign investments.
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935), index. add. bibliography: R. Wilson (ed.), Politics and Economy in Jordan (1991).
[Shlomo Hasson /
Joseph Nevo (2nd ed.)]