Abdullah II (born 1962) succeeded his father, the late King Hussein, as king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on February 7, 1999. Little known outside Jordan before becoming king, Abdullah has surprised many observers by displaying a natural flair for a job many said he could never handle.
Abdullah's ascension to the throne was a surprise to almost everyone. In the final months of King Hussein's life, he had entrusted power to his brother, Crown Prince Hassan, heir apparent to the Jordanian throne. Less than two weeks before his death, some feuding within the royal family angered Hussein and caused him to announce that Abdullah was now next in line for the throne. It was an announcement that shocked and worried many in Jordan. Abdullah, Hussein's eldest son by his second wife, Princess Mona, was known as a competent military leader, serving as a major general in charge of Jordan's elite Special Forces. However, he had no experience in handling affairs of state, particularly worrisome in a country that requires delicate diplomatic maneuvering just to maintain a fragile state of peace with its neighbors.
State of Shock
Typical of the reactions to Abdullah's sudden elevation to the highest levels of power in Jordan was this comment made to Maclean's magazine by K. Aburish, a London-based Palestinian writer who was born in Jordan: "I think everybody in the country is still in a state of shock." Abdullah's military background served him well in Jordan where the military is one of two centers of power, the second being the Islamic movement.
Had Hussein lived longer, he was widely expected to have passed the mantle of power to Prince Hamzah, the oldest son of Hussein's third wife, American-born Queen Noor. However, since Hamzah was only 19 years of age at the time of his father's death, he was considered too young and not adequately prepared to lead the country. Critics decried Hussein's choice of Abdullah as his successor, charging that Abdullah was a superficial playboy, patently unsuitable for a job of such immense responsibility. However, almost from the moment he ascended to the throne, Abdullah has confounded his most vocal critics with his ability to handle the job. In the first months following his father's death, Abdullah moved quickly to try to mend frayed diplomatic ties with Syria and Saudi Arabia. His grasp of political issues and pro-Western leanings quickly endeared him to diplomats in Washington, London, and other Western capitals.
Although many political observers focused on the contrasts between Hussein and his eldest son, Roscoe Suddath, president of the Middle East Institute, in a February 1999 interview with ABC News, chose to spotlight the similarities between father and son. "He's a lot like the king," Suddath told ABC. "He's got that wonderful charismatic and winning personality, winning smile. He's personally very physical, very vigorous. He loves to jump out of airplanes, drive fast cars, just like his father." Suddath went on to give his feelings about how Abdullah would fare as king. "I think he's capable of becoming king, yes. I think he will rely more on the institutions, on the prime ministry, on the royal advisers, on the parliament."
Married Since 1993
Abdullah has been married since June 1993 to the former Rania al-Yasin, the daughter of Palestinian parents living in Kuwait. The couple has two children, Prince Hussein, born in 1994, and Princess Iman, born in 1996. Abdullah and Queen Rania have gone to great lengths to maintain close ties to the Jordanian people, choosing to live outside the royal compound and rubbing elbows now and again when they dine out at the Howard Johnson's restaurant in Amman.
Abdullah, the eldest son of Hussein, is a product of his father's marriage to British-born Queen Mona. He was born Prince Abdullah bin al-Hussein on January 30, 1962, and is one of 11 children of Hussein. Abdullah began his education at the Islamic Educational College in Jordan. He later studied at St. Edmund's School in Surrey, England, and Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. After completing his secondary education, Abdullah enrolled in 1980 at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he received his military education. In 1984, the prince enrolled at Oxford University to take a one-year course in international politics and foreign affairs.
After studying at Oxford, Abdullah returned to active duty in Jordan's military service. He quickly rose to the rank of captain and won command of a tank company in the 91st Armored Brigade. From 1986 to 1987, he was attached to the Helicopter Anti-Tank Wing of the Royal Jordanian Air Force as a tactics instructor. During this period, Abdullah was qualified as a Cobra attack helicopter pilot.
Studied International Affairs
Late in 1987, Abdullah traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He undertook advanced study in international affairs. After completing his studies in Washington, Abdullah returned to Jordan to resume his military career. He was first assigned to the 17th Tank Battalion, 2nd Royal Guards Brigade. In the summer of 1989, he was elevated to major and named second in command of the 17th Tank Batttalion. Two years later, in 1991, he was named armor representative in the Office of the Inspector General. Late that year, Abdullah was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and given command of the 2nd Armored Car Regiment in the 10th Brigade. In January 1993, Abdullah became a full colonel and named deputy commander of Jordan's Special Forces. In June 1994 he was advanced to brigadier general and given command of Special Forces, in which capacity he continued until October 1997 when he was named commander of the Special Operations Command. In May of 1998, he was promoted to the rank of major general.
Somehow lost in the shuffle following the death of King Hussein was his widow, Queen Noor, the former Lisa Halaby who was married to Hussein for 21 years. Although her oldest son, Hamzah, had long been considered the most likely candidate to succeed Hussein, his father's sudden decline came at a time when Hamzah was not considered old enough to shoulder such a responsibility. In any case, the sudden elevation of Abdullah to power, and the appearance on the scene of a new, younger queen, has pretty much left Noor in the shadows. In compliance with his father's dying wish, Abdullah has named Hamzah crown prince. Whether he will continue as heir apparent, however, remains to be seen. Abdullah has a young son, and in time he may choose to take the title of crown prince away from his half-brother and confer it instead on his own child.
Doubts about Abdullah's ability to hold his own in the international arena have gradually been dispelled, as the king has demonstrated a remarkable facility for dealing with national leaders the world over. It was evident from the start of Adbullah's reign that he would carry on his father's campaign to bring a lasting peace to the embattled Middle East. Speaking to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January of 2000, Abdullah said: "It is the task of the new generation of leaders in the Middle East to transform peace settlements into a permanent reality of economic hope and opportunity for the peoples of the region. These leaders are the ones who can closely associate with the hopes and dreams of the people of the Middle East who long to be able to live and work like so many others around the world with the promise of hope and fulfillment."
Pledged Support to the U.S.
Even more telling was the king's reaction to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Abdullah swiftly pledged Jordan's "full, unequivocal support " in the American war on terrorism. In a meeting with President George W. Bush only weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Abdullah told the American president "we will stand by you in these very difficult times." When asked if he thought it might be difficult to unite Middle Eastern countries against Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his band of al Quieda terrorists, the king said: "I think it will be very, very easy for people to stand together. As the president said, this is a fight against evil, and the majority of Arabs and Muslims will band together with our colleagues all over the world to be able to put an end to this horrible scourge of international terrorism, and you'll see a united front." In a later meeting with European Union officials on the U.S. terrorist attack, the king left no doubt about what he felt it would take to bring peace to the Middle East. "Israel's recognizing of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which is recognized by international resolutions, is the only route to defuse the tensions in the region," he said.
Some of Abdullah's own countrymen have expressed unhappiness with the king's close ties to the United States and its allies. As Abdullah met in Washington with President Bush, a comedy troupe in Amman drew riotous laughter from its audience when members suggested that Jordan's leaders say "no" to their own people but "only know how to say OK" to the United States.
A solution to the Palestinian problem is crucial for Jordan and King Abdullah, because nearly two-thirds of all Jordanians are of Palestinian extraction. The kingdom and its ruler have experienced problems in the past with civil unrest fomented by extremist Palestinian groups. In a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in October of 2001, Abdullah said the establishment of a Palestinian state was "inevitable" and the only sure way to guarantee stability in the region. The king added that "it is in everybody's interest to bring" such a state into reality.
Before succeeding his father as king, Abdullah had acted as regent in the absence of his father and frequently traveled with Hussein on state visits to other countries. In addition, Abdullah had often represented his country and King Hussein on a variety of visits to countries around the Middle East, developing close relationships with a number of Arab leaders in the process.
Although the citizens of Jordan enjoy as wide a range of personal freedoms as can be found in the Arab world, the country's political system still falls well short of Western-style democracy. Its parliament has limited powers, and even Muslim clerics must submit the text of their sermons for government approval. Freedom of the press is likewise constrained by complicated licensing requirements for newspapers and vague statutes that prohibit any threats to national security. A recent survey taken by the Jordanian Center for Strategic Studies found that more than three-quarters of respondents believed they would face government punishment if they attempted to demonstrate peacefully in public.
Abdullah has earned a reputation as a daredevil, counting among his favorite pastimes car racing and free-fall parachuting. He is also a qualified frogman, pilot, and scuba diver. Abdullah is an avid collector of ancient weapons and other armaments.
Jerusalem Post, September 30, 2001.
Maclean's, February 15, 1999.
Newsweek International, June 28, 1999.
Palm Beach Post, September 29, 2001.
Reuters, October 16, 2001.
United Press International, August 28, 2001; September 28, 2001.
Xinhua News Agency, October 25, 2001.
"Biography of His Majesty King Abdullah bin al-Hussein," http://www.kingAbdullah.net/biography.html (November 1, 2001).