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Abdullah II Bin Hussein (1962–) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

king jordan american prince

Abdullah II bin Hussein is the fourth king of Jordan.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Abdullah bin Hussein was born in Amman on 30 January 1962, the first-born son of Jordan’s King HUSSEIN BIN TALAL . His English mother, Princess Muna (née Antoinette “Toni” Avril Gardiner), was Hussein’s second wife. Abdullah’s family, the Hashemites of Jordan, claim descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Abdullah himself is considered the Prophet’s 43rd-generation direct descendant. By royal decree he was made crown prince soon after birth, although on 1 April 1965, King Hussein appointed his own younger brother, Prince Hassan bin Talal, to serve as crown prince instead.

Abdullah attended primary school at the Islamic Educational College in Amman and at St. Edmund’s School in Canterbury, England. He pursued his secondary school education at Eaglebrook School and Deer-field Academy, both in Deerfield, Massachusetts. In 1980, Abdullah followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the British Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. After completing his instruction, Abdullah was commissioned a second lieutenant in the British army. He joined the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own), an armored (tank) regiment, and later became reconnaissance troop leader for the regiment in England and West Germany.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Abdullah II bin Hussein

Birth: 1962, Amman, Jordan

Family: Wife, Queen Rania al-Abdullah (née Rania al-Yasin); two sons, Hussein and Hashim; two daughters, Iman and Salma

Nationality: Jordanian

Education: Primary: Islamic Educational College, Amman, and St. Edmund’s School, Canterbury, England. Secondary: Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts. Military: Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England, 1980–1981; Fort Knox, Kentucky (armored officers advanced course), 1985; Royal Staff College, Camberley, England; Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California (defense resources management course), 1998. University: Oxford University (Middle Eastern affairs), 1982–1983, and Georgetown University (graduate level, international affairs), 1987–1988.

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1980: Graduates Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
  • 1981: Is commissioned second lieutenant, British army
  • 1983: Becomes officer in Jordan Arab Army
  • 1994: Becomes commander, Jordanian Special Forces
  • 1998: Heads Special Operations Command within Jordanian army
  • 1999: 25 January, appointed crown prince by King Hussein; 7 February, becomes king upon Hussein’s death
  • 2002: Proposes “road map” to Israeli-Palestinian peace
  • 2003: Hosts Aqaba Summit for Israeli, Palestinian, and American leaders
  • 2005: Is awarded first Pope John Paul II Peace Prize

From 1982 to 1983, Abdullah took a special one-year program in Middle Eastern affairs at Oxford University. Thereafter, he returned to Jordan to become an officer in the Jordan Arab Army. In addition to serving in several armored units, Abdullah also served with the Royal Jordanian Air Force’s anti-tank wing. As a result, he received his flying wings and became qualified as a Cobra attack helicopter pilot. Over the years he worked himself through the ranks until, in June 1994, Abdullah was made commander of the army’s Special Forces with the rank of brigadier general. In May 1998, he was promoted to major general. That same year, Abdullah personally directed Special Forces troops in an operation against heavily armed criminals who had killed eight people in Amman, including an Iraqi diplomat. He also reorganized the Special Forces and other elite units into the army’s new Special Operations Command.

Although he was not the subject of political gossip and intrigue like some of King Hussein’s children, or as much in the news as other siblings, Abdullah’s private life nonetheless was fast paced, as his father’s had been. He still enjoys automobile racing, parachuting, scuba diving, and other water sports, and is an avid motorcyclist. In June 1993, Abdullah married Rania al-Yasin, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian whose family originally came from the West Bank city of Tulkarm. They eventually had four children.

Abdullah was catapulted from his quiet family life into the full glare of national and international attention virtually overnight when his dying father suddenly redesignated him crown prince on 25 January 1999, thereby demoting Prince Hassan, who had served as crown prince since 1965. The move startled the Jordanian public, and allegedly was the result of a dispute between the two brothers over the future line of royal succession. Abdullah accordingly took the place of his uncle, a man who had been groomed for the throne for thirty-four years, and became king with comparatively much weaker preparation when King Hussein died shortly thereafter on 7 February. Bowing to his dying father’s wishes, Abdullah named his half-brother Prince Hamzah (son of King Hussein’s fourth wife, American-born Queen NOOR AL-HUSSEIN ) as crown prince. However, he rescinded the title five years later in November 2004, presumably paving the way to appoint Abdullah’s eldest son, Prince Hussein, to the post someday.

Abdullah—now known as King Abdullah II, given that his great grandfather Abdullah I had ruled from 1921–1951—gamely rose to the occasion of ruling a country that his father had ably led for nearly five decades. He had to reach out to a population who for the most part had never known any other sovereign but King Hussein. The new king started out with several liabilities, including his relative lack of political and diplomatic experience, his half-English parentage, and his weak command of formal Arabic. Abdullah also lacked his father’s intimate knowledge of, and comfortable relationship with, Jordan’s native East Bank tribes and their traditions. Nor did he possess his father’s flair for playing the role of “head shaykh” of the country. On the other hand, his service in the military, dominated by non-Palestinian East Bank Jordanians, ensured him a degree of support and good will within a key regime constituency. The fact that he was married to a Palestinian also helped him politically with Jordan’s considerable Palestinian population. Abdullah also ushered in his reign speaking of democracy, governmental efficiency, globalization, economic improvement, and technology, which offered the possibility of change to other key constituencies, such as liberals and the business community.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

King Abdullah emerged as one of several young, Westernized “internet kings” who came to prominence in the Arab world at the turn of the twenty-first century. Considering that the region possessed some of the longest-lasting rulers on earth, many around the world hoped that their passing might usher in a new age. Early in his reign, Abdullah pledged to improve and modernize the country’s sizeable public sector bureaucracy. He adopted the habit of making unannounced inspection visits to government offices around the country, disguised as an ordinary citizen, in an effort to improve bureaucratic efficiency. He spoke of using the internet to create an “e-government.” Abdullah also assumed the throne stating that his first priority was improving the economy, and he pushed to privatize certain public sector companies. He also moved to integrate Jordan fully into the global economy. In April 2000, Jordan joined the World Trade Organization and hosted the World Economic Forum in June 2003.

Abdullah also moved forward on his domestic political agenda. On the question of ruling a country faced with considerable cleavages—Palestinian/East Bank, urban/rural, north/south—Abdullah attempted to define a new Jordanian national consciousness through his “Jordan First” (Arabic: al-Urdunn Awwalan) campaign in 2002. The king created a national commission to “consolidate” exactly what the slogan meant. This approach differed somewhat from that of his father, who had tried to forge a sense of Jordanianness—what he called “the one Jordanian family”—on his own, by appealing to his Hashemite heritage, Arab nationalism, and his own persona as unifying forces. Abdullah shared his father’s wariness of civil society, however, especially the press. The government continued to arrest journalists accused of violating the Press and Publications Law by committing crimes such as “slandering the royal family” and “harming relations with a friendly country,” and Jordan’s intelligence agency, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), remained very active. He also postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for 2001 until 2003.

Like his father, Abdullah plunged himself into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. In 2002, while meeting with U.S. president George W. Bush in Washington, he told Bush, “what we need is a road map” that could show the region how to proceed along the path of peacemaking. This term was soon adopted as the name of a new peace program endorsed by the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union. The Road Map was unveiled at a summit Abdullah hosted in the Jordanian city of Aqaba in June 2003 that brought together Bush, Israeli prime minister ARIEL SHARON , and Palestinian Authority prime minister MAHMUD ABBAS .

Another signal feature of Abdullah II’s rule has been the extremely close connection he has forged with the United States and its regional priorities and ambitions. This cooperation has extended far beyond the support he lent to American diplomacy vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. In this the young monarch differed from his father. While staunchly pro-Western, King Hussein balanced more carefully and circumspectly his need for Western support and the anti-Western feelings of his subjects and regional neighbors. Abdullah, however, openly embraced Washington’s “war on terrorism,” especially after September 2001. On his orders, officials from the Palestinian organization Hamas were expelled from Jordan in October 1999. Cooperation between the GID and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) grew so extensive and so close that some analysts have claimed the relationship is one of the closest between the CIA and any non-American intelligence agency in the world. Jordan became a transit point for American “extraordinary renditions” (forced deportation of terrorism suspects) to third countries, where they can be tortured and detained outside the framework of American law, and according to some reports even hosted a secret CIA detention center itself. In December 2005, Abdullah authorized creation of a special intelligence unit called the Knights of God to track down fugitive Jordanian militant ABU MUSAB AL-ZARQAWI in Iraq. American forces killed Zarqawi in June 2006 in part because of information gathered by this unit.

WE HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO STAND UP

I lived all my life, I guess you could say, as a normal citizen. I served in my country’s armed forces and traveled to all different parts of the country pretty much freely. My greatest concern is that, after the tragic loss of his late Majesty King Hussein when I was thrust into this position, it could be very easy to get disconnected from the people because you can find yourself isolated. A lot of people around leaders tell them what they think they want to hear. So you have to break out of that—to keep going back to what you think the problems are. So by traveling around incognito you can actually get a feeling for whether the government is treating a citizen properly, whether the hospital is providing the right type of services. Then I can go back and bring in individuals who are responsible and say, ‘Look you have been letting society down—letting Jordanians down, don’t do it again.’ Invariably I have had to disguise myself again to go back a couple of weeks later to make sure that what I have asked has been done. In the first year of my reign people didn’t take it seriously—they said ‘he went and checked the hospital and nothing is wrong, we don’t have to do anything, he is not going to go back.’ Well, we went back two or three times and a lot of people lost their jobs until we got the right ones in position in that particular hospital to be able to serve the people properly.

     (“KING ABDULLAH TALKING POINT SPECIAL.” BBC NEWS. 19 FEBRUARY 2003.

At the time of the Beslan school massacre in Russia, all of us were disgusted. But it’s just not good enough to sit in the privacy of one’s home and say how awful this is and condemn these people [Islamic terrorists] who are defaming Islam. This was a crime against humanity, and we have to be much more vocal, in public. In my view, Islam is going in a direction that’s very scary, and as the Hashemite Kingdom, we have a moral obligation to stand up. Yes, there are a lot of other things that are happening inside the Muslim world, but we have to draw the line. If we don’t, then these people are going to win.

          (“KING ABDULLAH II: ‘IRAQ IS THE BATTLEGROUND—THE WEST AGAINST IRAN.’” MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY 12, NO. 2 (SPRING 2005).

American-Jordanian cooperation also grew in areas beyond the “war on terrorism.” On October 24, 2000, Jordan signed the Jordan Free Trade Agreement with the United States, only the fourth country to sign such an agreement with the U.S. government. Jordan also allowed American, British, and Australian special forces units to operate out of the country in advance of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. This came despite Jordan’s public denials, and despite the vociferous pro-Iraqi, anti-American sentiments of the country’s populace. Washington rewarded the king for his support. In 2005, Jordan received some $700 million in American grants, and was one of the top recipients of American aid in the world. Jordan also has trained new Iraqi security personnel after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, and more recently, Abdullah has warned of the alleged dangers to the region of emboldened Shi’ite forces there and in Iran, what he called a Shi’ite “crescent.”

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Abdullah’s high-profile involvement in Arab-Israeli diplomacy, postwar Iraq, and even his marriage to the glamorous and philanthropic Queen Rania, all have made him a visible and well-liked figure in Western media and diplomatic circles. He is perceived as a moderate, pro-Western leader working to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and combat Islamic terrorism. He has been a frequent guest at the White House, and in November 2005, was awarded the first Pope John Paul II Peace Prize by the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington for his efforts. Inside Jordan, however, his close embrace with the United States, his muzzling of dissent, and his style of governing a country characterized by conservative social traditions and tribal identities have led to whispered discontent.

LEGACY

While still a young monarch who has been in power less than a decade, it is already clear that one of Abdullah II’s main legacies will be the degree to which he has aligned Jordan with United States foreign policy concerns in the Middle East, and with the forces of economic globalization. He also will be noted for changing the persona and style of leadership of the king from that of a paternalistic “head shaykh” of the nation to a more formal, technocratic leader.

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