11 -17 February 1999
Issue No. 416
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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New king at a glanceBy Lola Keilani
"I swear by God Almighty that I will uphold the constitution and remain faithful to the nation." So said His Majesty King Abdullah II as he took the oath following the announcement that his father King Hussein had died.
Abdullah, who turned 37 last week, was born in Amman on 30 January, 1962. His mother is King Hussein's British-born second wife Toni Avril Gardiner, renamed Princess Muna Al-Hussein after marrying the monarch.
The reins of power changed hands smoothly on 25 January after Hussein designated Abdullah as heir, leaving his brother Hassan, who held the post for 34 years, out in the cold.
Abdullah started his education at the Islamic Educational College in Amman. At five, he left for England and joined St Edmund's School in Surrey for his primary education. He later attended Deerfield Academy in the US where he completed his secondary school education. For his post-graduate studies he joined Oxford University for a year, in 1984, taking a special course in international politics and world affairs.
On returning home in 1984, he served as platoon commander and was second in command in Jordan's 40th Armoured Brigade, where he established excellent relations with fellow soldiers, most of whom descended from a Bedouin background. At the time he was a first lieutenant.
His military service was interrupted in 1988 when he attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC. There, Abdullah became familiar with US policies and a frequent visitor to the Pentagon.
In 1994, King Abdullah's military role became more visible. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier and was appointed commander of Jordan's elite Special Forces. In 1996 the Special Forces incorporated the Royal Guard, military intelligence and special operations. The newly created brigade was expanded to include unconventional warfare missions, internal security assignments, counter-terrorism missions, conventional and non-conventional military operations beyond the scope of the Jordanian army. It also included special training of other army units in special operations.
In his first public interview as designated heir, Abdullah pledged to continue his father's policies on the Middle East peace process and Iraq and to push ahead for democratic reforms. "I am an extension of His Majesty's outlook and His Majesty's beliefs," The New York Times quoted him as saying.
The new king had previously deputised for his father on several occasions. He also joined his father on important missions. At 25 he accompanied Hussein on a visit to Moscow for talks with leaders of the former Soviet Union. He had also been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he has repeatedly made Jordan's case for upgraded military assistance.
Following his appointment as crown prince, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "Abdullah is not an unfamiliar person to the US." Albright made an unscheduled visit to congratulate him in person shortly after his appointment as crown prince. The move ended speculation that the US had supported Prince Hamzeh, son of the American-born Queen Nour. The US secretary of state, in her condolence letter to Jordan following the death of King Hussein, promised that Washington would stand by the new king and Jordan. "Let me affirm the message I conveyed during my recent visit to your country. The friendship between the United States and Jordan is enduring and deep," Albright said.
At the regional level, King Abdullah called for the "opening of a new page in inter-Arab relations." He added "I believe that the future of the region will be different due to the similar experience of the young leadership in the area."
King Abdullah has strong ties with the princes of most Gulf states, many of whom are former university and military academy colleagues, something that will help him improve relations with the oil-rich states.
On the eve of his appointment as crown prince, the United Arab Emirates announced a $250 million deposit in the Central Bank of Jordan to raise hard currency reserves. Saudi Arabia's top leadership also pledged to provide financial assistance to Jordan.
In December 1998, Abdullah hand-delivered a letter from Hussein to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, congratulating him on his recovery from hip surgery. In March 1998, he topped the list of dignitaries accompanying the king to Oman. His father exposed him to the intricacies of inter-Arab politics by introducing him to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq.
As for the Middle East peace process, the new king stressed that he totally supports peace between the Arabs and Israel. "I am obligated to support the peace effort and stability in the region through encouraging both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to reach an agreement on bilateral issues," Abdullah said after his appointment as crown prince.
King Abdullah has played an active role in many aspects of normalisation of relations between Israel and Jordan, especially in military ties. He participated in several meetings with former Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. He also hosted Jordan's first-ever weapons exhibition, attended by 30 countries, including Israel. In June 1996, in an example of airborne diplomacy, Abdullah was part of an international team of parachutists that jumped jointly over Jordan and Israel.
On the domestic scene, King Abdullah said that there would be more support "to the process of democratic transformation, political pluralism, freedom of expression and a boost to civil institutions."
On 10 June 1993, Abdullah married Princess Rania, whose family comes originally from the Palestinian West Bank town of Tulkarem. Rania was born on 31 August 1970 in Kuwait, where her family, like many Palestinians, had moved to seek a better life. Following the 1991 Gulf War, her family moved, along with thousands of Jordanians and Palestinians, to Jordan.
King Abdullah has a boy, Al-Hussein, born 28 June 1993 and a daughter, Iman, born 27 September 1996.
The new king, who appeared on state television to announce the death of his father, called for national unity and promised to "preserve Hussein's full legacy by building a strong Jordan."