11 -17 February 1999
Issue No. 416
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Book Fair Economy Opinion Culture Features Obituary Travel Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Pack of Cards Letters
Can Abdullah keep the balance?By Sherine Bahaa
Indeed, it is the end of an era. Most Jordanians have known no leader but King Hussein. For Arabs, the mention of Jordan is always associated with the posters of the king at the borders: "Smile. You are in Jordan."
Although Arab leaders as well as Western governments hailed the late king's appointment of his eldest son, Abdullah, as crown prince, a question mark remains over the new king's political skills and his ability to rule Jordan at this critical juncture. What is more worrying, according to experts, is that should Abdullah fail to preserve the integrity of his small inheritance, a potentially explosive conflict between Jordan's neighbours could follow.
Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, a political analyst, regards the situation in Amman as "precarious". He told Al-Ahram Weekly: "All the press reports talking about stability ignore the state of instability there."
Sid-Ahmed gives a number of reasons for this pessimistic view. "First, it is totally insane to expect that a person who has been acting as crown prince for more than 30 years [Prince Hassan] and with all the strings of power in his hands to be set aside so easily and that an outsider can just step in and take over without any problems," he says. "Furthermore, this outsider has no support whatsoever. If he [King Abdullah] was the son of Queen Nour, then Nour would have been there to support him. Abdullah's main strength is his high position in the military. But the army is not monolithic."
He adds that Abdullah's inexperience may spur him to build stronger international alliances to guarantee the stability of his rule. "The weaker members [of the royal family] tend to strike alliances with foreign powers in order to improve their political position at home," he says.
A second source of concern is Israel's intentions towards the new monarch. Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon has long advocated Jordan as the Palestinians' alternative homeland. "Now Sharon will certainly be tempted by this weakness inside Jordan and might seek to carry out his plan," says Sid-Ahmed.
At the regional level, conditions do not favour Jordan, he argues. The ongoing confrontation between neighbouring Iraq and the US, together with the dwindling flow of Gulf money due to the sharp downfall in oil prices, mean that Jordan will face serious hardships. Saudi Arabia is running a $12 billion budget deficit this year and Kuwait cannot pay the salaries of its government employees. "In short, this unusual regional situation could lead to repercussions," says Sid-Ahmed.
Whether King Abdullah proves to be as adroit as the late King Hussein at navigating Jordan through the Middle Eastern political morass also remains to be seen.
According to political analyst Gamil Mattar, recent press reports have concentrated on two possible threats to the tiny monarchy, namely Iraq and Syria.
There are around 100,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan which Baghdad might use as a pretext for intervention in the event of unrest in Jordan. Mattar offered this possible scenario: "Israel will not remain idle [in the event of trouble in Jordan]. When civil war [between Jordan and the PLO] broke out in 1970 in what is known as Black September, the Syrians moved their forces towards the Jordanian border, and Iraqi forces which had been stationed there since 1967 started a redeployment process. As a result, the Israeli army threatened to intervene and the Syrians withdrew immediately."
Relations between Syria and Jordan have been strained for many years and were not helped by Jordan's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. This led some commentators, particularly in Israel, to argue that Syria might interfere in Jordan's affairs to counteract Israeli influence.
Mattar believes that if serious difficulties were to emerge either within or outside the royal family, Jordan's four neighbours (Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel) are not likely to stand by.
Although King Abdullah has forged relationships with various Gulf leaders, Prince Hassan still enjoys greater popularity: while dignitaries attending the late King Hussein's funeral expressed their condolences to Abdullah with the strictest formality, they greeted Hassan with more warmth, reflecting the long relationship between him and nearly all world leaders.
"It is difficult for a new king who was not politically associated with the previous king to take up the post and to do things in the same way as his predecessor," argues Matter.
Many analysts doubt that King Abdullah will initiate radical changes in policy. Mattar points out that Jordan today is a very different country from that of 1953 when King Hussein assumed power. "First of all, Hussein was surrounded by his grandfather's advisers who stayed by his side in his early days," he says. "Second, King Hussein had a powerful mother, in contrast to Abdullah's mother who is not involved in the country's political life. Abdullah has to look for a new affiliation for himself, an affiliation which is not linked either to his father or his mother. The establishment of a solid political base will be difficult, even inside the army."