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Long live the king.

Less than 24 hours before the public announcement was made, Prince Abdullah of Jordan was told by his ailing father he was to be the next King of Jordan.

For Abdullah, the news came as a surprise. Not since he was three years old had he been considered a serious candidate for succession. However, as fate would have it, the prince, who turned 37 just a day after his appointment as crown prince and heir, is now King.

Born in January 1962 to an English mother, Toni Gardiner, the daughter of a British military man - and King Hussein - Abdullah is the eldest of four children of the union, which lasted 11 years.

At his birth, he was named crown prince, in line with the tradition, which passes down titles and kingdoms from father to son. But because of the precarious political conditions in Jordan at the time, King Hussein chose his brother Hassan as next in line to the throne in the belief that Jordan needed an adult to rule should anything happen to him.

In 1972 King Hussein married his third wife, Alia Toukan. She was of Palestinian origin and the Jordanians, almost all of whom have blood ties to Palestine, were thrilled. Before her death in a helicopter accident in 1977 she gave birth to a daughter, Haya, and then a son, Ali. From the day of his birth, Prince Ali, now 24, was considered the most popular contender to follow in his father's footsteps. Born to a woman the population related strongly to in life and idealised after her death, Ali was ultimately found unfit to lead by his father. But even after the young Prince Ali was out of the running, Abdullah was not the favourite.

Queen Noor, who the late King Hussein married in 1978, gave birth to two boys, Hamze 19, and Hashem 17. From the day he was born Hamze was groomed by his mother to be a leader. Many people thought that the designated heir, Hassan, would become king and appoint Hamze as crown prince.

As Abdullah grew up he was thus not burdened with the prospect of becoming king. A good sportsman who liked to party, his waywardness sometimes annoyed his father, who reportedly shunned him in the late 1980s for about two years. But the prince pulled his socks up and began his military career in earnest, regaining his father's confidence by the early 1990s. His marriage in 1993 to Rania Yassin, a Kuwait-born Palestinian, made his father very happy.

Unlike any other royal wedding in Jordan since his father's marriage to his mother, Prince Abdullah was driven through the streets of Amman in an open car with his young bride, waving to exuberant crowds and well wishers. Since then Abdullah has become father to two children, Prince al Hussein and Princess Iman. He excelled in his work and at the time he became crown prince he headed the Special Forces, created after the bread riots that rocked Jordan in the summer of 1996.

FIRST TEST OF THE KING

Eyebrows were raised as the first public statements from the then crown prince were circulated. In an interview with the widely read London-based Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper, he concentrated on Jordan's commitment to the peace process with Israel, Jordan's opposition to the ruling party in Iraq and the belief that Iran constituted a regional threat to it's neighbours.

"Who wrote down those statements?" asked one political observer who echoed the worries of many in Jordan, "the US state department?" Unlike his father, Abdullab has no record of accomplishment in the arena of Arab nationalism and loyalty to the nation of Islam. His British mother and heavy accented Arabic have long been an issue of concern for those who believe that Jordanian and Arab interests cannot be represented by anyone with divided loyalties.

Abdullah will be challenged to prove his undivided loyalty to Jordan and it is people, over 50 per cent of whom are of Palestinian origin, in the first years of his reign.

In a one-line statement: "I swear by God Almighty that I will uphold the Constitution and remain faithful to the nation," he was sworn in as King. As the world watched, the new King showed no sign of emotion except a twitching muscle in his right cheek.

The first days of his reign were marked by gestures of Arab hospitality and a show of family unity. The relentless handshaking and embracing at what was surely the largest and most well attended funeral in recent memory, was watched live across the world.

He was as warm to Syrian President, Hafez al Assad, as he was to Bibi Netanyahu, who headed the Israeli delegation. On the second day of the 40 day mourning period the new King left the condolence Hall to accompany his younger half-brother and sister to the mausoleum of their late mother, Queen Alia, who had died 22 years and 2 days before King Hussein. Accompanying what were for a long time the two most popular children of the late King to their mother's grave made an immensely strong impression on the population which is obsessed with family values and a show of Jordanian-Palestinian solidarity. Early on Abdullah was winning the crowds.

More important still was his constant closeness to the former crown prince Hassan. Deposed from his position as crown prince after 34 years many had feared Prince Hassan would leave Jordan. As one of the prominent and respected intellectual personalities in the Arab world, Hassan was deemed an unsuitable choice as King of Jordan by the late Hussein. The decision came as a shock to most, and an economic nose-dive was only prevented through foreign monetary intervention.

Jordanians gave a sigh of relief as Prince Hassan announced he would stand by King Abdullah and remain in Jordan to serve his country.

THE NEW CROWN PRINCE

The announcement that Prince Hamze ben Hussein, King Hussein's fourth son, and oldest son of Arab-American Queen Noor, would be the next crown prince came as no surprise. At 19 the young prince, currently attending Sandhurst, is considered well trained for a leadership position, but for obvious reasons considered too young to become King.

It was his fathers dying and absolute wish that he be next in line to the throne. Loyal to his fathers wish, Abdullah made his first decree the appointment of his crown prince, his younger half-brother, Hamze.
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Title Annotation:Abdullah, King Hussein's eldest son, ascends the throne as king of Jordan
Comment:Abdullah's ascension as king following the death of King Hussein came as a big surprise to the eldest son of Jordan's beloved monarch.
Author:Shahin, Mariam
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7JORD
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:1071
Previous Article:The end of an epoch.
Next Article:Spotlight on a queen.
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