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Jordan's universally popular monarch, King Hussein, is undergoing treatment for cancer. Concern about King Hussein's health was lurked beneath the surface of Jordanian politics for six years and recent developments, however unpalatable have caused concern about the selection of future rules of the Hashemite kingdom.

Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis and the various sponsors of the Middle East Peace processes have all been tense, hoping against hope that somehow, miraculously, the King would return to his old self and be the athletic powerhouse he was only 10 years ago. Bankers, politicians and a tense nation waited attentively for a televised satellite link-up in which the King addressed the nation from the US in late July. Many feared he would announce that his illness was terminal, or express a wish to step aside and allow his brother, Crown Prince Hassan, to take the helm.

No such dramatic gesture was forthcoming, however. The King announced that he was undergoing chemotherapy to cure him from lymphoma and that he was recovering after the first session of the treatment. His speech did little to change the anxious atmosphere in Jordan however, where worries about succession related issues continue.

There has been a general consensus that Crown Prince Hassan, 51, is not only the anointed successor but one which would be the most welcomed by the enlightened and economically powerful sectors of society.

Once believed to be on questionable terms with Jordan's large and economically powerful Palestinian community, the Crown Prince is now championed by this very group as a leader with integrity, morals and good judgement. The same can be said for the Christian minority (of around five per cent) who form an important section of Jordan's economic and intellectual life.

While Crown Prince Hassan is an Oxford educated scholar with wide ranging interests and knowledge he does not have the "populist touch" that has frequently elevated King Hussein to near prophet-like status with the population. Some analysts fear that this could be problematic, especially with the more traditional elements in Jordan which still favour and promote paternalistic social and political behavioural patterns.

In some ways the Crown Prince is a more modern man, who deals more with issues and facts and less with emotions, than many of his contemporaries.

The Israelis also became jittery at what appeared to be a foreseeable change at the helm in Jordan. In the streets of Tel Aviv an advertising agency named NOOR (not to be confused with Queen Noor) filled billboards with a picture of the King wearing a red kaffieh next to a text which read `Noor wishes His Majesty a Quick and Sound recovery.' Newspapers were full of expressions of concern for the well-being of their favourite peace partner. Crown Prince Hassan has followed up on both domestic and international affairs on behalf of the king for almost a year and a half now and it is becoming increasingly clear that this is the preparatory stage for his eventual position as leader of the country.

What has become an issue of contention within the Hashemite family is the identity of the next heir to the Jordanian throne should Crown Prince Hassan become the country's leader. A new Crown Prince would have to be anointed and the question of who should assume this role has proved a thorny issue, even at this relatively early stage.


When King Hussein came to power in 1952, his younger brother Prince Mohammed (b. 1940) became Crown Prince. Due to a suspected health problem and the Jordanian constitution which stated that the King's male children should be next in line to the throne, the King's eldest son, Abdallah, who was born in 1962, assumed the title of crown prince.

But over the years King Hussein's active and intelligent brother, Prince Hassan, became his closest advisor and in 1965 the constitution was changed and Prince Hassan named Crown Prince. Since then it has also come to light that the Jordanian constitution states that the mother of any Jordanian monarch must be Arab and Muslim by birth.

If this constitutional issue were to remain law, the number of Hashemite Princes eligible to become Crown Prince would be reduced to three. Only one of these is the King's son, namely his third born male child, Prince Ali (b. 1975). The other two are the sons of Prince Mohammed, Prince Talal (b. 1968) and Prince Ghazi (b. 1971). The latter two princes are both graduates of universities in Britain and the US and have matured in the public eye where they hold official positions. Prince Ali is generally considered too young and, as yet, not well prepared for a leadership position.

But since talk of the next succession has been fuelling wild rumours in the Kingdom this law has been largely ignored. King Hussein decided several years ago that the issue of succession should be decided on merit rather than on age seniority or maternal parentage. Herein lies much of the current tension. While this is a family affair, Jordanians and Jordan's allies very much view it as integral to their future as well, and discussion of this subject has become an almost daily event in all parts of the Kingdom and the much linked Palestinian territories as well as among Israelis.

It also appears that Queen Noor (who has two teenage sons) is quite anxious to put the succession issue up for a vote while King Hussein is still relatively well and able to influence the decision. According to framework laid out by the King several years ago, the decision about the succession would be made by a Hashemite committee comprised of members of the Hashemite family.

Which family members are in and which are out is not clear, but a voting process is part of the framework. Since the King has five sons, it has been argued that one of them is surely fit to become the crown prince and next in line after the current Crown Prince Hassan. Until King Hussein was diagnosed as having a form of cancer in 1992, it was generally accepted that his third son, Ali, was next in line to the throne after Crown Prince Hassan. Since then this pre-conception has been widely challenged from several quarters. The two sons of Prince Mohammed appear to have stepped aside in the rush for the crown, despite the general consensus amongst the public, that if merit were the measure both would be top contenders.

Thus the main three contenders appear to be the King's eldest son, Prince Abdallah, 36, by his second wife, British born Princess Muna. His fourth son, Prince Hamzeh 18, by his fourth and current wife, the Arab-American born Queen Noor and Prince Rashid, 18, the only son of Crown Prince Hassan and his wife Princess Sarvath, who comes from a prominent family from the Indian sub-continent.

These three are likely to be lobbying for support amongst their family members in the coming months, and maybe years, to be the next in line. Each already has a certain amount of support from one quarter or another, both within the family and among the population, but advisors are saying that the sooner a decision is made the better for both the family and the country.

Jordan is facing a stalled economy, a less than ideal relationship with the current Israeli leadership and a testy regional role, it does not need the added concern of an accession issue. Nonetheless, while uncertainty prevails, such concern will continue.
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Author:Shahin, Mariam
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Sep 1, 1998

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