ABDULLAH II (Jordan)

Born on 30 January 1962, Abdullah is the eldest son of the late King Hussein and his second wife Toni (Antoinette Avril) Gardiner, a British citizen who embraced Islam and took the name Muna al-Hussein upon her marriage in 1961 (she was divorced from the King in 1972). He is a descendent of the Prophet in the 43rd generation. He was named Crown prince shortly after his birth but the King transfered the title to his own brother, Hassan, in April 1965.

At the age of four, Abdullah was sent to St Edmund School in Surrey (Great Britain) and completed his high school in the United States. As of 1980 he studied at the British Military Academy at Sandhurst (London) before taking a one-year course of international affairs at Oxford University. After his return to Jordan in 1984, he served in the 40th armoured brigade. He went back to the United States in 1985 to take a commandement course at the Cavalry School of Fort Knox. He then went back for a few months to Jordan to assume command of a tank unit. In 1986 and 1987 he served in a anti-tank helicopter unit before returning to the University of Georgetown in Washington.

In June 1993, Prince Abdullah married Rania el-Yassin, from a wealthy Palestinian family from Tulkarem living in Kuwait. They have two children: Hussein (born in 1994) and Iman (born in 1996).

In 1993 he was appointed deputy commander of the Special Forces, the elite unit of the Jordanian army. He assumed command a year later and was promoted major general in May 1998.

On 25 January 1999, King Hussein demoted his brother Hassan and elevated Abdullah as Heir to the throne (although the Constitution stipulates that both parents of the King must be Arab and Muslim by birth).

A few hours after the death of his father on 7 February 1999, Abdullah was sworn in as king of Jordan – King Abdullah II – before both houses of Parliament and made his half-brother Hamzah, born in 1980, Crown Prince.

He has widespread support within the army and the Beduin tribes (who are the bedrock of the Hashemite family). The Palestinian origin of his wife as also a major asset as the majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian.

The coronation ceremony of King Abdullah II took place on 9 June 1999 and that day has now been declared a national holiday to mark his formal accession to the Hashemite throne, replacing the 11 August which marked his father’s own acession.

King Abdullah II is head of a constitutional monarchy in which he has full powers.

The Jordanian economy has experienced a real boom throughout Abdullah’s rein with a growth amounting to 6% per annum. In addition, a series of social reforms has allowed the population to access health care and education easier. Thus, the literacy rate in Jordan is one of the highest in the Arab world: 90%

In foreign affairs, Abdullah II had the opportunity to sympathize with Pope Benedict XVI.

He also worked for the peace process in the Middle East by participating in several summits with the United States, Israel and Palestine in order to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 he tried to impose a ceasefire. In an article in Haaretz he declared that the recent confrontation in Lebanon was only a hint of disasters to come, « The frequency of these conflicts is extremely alarming » he added (King Abdullah to Haaretz: Jordan aims to develop nuclear power, Haaretz, January 20, 2007)

Jordan retains ties with Israel but continues to provide financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In Jordan, Palestinians obtain citizenship more easily than Iraq.

In August 2008, he became the first Arab head of state to visit Iraq since the American invasion of 2003 and the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

His attitude has sparked criticism from Palestinian and Jordanians. Overall Abdullah’s cooperation with the United States has played in his favor and has allowed an improve on the economic and military sides.

This policy has attracted investors in the territory and led to negotiate an FTA with the United States. Militarily, Abdullah has chosen to direct its military choices to quality rather than quantity. Thus, Jordan has greatly improved the standing of Jordanian armaments. On the nuclear issue, King Abdullah told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Jordan aspires to become a nuclear power for peaceful purposes. (King Abdullah to Haaretz: Jordan aims to develop nuclear power, Haaretz, January 20, 2007)

However, Jordan is one of the few countries in the region that is not provided in oil. The country depends on its Iraqi neighbor. Unrest in Iraq represents a risk for the energy security of the country.

Like his father, King Abdullah has oriented his policy towards democracy. In a speech in the U.S. Congress he has introduced several strategies for political reforms. In order to reach his goal, the government has introduced a dozen committees to propose plans for tax reforms, judicial, institutional and economic issues.

In March 2006, Abdullah asked Parliament to work on reforms to establish municipal elections.

On 16 April 2008 a law on the formation of political parties was voted. The new regulation has been strongly criticized and was said to be discriminating. The law stipulates that the creation of a party can only take place with a certificate from the government and 500 members instead of 50. Eight of the fourteen opposition parties were dissolved.

In contrast, the incarceration of Toujan al-Faisal, a lawyer for human rights and freedom of expression has provoked strong controversy. The woman was sentenced for accusing the government of corruption, in a letter to King Abdullah. The question of democracy resurfaced in the country.

Although King Abdullah aspires to make of Jordan a democratic country, the development is somewhat limited in the context of a quasi-absolute monarchy where the king’s allies form a large majority in parliament.