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Sunday, 7 February, 1999, 14:09 GMT
The untested new king
Prince Abdullah
King Abdullah after the announcement of his father's death
The new King of Jordan, Abdullah, has the awesome responsibility of filling King Hussein's shoes.

Jordan's sorrow
Abdullah, 37, certainly resembles his father physically and is reputed to be of a similar character. But he is wholly untested in the diplomatic and political minefield through which his father guided the kingdom for the last five decades.

Abdullah was only named King Hussein's heir in January 1999. He replaced his uncle, Prince Hassan, as crown prince, after Hassan was deposed over a disagreement about the succession.

It now seems clear the king wanted to use his last days to ensure the accession of his own bloodline rather than his brother's.

Abdullah has pursued a successful military career rising to the rank of major-general and commanding the elite special forces unit responsible for maintaining internal security and protecting the royal family.

English heritage

His mother is King Hussein's second wife, an Englishwomen (formerly Toni Gardiner) who adopted the name Muna al-Hussein when she converted to Islam to marry the king.

Princess Rania: Palestinian by birth
Abdullah's English heritage has been a cause for unease among many Jordanians. His command of classical Arabic is less than perfect while his English is fluent.

Some Jordanians fear an increase of western influence at a time when US and UK policies towards Iraq and Israel are deeply unpopular.

Like his father, Abdullah received much of his education in the UK, graduating from the military academy at Sandhurst and completing a course in international relations at Oxford.

Popular appeal

If some parts of his background appear alien to his subjects, his prominent military role has won him their loyalty. This is especially true among East Bank Jordanians, those of indigenous tribal origin, who make up the backbone of the Jordanian military and the political classes.

He can also point to his wife, Princess Rania, who hails from a wealthy family of Palestinian origins, to reassure the majority of Jordanians, who originate from Palestine, of his sympathy towards their concerns.

Political concerns

It has been said that Jordan's new king does not have a highly-developed political viewpoint. His attentions have been exclusively on military matters so far. That will have to change.

Hassan with Netanyahu
Hassan (right) has a track record of diplomacy
His first task will be to guide the country through the psychological convulsion following his father's death. King Hussein exerted incredible power and influence over his subjects.

Jordanians have been mentally preparing themselves for the king's death for months. But they believed their new king would be the experienced, if uncharismatic, Hassan, who served as crown prince for some 35 years.

So far the sudden and humiliating dismissal of Hassan has not had repercussions with the stability of the kingdom, but that might not last.

Inexperience or a new dawn

As crown prince, Prince Hassan was an experienced player on the world stage and had particular influence on Jordan's relations with Israel. Hassan speaks Hebrew fluently and has many close friendships with senior Israelis.

But any Jordanians hoping the new generation will mean greater distance between Jordan and Israel will be disappointed. King Hussein would not have appointed an heir who might undo what he saw as his greatest legacy, peace with the Jewish state.

Finally, it is thought that Abdullah has been able to make inroads in the latent coolness towards Jordan felt in the Arab Gulf states, caused by Jordan's position of neutrality during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Before his appointment, Abdullah represented Jordan among the crown princes of the Gulf states and Amman will be hoping that the new generation can shrug off the burdens of the last.

Prince Abdullah speaking about his father
Middle East specialist Neil Patrick: Can Abdullah pull it off?
See also:

25 Jan 99 | Middle East
Hussein names son as heir
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