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Saturday, February 6, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT

World: Middle East

Analysis: Jordan's succession saga

From the left: Hamza, Noor, Hussein, Abdullah and Ali

By News Online's Martin Asser

In the weeks leading up to King Hussein's death, a light shone on a tense family rivalry rarely visible to the public gaze.

One of the last acts of the dying king was to replace his brother, Prince Hassan, with his eldest son, Prince Abdullah, as crown prince.

Prince Hassan had 34 years as the undisputed heir. Abdullah had briefly been crown prince in his infancy, but in the hair-raising days Jordan lived through in the 1960s the constitution was altered to allow an adult to be next-in-line.

Jordan's sorrow
But the reason the hugely-experienced Hassan was dismissed had nothing to do with statecraft and everything to do with blood.

King Hussein wanted to ensure that, in the next generation, Jordan would be ruled by his own children not those of his brother.

In the humiliating letter published by the king dismissing Hassan, he wrote:

"We differ on the matter of the succession to the throne and to whom it would be transferred after you. As for Queen Noor, she was not spared the backbiting and the slander."

Battle of the wives

The king's letter spelled out in some detail Prince Hassan's alleged transgressions during the last six months. But analysts say the royal wives are the key to the real issues behind the succession drama.

In the 1960s, the fact that the infant Abdullah's mother was English was a major factor in Hassan's becoming crown prince.

Could such a boy be head of the Hashemite family, descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and rule over Arab Jordan?

These misgivings are largely forgotten. Prince Abdullah may still speak better English than Arabic, but he has proved himself in the tough world of the Jordanian army.

And he married a girl of Palestinian origin which has gone down well with Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

But in a country where the heir to an all-powerful throne can be picked for the job, there were other pretenders apart from Prince Abdullah.

The thoroughly Arab Prince Ali, son of Hussein's dead third wife, Alia was one.

The 18-year-old Hamza, son of Queen Noor, King Hussein's fourth wife and consort, was another.

Observers say Queen Noor played the most significant role in the succession saga. Some correspondents said she was instrumental in the dismissal of Prince Hassan, after falling out with his wife, Sarvath.

She was also said to be adamant that Hamza, though he is too young and inexperienced now, would one day to become king.

Hamza sat by the king's side throughout his treatment in the US. And the Jordanian media devoted much space to the young prince over the last year or so.

But Queen Noor was also seen as alien by many Jordanians. She may have Arab blood in her veins, but she grew up in California.

The cultural differences came to the fore after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin: A peacemaker, but one who had led Israel's army in the conquest of the West Bank.

Many Jordanians were shocked at their queen's tears at Rabin's funeral.

It is widely expected that the new King Abdullah will name Prince Hamza as his heir. Hamza was supposed to have been King Hussein's choice, and he is almost certainly Queen Noor's.

But who can say whether he will not suffer the same fate as his Uncle Hassan, and be dismissed in favour of Abdullah's own son, Prince Hussein, many years from now?

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