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Explainer

Jordan’s King Abdullah II: A Western ally in a turbulent region

The Jordanian monarch has cast his country as an island of stability, but that image has been dented by palace rift with his half-brother

Women walk past a poster of Jordan's King Abdullah II on a street in the capital Amman, on April 6, 2021, after a security crackdown revealed tensions in the monarchy. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)
Women walk past a poster of Jordan's King Abdullah II on a street in the capital Amman, on April 6, 2021, after a security crackdown revealed tensions in the monarchy. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordanian King Abdullah II is a key Western ally who has made the stability of his country in the restive Middle East a top priority.

In recent days, that image of stability has taken a hit, amid a palace rift in which his younger half-brother Prince Hamzah is accused of plotting against him.

Abdullah, 59, is a British-educated former special forces commander who swapped his military helmet for the crown more than two decades ago.

Since 1999 he has steered the country through wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria, the Arab Spring and the bloody reign of the Islamic State group.

His country, home to millions of Palestinians, has over the years also taken in millions of refugees from war-torn Iraq and Syria.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R) is greeted by then-US President Donald Trump at the White House on June 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Throughout, the US and the oil-rich Gulf states have valued him and Jordan’s security services as key allies in counter-terrorism and regional affairs.

Abdullah has taken pains to maintain peace with Israel, despite occasional tensions and at the expense of sometimes virulent criticism at home.

A media-savvy monarch, he has been known for occasional showmanship and once appeared in an episode of the American science-fiction series Star Trek.

He has been an enthusiast for adventure sports, including diving, parachuting and auto racing, with a taste for Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Since ascending the throne, Abdullah has retained his interest in military affairs — as king he is also supreme commander — and often dons fatigues to visit the troops.

Military career

Abdullah was born into the Hashemite royal family on January 30, 1962 as the eldest son of the late King Hussein and Princess Muna, an Englishwoman whose birth name was Antoinette Gardiner.

He is the 41st direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, according to the official genealogy.

The young Abdullah II was educated in Amman, Britain and the United States.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II reviews an honor guard before giving a speech to Parliament in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 10, 2019. (Raad Adayleh/AP)

He entered the British military academy at Sandhurst in 1980, and later even served in the British army in Germany.

Back in Jordan he held various military positions, became a paratrooper, a tank commander, learned to fly a helicopter and then became a special forces commander.

In 1998 he led the successful storming of the hideout of gunmen who had killed eight people, including an Iraqi diplomat.

Pauper’s disguise

King Hussein originally chose his younger brother Hassan as crown prince, before handing over the kingship to Abdullah a few weeks before his death in 1999.

Abdullah had taken one-year courses at Oxford and Georgetown Universities, and written his master’s thesis on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But he later admitted that nothing prepared him for running a kingdom wedged between a “rock and a hard place,” as he described conflict-torn Iraq and the Israeli-controlled West Bank.

Within months of ascending the throne, he staged a series of forays onto the streets of Jordan donning disguise, to gauge the views of ordinary people, once boarding a shared taxi wearing the tattered clothes of a pauper.

FILE: King Abdullah II of Jordan and his wife Queen Rania pose with Prince Hamzah, right, and his fiancee Noor, left, in Al Baraka palace in Amman, August 29, 2003. (AP Photo/Yousef Allan)

Abdullah is married to Queen Rania, a Kuwait-born Palestinian.

They have four children — Hussein, Iman, Salma and Hashem.

In 2004 the king named Hussein, now aged 26, as the crown prince, sidelining Hamzah, who has now become a fierce internal critic.

Hamzah has lashed out at Jordan’s leadership, labeling it corrupt and charging that “incompetence has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse.”

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