AMMAN, Jordan (AFP) — A Western-educated trainee helicopter pilot with a huge Instagram following, Jordan’s 23-year-old Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah has emerged as the fresh-faced future of the desert kingdom’s monarchy.
The heir to the throne is hosting Britain’s Prince William, 36, from Sunday for a visit billed as a bonding session, when they could swap tales of studying at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, from which Hussein graduated last year.
Despite his tender age, the eldest son of King Abdullah II is already no stranger to appearing on the global stage — and in September took to the podium in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on his father’s behalf.
“I stand before you as a representative of my beloved Jordan, but also as a member of the largest generation of young people in history,” he told delegates in fluent English, sporting a stylish beard and sharp suit.
It is the prince’s youth that has been a major factor in bolstering his carefully crafted image at home, as he appeals to the more than 50 percent of the population who are aged under 25.
On Instagram the Jordanian Armed Forces second lieutenant posts a mixture of intimate family snaps, videos of himself doing military training and official shots with world leaders to his 1.4 million followers.
Last month he put up footage of air force comrades pouring buckets of water over him in a jokey ceremony to mark his first helicopter solo training.
While rising anger over growing economic hardships has rattled the authorities in Jordan, the royal family has managed to remain broadly popular — and Hussein’s reach is seen as a major asset going forward.
When protests over austerity measures rocked the country this month, the prince quickly headed into the streets to talk to those feeling the pain from the economic crisis and call for peaceful demonstrations.
“The crown prince belongs to the younger generation and eloquently presents himself based on military and political qualifications,” former information minister Samih Maaytah told AFP.
“His prominence in recent years is a part of a planned mentoring program… under the direct supervision of the king.”
Criticism of the ruling family is rare in Jordan and some Jordanians have been prosecuted in recent years for “anti-regime incitement” following statements critical of the royals.
Raised to rule
Born on June 28, 1994, to Abdullah and his glamorous wife Rania, Hussein has long been groomed to one day take over the Hashemite kingdom, where the monarch has broad executive and legislative powers.
He was officially appointed next-in-line at the age of just 15, before going on to study history at Washington’s Georgetown University and following in his father’s footsteps by attending Sandhurst.
The prince — or His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II, to give him his full title — should still have plenty of time to prepare to be king.
His 56-year-old father is young compared to other monarchs in the Arab world, and appears in good health.
Jordan’s royal family claims to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed and took the throne with British backing in 1921 when the Emirate of Transjordan, modern Jordan’s forerunner, was created from scratch.
Hussein is the “42nd-generation direct descendant” of the prophet, according to the prince’s official website.
Abdullah has taken his son with him on official trips around the globe, giving him an upclose schooling in the intricacies of world affairs that should prove useful.
Jordan’s rulers have traditionally trodden a careful path, maintaining a strong alliance with the West, while negotiating the minefield of Middle Eastern geopolitics.
The country borders war-torn Syria, houses vast numbers of Palestinians, has a peace treaty with Israel and manages the Muslim holy sites of Jerusalem.
Bolstering his credentials with the youth, Hussein has launched a series of initiatives aimed at young people, including an intern program at US space agency NASA.
“He is close to the youth, their activities, their problems and their hobbies,” said Jordanian social activist Shaden Amarin, a 42-year-old bank employee.
“You see him playing football with his friends sometimes, and playing guitar at other times, or flying a military aircraft and formally presiding over a security council session.”