Abdullah II

Abdullah II of Jordan

Abdullah II
عبدالله الثاني
King Abdullah portrait.jpg

Abdullah in 2008
King of Jordan
Reign 7 February 1999 – present
Coronation 9 June 1999
Predecessor Hussein
Heir apparent Crown Prince Hussein
Prime Ministers
 
Born (1962-01-30) 30 January 1962 
Amman, Jordan
Spouse Rania Al-Yassin (m. 1993)
Issue
Detail
Crown Prince Hussein
Princess Iman
Princess Salma
Prince Hashem
Full name
Abdullah bin Hussein bin Talal

bin Abdullah bin Hussein bin Ali

House Hashemite
Father Hussein of Jordan
Mother Muna Al-Hussein
Religion Sunni Islam
Signature Abdullah IIعبدالله الثاني's signature

Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein (Arabic: عبد الله الثاني بن الحسين‎‎, ʿAbdullāh aṯ-ṯānī ibn Al-Ḥusayn,) has been King of Jordan since the 1999 death of his father, King Hussein. According to Abdullah, he is a 41st-generation direct descendant of Muhammad as he belongs to the Hashemite family—who have ruled Jordan since 1921.

He was born in Amman as the first child of King Hussein and his second wife, British-born Princess Muna. Shortly after his birth, Abdullah was named the crown prince. King Hussein transferred the title to his brother, Prince Hassan, in 1965 and unexpectedly returned it to Abdullah in early 1999 just a few weeks before his death. Abdullah began his schooling in Amman, continuing his education abroad. He assumed command of Jordan’s Special Forces in 1994, and became a major general in 1998. In 1993 Abdullah married Rania Al-Yassin (of Palestinian descent), and they have four children: Crown Prince Hussein, Princess Iman, Princess Salma and Prince Hashem. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, is his brother-in-law by marriage—to Abdullah’s half-sister, Princess Haya.

Abdullah, a constitutional monarch, embarked on neoliberal economic policies when he assumed the throne, and his reforms led to an economic boom which continued until 2008. During the following years Jordan’s economy experienced hardship as it dealt with the effects of the Great Recession and spillover from the Arab Spring, including a cut in its petroleum supply and the collapse of trade with neighboring countries. In 2011, large-scale protests demanding reform erupted in the Arab world. Many of the protests led to civil wars in other countries, but Abdullah responded quickly to domestic unrest by replacing the government and introducing reforms. Proportional representation was reintroduced to the Jordanian parliament in the 2016 general election, a move which he said would eventually lead to establishing parliamentary governments. Although some local opposition groups called his reforms inadequate, other observers praised them. They took place amid unprecedented regional instability: an influx of 1.4 million Syrian refugees into the natural resources-lacking country and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Abdullah is popular locally and internationally for maintaining Jordanian stability, and is known for promoting interfaith dialogue and an understanding of Islam. The third-longest-serving Arab leader, he is regarded by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center as the most influential Muslim in the world. Abdullah is custodian of the Muslim and Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem, a position held by his dynasty since 1924.

Early life

Abdullah and his father, hugging on a couch
Abdullah (age six) and his father, King Hussein, on 7 August 1968
 Abdullah was born on 30 January 1962 in Amman, to King Hussein during Hussein’s marriage to his British-born second wife, Princess Muna Al-Hussein. He is the namesake of his great-grandfather, Abdullah I, who founded modern Jordan. Abdullah says that he is the 41st direct descendant of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah, whose husband was Ali, the fourth caliph. The Hashemites ruled Mecca for over 700 years—until its 1925 conquest by the House of Saud—and has ruled Jordan since 1921. The Hashemites, the oldest ruling dynasty in the Muslim world, are the second-oldest-ruling dynasty in the world (after the Imperial House of Japan).

Since Hussein had a daughter from his first marriage, Abdullah (as his eldest son) became heir apparent to the Jordanian throne under the 1952 constitution. Due to political instability—including a number of assassination attempts—King Hussein appointed his brother Prince Hassan as his heir apparent in 1965; he returned the appointment to Abdullah shortly before his death in 1999. Three more children followed Abdullah from Hussein’s marriage to Princess Muna, two from the king’s third marriage and four from his fourth. Abdullah has four brothers and six sisters—Princess Alia, Prince Faisal, Princess Aisha, Princess Zein, Princess Haya, Prince Ali, Prince Hamza, Prince Hashem, Princess Iman, Princess Raiyah—seven of whom are half-siblings.

He began his schooling in 1966 at the Islamic Educational College in Amman, and continued at St Edmund’s School in England. Abdullah attended high school at Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in the United States.

Military career

He began his military career at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1980, while he was a training officer in the Jordanian Armed Forces. After Sandhurst, Abdullah was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British Army and served a year in Britain and West Germany as a troop commander in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.

Abdullah, age 11, in uniform with soldiers
Abdullah (age eleven) during a 1973 visit to Royal Jordanian Air Force headquarters
 Abdullah was admitted to Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1982, where he completed a one-year special-studies course in Middle Eastern affairs. He joined the Royal Jordanian Army on his return home, serving as first lieutenant and then as platoon commander and assistant commander of a company in the 40th Armored Brigade. Abdullah took a free-fall parachuting course in Jordan, and in 1985 he took the Armored Officer’s Advanced Course at Fort Knox. He became commander of a tank company in the 91st Armored Brigade, with the rank of captain. Abdullah also served with the Royal Jordanian Air Force’s anti-tank helicopter wing, where he was trained to fly Cobra attack helicopters.

The prince then attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1987, undertaking advanced study and research in international affairs. He returned home to serve as assistant commander of the 17th Royal Tank Battalion in 1989, later being promoted to major. Abdullah attended a staff course at the British Staff College in 1990, and served the following year in the Office of the Inspector General of the Jordanian Armed Forces as the Armored Corps representative. He commanded a battalion in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1992 and was promoted to colonel the following year, commanding the 40th Brigade.

In 1994 Abdullah assumed command of Jordan’s Special Forces and other elite units as brigadier general, restructuring them into the Joint Special Operations Command two years later. He became a major general, attended a course in defense resources management at the American Naval Postgraduate School and commanded an elite special-forces manhunt in the pursuit of outlaws in 1998. The operation reportedly ended successfully, with his name chanted on the streets of Amman.

Reign

Accession and coronation

Abdullah joined his father on a number of missions, including meetings abroad with American and Soviet

Jordanian royal family
Coat of arms of Jordan.svg
  • HM The King
    HM The Queen

    • HRH The Crown Prince
    • HRH Princess Iman
    • HRH Princess Salma
    • HRH Prince Hashem

HM Queen Noor

leaders. He was occasionally King Hussein’s regent during the 1990s but this duty was mainly performed by Hussein’s younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan. Abdullah led his father’s delegation to Moscow for talks in 1987 at the age of 25. He was a frequent visitor to The Pentagon in Washington, making the Jordanian case for increased military assistance. The prince joined his father on trips to visit Hafez Al-Assad in Damascus and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (before the 1990 Gulf War). Abdullah commanded military exercises during Israeli military officials’ visits to Jordan in 1997, and was sent to hand-deliver a message to Muammar Gaddafi in 1998.

Abdullah, wearing a keffiyeh, at a ceremony
Abdullah swearing the oath in Parliament at his accession, 7 February 1999
 King Hussein frequently traveled to the United States for medical treatment after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1992. In late 1998, after a six-month medical absence from Jordan, he publicly criticized his brother Prince Hassan’s management of Jordanian internal affairs and accused him of abusing his powers as regent and crown prince. On 24 January 1999, two weeks before his death, Hussein surprised everyone—including Abdullah—by replacing Hassan with his son as heir apparent.

The king died of complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma on 7 February 1999. His difficult 47-year reign extended through the Cold War and four decades of Arab–Israeli conflict. Hussein, a respected statesman and renowned peacemaker, made Jordan a modern state by the end of his reign. Several hours after the announcement of his father’s death, Abdullah appeared at an emergency session of the Jordanian parliament. Wearing a Jordanian red-and-white keffiyeh, he entered the assembly to quiet applause from senators and representatives (some of whom were weeping). Hussein’s two brothers, Hassan and Mohammed, walked ahead of him. Abdullah stood before of a portrait of Hussein at attention, attracting more applause. In Arabic, he swore the oath taken by his father almost fifty years earlier: “I swear by Almighty God to uphold the constitution and to be faithful to the nation”. Speaker of the Senate Zaid Al-Rifai opened the session with Al-Fatiha (the opening chapter of the Quran), his voice cracking with emotion as he led the recitation. “God, save His Majesty… God, give him advice and take care of him.” Abdullah was crowned king on 9 June 1999. A reception at Raghadan Palace attended by 800 dignitaries followed a motorcade ride through Amman by the 37-year old king and 29-year old Queen Rania—the then youngest queen in the world.

First year

Although Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, the king retains wide executive and legislative powers; he is head of state and commander-in-chief of the Jordanian Armed Forces and appoints the prime minister and the directors of security agencies. The prime minister chooses his cabinet and regional governors. The king may dissolve Parliament and dismiss the government. The Jordanian parliament has two chambers: the upper Senate (Arabic: مجلس الأعيان‎‎ Majlis Al-‘Aayan) and the lower House of Representatives (Arabic: مجلس النواب‎‎ Majlis Al-Nuwab). The elected House of Representatives, with twice the number of members of the Senate (whose members are appointed by the king), has a four-year election cycle.

Abdullah shaking hands with former US defense secretary William Cohen outside a limousine
Abdullah’s first visit to the United States as king in 1999
 When Abdullah ascended to the throne as Jordan’s fourth king, observers doubted his ability to manage the country’s economic crisis—a legacy of the 1990 Gulf War. The king maintained his father’s moderate pro-Western policy, supporting the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty, but the royal transition prompted the United States and the Arab Gulf countries to increase their aid. In the early years of Abdullah’s reign, it was reported that he frequently went undercover to see Jordan’s challenges firsthand; the country then had a population of 4.5 million. In 2000 he said about his incognito visits to government institutions, “The bureaucrats are terrified. It’s great.”

Abdullah cracked down on the Hamas presence in Jordan in November 1999 after pleas from the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The crackdown, considered his boldest move since his accession to the throne, occurred during promising Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The king exiled four Hamas officials to Qatar and barred 20 from political activity, closing their offices in Amman. The peace talks collapsed into a violent Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada, in September 2000. Jordan faced dwindling tourism as a result of instability in the neighboring West Bank; tourism is an economic cornerstone of Jordan, which (unlike its neighbors) lacks natural resources. Abdullah reportedly spearheaded efforts to defuse political violence to his west.

2000s

On 23 June 2000, while vacationing in the Greek Islands, Abdullah received a phone call from the director of mukhabarat (General Intelligence Directorate) warning of a possible assassination attempt against him by Al-Qaeda. The plot was to target Abdullah and his family’s rented yacht with explosives.

The September 11 attacks in 2001 on American targets were fiercely condemned by Abdullah. Jordan responded quickly to American requests for assistance, enacting counterterrorism legislation and maintaining a high level of vigilance. The country’s mukhabarat foiled similar plots the following year against Western targets, including the American and British embassies in Lebanon.

Abdullah and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Tehran, 2 September 2003
Abdullah and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Tehran, 2 September 2003
 With the George W. Bush administration planning an attack on Iraq, accusing Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction, Abdullah opposed American intervention. “A strike on Iraq will be disastrous for Iraq and the region as a whole and will threaten the security and stability of the Middle East”, he warned during American vice president Dick Cheney’s 2002 visit to the Middle East. In March 2003, during a meeting with George W. Bush at the White House, Abdullah tried to dissuade the president from invading Iraq. During the 1990 Gulf War, King Hussein’s impartiality was seen as siding with Saddam Hussein, which alienated Jordan from its Arab Gulf allies and the Western world; his stance precipitated an economic crisis triggered by the suspension of foreign aid and investment to Jordan. Failing to persuade Bush, Abdullah broke with his father and domestic opposition. He allowed American Patriot batteries to be stationed in the Jordanian desert along its border with Iraq, but did not allow coalition troops to launch an invasion from Jordan. Jordan had received subsidized oil from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at a savings of about $500 million per year, equal to American aid to Jordan at the time.

The 2003 Jordanian general election was the first parliamentary election under Abdullah’s rule. Although the election was supposed to be held in 2001, it was postponed by the king due to regional political instability in accordance with the Jordanian constitution (which authorizes the monarch to postpone an election for a maximum of two years). His postponement was criticized by the Islamist opposition groups Islamic Action Front (the largest such group in the country) and the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, who accused Abdullah of impeding the democratic process. He inherited a controversial single non-transferable vote electoral system, implemented by his father in 1991, which hobbled Islamic political parties after they obtained 22 of 80 seats in the 1989 elections. Abdullah issued a royal decree before the election, introducing an amendment to the election law giving women a six-seat quota in Parliament.

In 2004, Abdullah coined the term “Shia Crescent” to describe a Shia-dominated region from Damascus to Tehran (bypassing Baghdad) which promoted sectarian politics. His warning received international attention, leading Abdullah to clarify that he meant a shift in political (not sectarian) alignment. The king’s observation was validated after the rise of Shia Nouri Al-Maliki to the Iraqi government in 2006 and subsequent events.

Abdullah, Rania and two other people applauding in an audience
Abdullah and Queen Rania (third and fourth from left) during the World Economic Forum in Jordan, 20 May 2007
 Al-Qaeda founder Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Amman on 9 November 2005. It was the deadliest attack in Jordan’s history; suicide bombers targeted three hotels, one of which was hosting a wedding. The attack killed 60 people and injured 115. Jordan’s security was tightened, and no major terrorist attacks have been reported in the country since then. After the attack, Al-Zarqawi said: “What is coming is more vicious and bitter”; however, he was killed in an airstrike the following year with the aid of Jordanian intelligence. Abdullah and Jordan are viewed with contempt by Islamic extremists for the country’s peace treaty with Israel and its relationship with the West.

Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Jordan for the first time in February 2007 and was welcomed by Abdullah. The leaders discussed prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear program and violence in Iraq.

Abdullah established King’s Academy near Madaba, the Middle East’s first boarding school, in 2007 in appreciation of the education he received at Deerfield Academy. He hired Deerfield headmaster Eric Widmer to oversee the school, which has students from throughout the region.

In 2007, it was reported that Jordan hosted 800,000 Iraqi refugees who fled the insurgency following the American invasion; most have returned to Iraq. The 2007 Jordanian general election was held in November, with secular opposition groups accusing the government of using rising Islamism as an excuse for “autocratic rule”. In 2008, Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to visit Iraq after the 2003 American invasion. The visit was amid Sunni Arab concerns of growing Iranian influence in Iraq.

Abdullah published his autobiography, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril, in 2010. He documents the first decade of his rule in a manner similar to his father’s 1962 book, Uneasy Lies the Head. Abdullah’s book contains insights into his childhood and behind-the-scenes accounts of encounters with political figures.

Arab Spring (2010–2014)

The Tunisian Revolution in December 2010 (which unseated that country’s president) brought Egyptians into the streets, and by January 2011 they overthrew president Hosni Mubarak. Protests in Libya, Yemen and Syria soon followed, and Jordan saw an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, leftist and other opposition groups. By 1 February 2011, domestic unrest prompted Abdullah to sack Samir Rifai’s government and pledge to follow a democratic trajectory.

Large street demonstration, with speakers addressing the crowd
16 November 2012 Arab Spring demonstration in Amman against a later-revoked government decision to cut fuel subsidies
 The 2011–12 Jordanian protests were driven by complaints about a troubled economy: soaring prices, widespread unemployment and a relatively low standard of living. Although some called for an end to the monarchy, most protesters’ anger was directed at politicians viewed as undemocratic, corrupt and unaccountable. Demonstrators called for the dissolution of the parliament which had been elected three months earlier in November 2010, when pro-regime figures won a majority of seats. The Jordanian monarchy was the first Arab regime to offer political concessions during the Arab Spring. Marouf Bakhit was appointed prime minister, but protests continued throughout the summer; Bakhit was seen as a conservative unlikely to push for reform. Dissatisfied with the pace of reform, Abdullah sacked Bakhit’s government and appointed Awn Khasawneh to form a cabinet. Khasawneh abruptly resigned in April 2012, and the King appointed Fayez Tarawneh interim prime minister; it was the third government reshuffle in 18 months.

In November 2012 the government cut fuel subsidies, driving up prices. The decision, later revoked, triggered large-scale protests across the country. The regime calmed the unrest by introducing reforms, amending about one-third of the constitution and establishing the Independent Election Commission. Abdullah called for an early election and appointed Abdullah Ensour to form a cabinet. In the January 2013 election, pro-regime figures were victorious as opposition groups continued a boycott. Since 29 December 2012, the king has published seven discussion papers outlining his vision of democracy and reform in Jordan.

In December 2012, Abdullah was the first head of state to visit the West Bank after a United Nations General Assembly vote upgraded the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state. Jordan sees an independent Palestinian state, with the 1967 borders, as part of the two-state solution and of supreme national interest. Jordan, the only country bordering the West Bank other than Israel, occupied it after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. Its annexation of the West Bank was not recognized, and in 1988 the kingdom ceded its claim to the territory.

An interview with Abdullah by Jeffrey Goldberg, published in The Atlantic in March 2013, sparked controversy when the king criticized local and international figures and parties. He called the Muslim Brotherhood a “Masonic cult” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, described ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi as a man with “no depth” and said that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw democracy as “a bus ride” Abdullah also criticized American diplomats, some of his country’s tribal leaders and members of his family.

Another 2013 article in The Atlantic advised him to address governmental corruption, saying that there “is a growing perception that the degeneracy reaches the palace”. According to the article, Abdullah was accused of “illegally appropriating ‘tribal’ lands” shortly after his accession and members of 36 Jordanian tribes issued a statement denouncing Queen Rania’s “publicized and extravagant” 40th birthday party in 2013.

Regional turmoil (2014–present)

I was asked many questions by Jordanians that were getting just as frustrated seeing that 20 per cent of their country are now Syrian refugees, the impact it has on jobs, on property, on unemployment. And they ask me, “stop the Syrians coming into the country”, and I say “How?” When you have a mother, a pregnant mother with a child in the hand trying to cross the border, how are we going to stop her? Do we sort of point bayonets at these people that are running away from horrible and threatening lives? There is a level of humanity that we have to reach out to each other.

The March 2011 outbreak of the Syrian Civil War forced masses of refugees across Jordan’s border with Syria—about 3,000 refugees per day in the war’s early stages. When asked about the Syrian conflict In an interview with the BBC in November 2011, Abdullah said that he would resign if he was in Bashar Al-Assad’s shoes. “Whenever you exert violence on your own people, it’s never going to end well and so as far as I’m concerned.” When asked on how long does he think the conflict would last said: “Yes, there will be an expiration date, but again it is almost impossible for anybody to predict whether that is six weeks, six months or six years.”

About the unrest in Syria and Iraq, Abdullah told a delegation of US congressmen in June 2014 about his fear that the turmoil would spill across the entire region. He said that any solution to the problems in the war-torn countries must involve all the people of Iraq and Syria. Jordan began erecting barriers along its arid 175-kilometre (109 mi) border with Iraq and 379-kilometre (235 mi) border with Syria. Since then, hundreds of infiltration attempts have been foiled by Jordanian border guards who were also occupied with the flow of refugees. Jordan was involved in the CIA-led Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm Syrian rebels.

In April 2014 ISIL, an al-Qaeda affiliate which emerged in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities, posted an online video which threatened to invade the kingdom and slaughter Abdullah (whom they saw as an enemy of Islam). “I have a message to the tyrant of Jordan: we are coming to you with death and explosive belts”, an ISIL fighter said as he destroyed a Jordanian passport. In August 2014, thousands of Iraqi Christians fled ISIL and sought shelter in Jordanian churches.

Abdullah and his young-adult son admire a photograph with a smiling John Kerry
Abdullah shows his son, Crown Prince Hussein, a photograph given to them by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry (left) on 17 July 2013.
 One week after Jordan joined the international coalition against ISIL in mid-September 2014, the country’s security apparatus foiled a terror plot. Shortly afterwards, Abdullah said in an interview that the country’s borders with Iraq and Syria were “extremely safe” In late December 2014, a Jordanian F-16 fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria during a bombing mission. A video was posted online on 3 February 2015, showing captured Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh being burned to death in a cage; throughout January, Jordan had negotiated for Al-Kasasbeh’s release. The terrorist group reportedly demanded the release of Sajida Al-Rishawi, a suicide bomber whose belt failed to detonate in the 2005 Amman bombings. Al-Kasasbeh’s killing spurred outrage in the country. Thousands rallied in Jordanian cities chanting “death to ISIS” and Abdullah cut short a visit to the United States, vowing an “earth-shattering” response. He ratified death sentences previously handed down to Sajida Al-Rishawi and Ziad Al-Karbouly, two imprisoned Iraqi jihadists, and his decision generated an outpouring of local and international support. As commander-in-chief, Abdullah launched 56 airstrikes against ISIL targets during the following week targeting weapons caches, training camps and oil-extraction facilities. The airstrikes reportedly killed a number of high-ranking ISIL officials. His retaliation was praised on the Internet, where he was dubbed “The Warrior King”. Rumors had circulated that he personally led the sorties.

During a January 2016 BBC interview, Abdullah said that Jordan is at the “boiling point” because of the Syrian refugee influx (about 1.4 million Syrians, according to a November 2015 census). The king noted pressure on the country’s economy, infrastructure and services. “Sooner or later, I think, the dam is going to burst”, he warned. Jordan has historically welcomed refugees—Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, Iraqis during the American invasion and now Syrians, who make up about 20 percent of the population—and, according to Abdullah, “For the first time, we can’t do it any more.”

The November 2016 Jordanian general election was the first election since 1989 primarily using a form of proportional representation; intervening elections had used the single non-transferable vote system.Reforms encouraged opposition parties, including the Islamic Action Front (who had boycotted previous elections, including 2010 and 2013), to participate. The election was considered fair and transparent by independent international observers. Proportional representation is seen as the first step toward establishing parliamentary governments in which parliamentary blocs, instead of the king, choose the prime minister.

Abdullah meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin 25 August 2015
Abdullah meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin 25 August 2015
 After Donald Trump’s inauguration as United States president on 20 January 2017, Abdullah traveled to the US on an official visit. He was worried about the new administration’s positions on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (specifically, issues relating to Israeli settlements) and Trump’s electoral campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move which Jordan considers a “red line”. Abdullah met Trump briefly at the National Prayer Breakfast on 2 February, and reportedly convinced him to change his policy towards Israeli settlements. This was substantiated by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said two days later that the expansion of Israeli settlements may not be helpful in achieving peace. According to The New York Times, the “encounter put the king, one of the most respected leaders of the Arab world, ahead of Mr. Netanyahu in seeing the new president.” Senator Bob Corker confirmed Abdullah’s influence in an interview: “We call him the Henry Kissinger of that part of the world and we do always love to listen to his view of the region.”

A Haaretz report published in February 2017 contained details of a secret January 2016 summit in Aqaba, Jordan with Abdullah, American secretary of state John Kerry, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Kerry proposed a peace plan based on the two-state solution, which Netanyahu reportedly rejected. Abdullah responded to Trump’s speech in Riyadh in May 2017 by saying: “No injustice has spread more bitter fruit than the absence of a Palestinian state. This is the core issue of our region, and has driven radicalism throughout our region.”

Administrative reforms

Economic and political reforms

Abdullah proposed significant economic reforms to the country during the first decade of his reign.Jordan, a relatively-small, semi-arid, almost-landlocked country, has one of the smallest economies in the region; its GDP is about $39 billion. Insufficient natural resources, especially in water and oil (unlike its neighbors) have given the kingdom chronic government debt, unemployment and poverty which led to a dependence on foreign aid from its Western and Arab Gulf allies. Jordan embarked on neoliberal policies with an aggressive economic liberalization program when Abdullah was crowned in an effort to stimulate the economy and raise the standard of living, and its economy has improved under his reign. He has been credited with attracting foreign investment, improving public-private partnerships and providing the foundation for the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and Jordan’s flourishing information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Abdullah set up five other special economic zones: Irbid, Ajloun, Mafraq, Ma’an and the Dead Sea. As a result of these reforms, Jordan’s economic growth doubled (to eight percent annually) between 2004 and 2008 compared with the latter half of the 1990s.

Direct foreign investment by the West and the Persian Gulf countries continued to increase. Abdullah negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States, the third free-trade agreement for the US and its first with an Arab country. Under the agreement, Jordanian exports to the United States increased by about twenty times from 2000 to 2012. Jordan’s foreign debt-to-GDP ratio fell from more than 210 percent in 1990 to 83 percent by the end of 2005, a decrease called an “extraordinary achievement” by the International Monetary Fund. Abdullah’s efforts have made Jordan the freest Arab economy and the ninth-freest economy in the world, according to a 2015 study by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty.

A seated Abdullah gestures with his hands before a microphone
Abdullah speaking during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, 25 January 2013
 The king launched a number of initiatives to provide housing for Jordanian citizens, including teachers and those serving in the armed forces. He established awards to encourage good citizenship, including the King Abdullah II Award for Physical Fitness, the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence in Government Performance and Transparency, the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence for the Private Sector and the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence for Business Associations. To combat unemployment, Abdullah established the National Vocational Training Council and formed a committee to develop a national strategy for developing human resources to produce a skilled workforce.

Jordan was dependent on subsidized Iraqi oil for its energy. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq halted the petroleum supply and drove Jordan to begin importing gas from Egypt in 2006. Insurgency in Sinai began when the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, where the Arab Gas Pipeline runs. Since 2011 the pipeline has been attacked over 30 times by ISIL’s Sinai affiliates, forcing Jordan to import expensive Saudi Arabian diesel to generate electricity and straining the country’s finances. The Great Recession and regional turmoil triggered by the Arab Spring during the 2010s hobbled the Jordanian economy, making it increasingly reliant on foreign aid. The shocks hit Jordan’s tourism sector (a cornerstone of the country’s economy) hardest, and tourist arrivals have fallen by over 60 percent since 2011. Growth of the Jordanian economy slowed to an annual average rate of 2.8 percent between 2010 and 2016—down from an average of 6% in previous years—insufficient to accommodate the exponential growth of the population.

Jordan’s total foreign debt in 2012 was $22 billion, 72 percent of its GDP. In 2016 the debt reached $35.1 billion, 95 percent of the country’s GDP. The increase was attributed to regional instability, which decreased tourist activity and foreign investment and increased military spending; attacks on the Egyptian pipeline; the collapse of trade with Iraq and Syria; the expense of hosting Syrian refugees, and accumulated loan interest. According to the World Bank, Syrian refugees cost Jordan more than $2.5 billion a year (six percent of its GDP and 25 percent of the government’s annual revenue). Foreign aid covers only a portion of these costs, 63 percent of which are borne by Jordan. An economic program was adopted by the government which aims to reduce Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 77 percent by 2021.

Abdullah was criticized during his early years for focusing on economic, rather than political, reform. A committee was formed in February 2005 to formulate a blueprint for political reform in the country for the next decade. This National Agenda, finalized about nine months later, was never implemented. It included incorporating proportional representation into general elections, improving the judicial branch and respect for human rights, and tackling issues related to employment, welfare, education and infrastructure. The Agenda was reportedly never implemented due to conservative opposition. After the Arab Spring, a new election law in 2012 was enacted and used in the 2013 elections. It incorporated elements of proportional representation, and 27 of the 150 House of Representatives members could be elected accordingly. A number of political reforms were undertaken to curtail some of the king’s powers, including amending about one-third of the constitution, establishing a constitutional court and independent election commission and improvements to laws governing human rights and freedom of speech and assembly.

In 2014 and 2016, several constitutional amendments sparked controversy despite their overwhelming approval by senators and representatives. The amendments gave the king sole authority to appoint his crown prince, deputy, the chief and members of the constitutional court, the heads of the military and paramilitary forces and the country’s General Intelligence Director. Proponents said that the amendments solidified the separation of powers, while critics claimed they were unconstitutional.

Reforms introduced in the 2016 general election led Freedom House, a US-funded non-governmental organization, to upgrade Jordan to “partly free” from “not free” in its Freedom in the World 2017 report. According to the report, the change was “due to electoral law changes that led to somewhat fairer parliamentary elections.”

In September 2016, Abdullah formed a royal committee to make recommendations which would improve the country’s judiciary. The committee finalized its report, which revolved around strengthening judicial independence and improving criminal justice, in February 2017. Recommendations included increased protection for women against violence and better trial procedures. The reforms were praised by Human Rights Watch, which called on the government to quickly implement them.

On 15 August 2017, local elections were held for: municipal and local councils, and governorate councils elections, which were added by a new decentralization law. The law intends to cede some central-government power to elected councils, increasing citizen participation in municipal decision-making. In a 15 August 2016 interview, Abdullah described the new decentralization law as “a very important link in the chain of reforms”.

Military

Due to his military background, Abdullah believes in a powerful military and has followed a “quality over quantity” policy. During the first year of his reign he established the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), whose goal is to “provide an indigenous capability for the supply of scientific and technical services to the Jordanian Armed Forces”. The bureau was successful, and Jordan’s military sector thrived.The company manufactures a wide variety of military products, many of which are presented at the biennial international Special Operations Forces Exhibition security event. In 2015, the KADDB exported $72 million worth of products to over 40 countries. Abdullah modernized the army, leading Jordan to acquire advanced weaponry and increase and enhance its F-16 fighter-jet fleet. Its ground forces have acquired the Challenger 1 main battle tank, far superior to the T-54/T-55 and T-72 tanks which have traditionally dominated Arab armies.

Energy sector

Five windmills in the desert
The 117 MW Tafila Wind Farm, inaugurated by Abdullah in 2014, is the first (and largest) onshore wind farm in the Middle East.
In 2007, Abdullah said that Jordan planned to develop nuclear power for peaceful internal energy purposes; the country is one of the few non-petroleum-producing nations in the region. Vandalism of the Egyptian pipeline supplying Jordan strained the country’s electrical company, whose debt increased substantially; this prompted Abdullah to urge the government to formulate a 10-year plan (2015–2025) to diversify the kingdom’s energy sources. Jordan intends to benefit from its large uranium reserves with two 1,000 MW nuclear plants scheduled for completion in 2025, and Abdullah inaugurated the construction of Jordan’s first nuclear facility in 2016. The Jordan Research and Training Reactor, in the Jordan University of Science and Technology near Ar Ramtha, aims to train Jordanian students in the school’s nuclear-engineering program. The two commercial nuclear reactors, located near Qasr Amra, will be built with Rosatom technology. In a 2010 interview, Abdullah accused Israel of trying to disrupt Jordan’s nuclear program.

The country has 330 days of sunshine per year, and wind speeds exceed 7 m/s in mountainous areas.During the 2010s, Abdullah inaugurated the 117 MW Tafila Wind Farm and the 53 MW Shams Ma’an Power Plant. In May 2017, it was announced that more than 200 MW of solar energy projects had been completed. The kingdom has set a target of 10 percent of Jordan’s electrical consumption, about 1800 MW, obtained from renewable resources by 2020.

In 2014 a declaration of intent was signed by Jordan’s national electrical company and Noble Energy to import gas from Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas field, a 15-year deal estimated at $10 billion. The move provoked outrage in the country; opponents, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, said that the agreement favored Israel and its occupation of the West Bank and accused the government of ignoring renewable-energy options. The agreement, effective in 2019, was signed in September 2016. According to government officials, Israeli gas is the only option available.

Abdullah opened a liquefied natural gas port in Aqaba in 2015, allowing Jordan to import LNG. LNG-generated electricity saves Jordan about $5 million a day, and is reportedly better for the environment.

Religious affairs

Abdullah’s 15 March 2015 speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

In response to Islamophobic rhetoric after the September 11 attacks, Abdullah issued the Amman Message in November 2004. The Message is a detailed statement which encouraged Muslim scholars of all sects from around the world to denounce terrorism, practice religious tolerance and represent the true nature of the Muslim faith. The statement was adopted unanimously in a conference hosted by Abdullah in Amman in 2005 by 200 leading Islamic scholars. The Message stressed three points: the validity of all eight schools of Islam, the forbidding of takfir (declaration of apostasy) and standards for the issuance of fatwas. The Islamic religious consensus was unprecedented in contemporary times. Abdullah presented the Message in 2010 to the United Nations General Assembly, where he proposed a World Interfaith Harmony Week. The initiative was adopted, and is an annual celebration during the first week of February to promote peace and harmony among people of different faiths. Abdullah also established an award, based on this initiative, for interfaith dialogue.

Islamic shrine with a gold dome
The Dome of the Rock and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem are in the custody of Abdullah, a position held by his dynasty since 1924.
 Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusal The sharif’s son, King Abdullah I, is said to have personally extinguished a fire which engulfed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1949. Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock were restored four times by the Hashemites during the 20th century, and the custodianship became a Hashemite legacy given by Jordanian kings. In 2013 an agreement was signed between the Palestinian Authority (represented by Mahmoud Abbas) and Abdullah, replacing the decades-old verbal agreement which was reinforced by the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel in 2014 following tensions at Al-Aqsa Mosque between Israelis and Palestinians concerned about Jordan’s role in safeguarding Muslim and Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman in late 2014, and the Jordanian ambassador returned when Israeli authorities eased restrictions and allowed men of all ages to pray at Al-Aqsa for the first time in months.

That year Abdullah received Pope Francis in Jordan, the third papal visit of his reign. The king, Queen Rania and Prince Ghazi accompanied the pope to Al-Maghtas, the site of Jesus’ baptism, on the east bank of the Jordan River.

In 2016, it was announced that Abdullah would fund the restoration of the Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Royal Hashemite Court informed Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem of the makruma (royal benefaction) in a 10 April 2016 letter. The tomb had been untouched since 1947, when the British installed steel support beams as part of a restoration project which never took place. It was reopened to the public on 22 March 2017 after the renovation. On 2 August 2017, Abdullah donated $1.4 million to the Jerusalem Waqf, the body that belongs to Jordan and is responsible for administering Al-Aqsa mosque.

Abdullah led The 500 Most Influential Muslims 2016 list, published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, and is second on its 2017 list. Queen Rania was 35th on the 2016 list.

Successor

Personal life

Abdullah is married to Rania Al-Yassin, who is of Palestinian descent. Rania, a marketing employee at Apple Inc. in Amman, met Abdullah at a dinner organized by his sister in January 1993. They were engaged two months later, and were married in June 1993. Abdullah is the second king of Jordan to marry only once, after King Talal. He and Rania have four children:

  • Crown Prince Hussein (born 28 June 1994)
  • Princess Iman (born 27 September 1996)
  • Princess Salma (born 26 September 2000)
  • Prince Hashem (born 30 January 2005)
A young King Hussein and Princess Muna, holding their two young sons
Prince Abdullah and Prince Faisal with their parents, King Hussein and Princess Muna, in 1964
 Abdullah has listed skydiving, motorcycling, rally racing, scuba diving, adventure films, football, and science fiction as his interests and hobbies, and is a fan of the science-fiction series Star Trek. In 1996 he appeared briefly in the Star Trek: Voyager episode, “Investigations”, in a non-speaking role (he is not a member of the Screen Actors Guild).

The king promotes tourism in Jordan, and was a tour guide for Discovery Channel travel host Peter Greenberg on Jordan: The Royal Tour. In the program, Abdullah said that he is no longer permitted to skydive since he became king. He reportedly motorcycled through northern California on a Harley-Davidson in July 2010. Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, one of Abdullah’s brothers and president of the Jordan Football Association, has said that the king is the Jordan national football team’s biggest fan; Abdullah was the association’s former president until he became king, when he was succeeded as president by Ali.

His interest in the film industry influenced his decision to create the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts in the Red Sea coastal town of Aqaba on 20 September 2006, in partnership with the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. When the producers of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen decided to film in Jordan, Abdullah called on 38 military helicopters to help transport equipment into Petra. In 2016 the king honored the cast of Theeb, the first Jordanian film nominated for an Oscar.

Abdullah also enjoys stand-up comedy. When Gabriel Iglesias, Russell Peters and a number of other stand-up comedians visited Jordan for a 2009 comedy festival, the king invited them over for dinner and reportedly played a prank on Peters with the aid of Iglesias and police officers at the airport. In 2013, a video of Abdullah helping push a car stuck in snow in Amman during the 2013 Middle East cold snap went viral. In 2017, another amateur video that went viral showed Abdullah wearing pyjamas helping in extinguishing a fire in a wood near the royal palace.

Ancestry

Titles, honours and awards

Titles

Styles of
King Abdullah II of Jordan
Coat of arms of Jordan.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • 30 January 1962 – 1 March 1965: His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Jordan
  • 1 March 1965 – 24 January 1999: His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah of Jordan
  • 24 January 1999 – 7 February 1999: His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Jordan
  • 7 February 1999 – present: His Majesty The King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Honours

  • Jordan:
    • Grand Master of the Order of Al-Hussein bin Ali
    • Grand Master of the Supreme Order of the Renaissance
    • Grand Master of the Order of the Star of Jordan
    • Grand Master of the Order of Independence
  • Austria:
    • Grand Star of the Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria (January 2001)
  • Bahrain:
    • Collar of the Order of al-Khalifa of Bahrain (4 November 1999)
  • Belgium:
    • Knight Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold (18 May 2016)
  • Brunei:
    • Collar of the Royal Family Order of the Crown of Brunei (13 May 2008)
  • Czech Republic:
    • Order of the White Lion, First Class (11 February 2015)
  • Germany:
    • Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic (10 October 2002)
  • Italy:
    • Knight Grand Cross (15 January 1987) with Grand Cordon (9 February 2001) of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic
  • Japan:
    • Grand Cordon (November 1993) and Collar (30 November 1999) of the Order of the Chrysanthemum
  • Kazakhstan:
    • Medal commemorating the 10th anniversary of the capital, Astana (18 May 2008)
  • Lebanon:
    • Extraordinary Grade of the Order of Merit of Lebanon (14 September 1999)
  • Libya:
    • Order of the Grand Conqueror, 1st class (1 September 1999)
  • Netherlands:
    • Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (30 October 2006)
    • Grand Cross of Order of the House of Orange (7 December 1994)
  • Norway:
    • Grand Cross with collar of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav (4 April 2000)
  • Poland:
    • Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle (26 September 1999)
  • Portugal:
    • Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry (5 March 2008)
    • Grand Collar of the Order of Saint James of the Sword (16 March 2009)
  • Romania:
    • Collar of the Order of the Star of Romania (20 December 2005)
  • South Korea:
    • Knight of Grand Order of Mugunghwa (4 December 1999)
  • Spain:
    • Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Charles III (21 April 2006)
    • Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Isabel the Catholic (18 October 1999)
    • Grand Cross of the Order of Naval Merit, with white distinctive (15 September 1995)
    • Grand Cross of the Order of Aeronautical Merit, with white distinctive (23 December 1999)
  • Sweden:
    • Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (7 October 2003)
  • Ukraine:
    • Order of Merit, 1st class (22 June 2011)
    • Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, 1st class (23 April 2002)
  • United Kingdom:
    • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, military class (GCB, 6 November 2001)
    • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG, 12 May 1999)
  • British Commonwealth:
    • Honorary Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO, 26 March 1984)

Honorary degrees

  • 1 January 2001: Doctorate in political sciences, University of Jordan
  • 3 September 2004: Doctorate, International Relations Institute in Moscow
  • 21 March 2005: Doctor of humane letters for socioeconomic development in Jordan and promoting interfaith dialogue, Georgetown University
  • 15 December 2005: Doctorate in political sciences, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand
  • 4 June 2008: Doctorate in civil law, University of Oxford
  • 8 November 2011: Doctorate in humanitarian sciences for efforts in defending Jerusalem’s holy sites, Al-Quds University (represented by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas)

Awards

  • 16 March 2002: Young Presidents Organisation’s Global Leadership Award (California)
  • 30 September 2003: Sorbonne Association for Foreign Policy award for political courage in France
  • 20 October 2003: Pioneer in E-Business award, Arab Business magazine (United Arab Emirates)
  • 16 April 2004: INFORUM 21st-Century Award from the Commonwealth Club of California, awarded to young leaders who strive for positive change
  • 9 June 2004: Golden Shield Award (Chicago) for efforts to stabilize the Middle East
  • June 2004: Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award for Achievement
  • On 21 March 2005: Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award, United Nations
  • 21 June 2005: Simon Wiesenthal Center Tolerance Award
  • 21 December 2005: Golden Medal of Athens Award
  • 8 May 2007: Peacemaker Award, Seeds of Peace
  • 8 October 2016: Peace of Westphalia Prize, Germany;
  • German president Joachim Gauck said that Abdullah and the Jordanians set “standards for humanity” with their response to the refugee crisis.
  • 16 November 2016: Peace prize (Kazakhstan) for contributions to security and nuclear disarmament
  • 19 January 2017: Abu Bakr Al Siddeiq Medal (First Class) from the Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organisation for Jordan’s support of the Palestinian people and efforts on behalf of Syrian refugees.
  • From Wikipedia

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