Abdullah II of Jordan

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Abdullah II
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 (age 55)
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 House of Hashim
Father Hussein of Jordan
Mother Muna Al-Hussein
Religion Sunni Islam
Signature
Jordanian royal family
Coat of arms of Jordan.svg

HM The King
HM The Queen


HM Queen Noor

Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein (Arabic: عبد الله الثاني بن الحسين‎‎, ʿAbdullāh aṯ-ṯānī ibn Al-Ḥusayn; born 30 January 1962) has been King of Jordan since 1999 upon the death of his father King Hussein. Abdullah is considered to be the 41st generation direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, through his belonging to the ancient Hashemite family, which has ruled Jordan since 1921.

Abdullah was born in Amman as the first child of King Hussein and his second wife, the British-born Princess Muna Al-Hussein. Shortly after his birth Abdullah was named Crown Prince. King Hussein transferred the title to his own brother, Prince Hassan, in 1965, only to return it to Abdullah in 1999. Abdullah began his schooling in Amman, later continuing his education abroad. Abdullah assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces in 1994, and became a major general in 1998. In 1993, he married Rania Al-Yassin, who is of Palestinian descent, with whom he has 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, through marriage to Abdullah's half-sister Princess Haya bin Al-Hussein.

Despite Jordan being a constitutional monarchy, the king holds wide executive and legislative powers, and serves as the Commander-in-chief of the Jordanian Armed Forces. Abdullah embarked on an aggressive economic liberalization upon assuming the throne, his reforms led to an economic boom that continued till 2008. The following years, Jordan's economy witnessed hardship as it dealt with the spillover of regional turmoil, including the cutout of petroleum supply to Jordan and the collapse of trade with neighboring countries. This coincided with the Arab Spring in 2011, where large-scale protests erupted in the Arab World demanding reforms. Many of these protests culminated in civil wars in some countries, Abdullah responded quickly to domestic unrest by dismissing the government and the parliament, and introducing reforms.

Abdullah introduced proportional representation to the parliament in 2016, and is currently paving the way for parliamentary governments. Despite the reforms, they are considered to be insufficient by critics. Others praise the reforms which took place amid unprecedented regional instability, influx of 1.4 million Syrian refugees into the natural resources-lacking country and the emergence of the Islamic State. Abdullah is widely popular both locally and internationally for having maintained Jordan's stability despite overwhelming odds. He is well known for promoting peace, interfaith dialogue and the true message of Islam. He is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a position that his ancestors held for decades. Abdullah is regarded as the most influential Muslim in the world, and is the third longest-serving Arab leader.

Early life[edit]

Prince Abdullah aged six with his father the late King Hussein, 7 August 1968.

Abdullah was born in Amman on 30 January 1962, to King Hussein, during his marriage to his British-born second wife, Princess Muna Al-Hussein.[1] Abdullah is the namesake of his great-grandfather, King Abdullah I, the founder of modern Jordan.[2] He is considered to be the 41st direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Mohammad through his belonging to the ancient Hashemite dynasty, which has ruled over the holy city of Mecca for over 700 years until its conquest by the House of Saud in 1925, and ruled over Jordan since 1921.[3] The Hashemite family is the oldest ruling dynasty in the Muslim world, and the second oldest ruling dynasty in the world, after that of Japan.[4]

As Hussein only had a daughter from his first marriage, Abdullah, as Hussein's eldest son, became heir apparent to the throne of Jordan under the 1952 constitution.[1] However, due to unstable times and after a number of unsuccessful assassination attempts against him, King Hussein appointed his brother Prince Hassan as his heir-apparent in 1965, only to return it to Abdullah shortly before his death in 1999.[5] Three more children followed Abdullah during Hussein's second marriage from Princess Muna, two children in his third marriage and four more in his fourth marriage. 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.[6]

Abdullah began his schooling in 1966 at the Islamic Educational College in Amman and continued abroad at St Edmund's School, in England. The young prince attended high school in the United States at Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy.[2]

Military career[edit]

Abdullah began his military career being admitted into Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1980, while he was a training officer in the Jordanian Armed Forces.[7] He was commissioned into the British Army as a second lieutenant after Sandhurst.[2] The Prince then served a year in Britain and West Germany as a troop commander in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.[5]

Prince Abdullah during a visit to the Royal Jordanian Air Force headquarters in 1973.

Abdullah was admitted to Pembroke College in 1982, where he completed a one-year Special Studies course in Middle Eastern Affairs.[2] Upon returning home, Abdullah joined the Royal Jordanian Army, serving as first lieutenant and then as a platoon commander and assistant commander of a company in the 40th Armored Brigade.[2] He underwent a parachuting and free-fall course while in Jordan.[8] In 1985, Abdullah attended the Armored Officer's Advanced Course at Fort Knox.[2] He became commander of a tank company in the 91st Armored Brigade, holding the rank of captain.[2] He also served with the Royal Jordanian Air Force in its anti-tank helicopter wing, where he was trained to fly Cobra attack helicopters.[8]

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.[2] He returned home to serve as assistant commander of the 17th Royal Tank Battalion in 1989, later being promoted to the rank of major.[2] Abdullah attended a staff course at the British Staff College in 1990.[8] Abdullah served the following year in the Office of the Inspector General of the Jordanian Armed Forces as the Armored Corps representative.[8] He commanded a battalion in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1992, and was promoted to the rank of colonel the next year, serving as commander of the 40th Brigade.[2]

In 1994, Abdullah assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces and other elite units as brigader general, where he restructured them into the Joint Special Operations Command in 1996.[8] Abdullah became a major general in 1998, and attended a course in defense resources management at the American Naval Postgraduate School in the same year.[8] He commanded an elite special forces manhunt in pursuit of outlaws in 1998. The operation reportedly ended successfully with his name being chanted on the streets of Amman.[9]

Reign[edit]

Accession and coronation[edit]

Abdullah joined his father on a number of missions, including meetings abroad with American and Soviet leaders.[10] He had also occasionally acted as regent to King Hussein in the 1990s, but this duty was mostly performed by Hussein's younger brother; the then Crown Prince Hassan.[8] Abdullah led his father's delegation to Moscow talks in 1987 at the age of 25.[10] He had been a frequent visitor to the Pentagon in Washington, where Abdullah made Jordan's case for upgraded military assistance.[10] The Prince also joined his father on trips to visit Hafez Al-Assad in Damascus and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (before the 1990 Gulf War).[10] In 1998, Abdullah was sent to hand-deliver a message to Muammar Gaddafi.[10] Abdullah commanded military exercises during Israeli military officials visits to Jordan in 1997.[10]

Abdullah citing an oath in the parliament on accession day, 7 February 1999.

Hussein had frequently travelled to the United States to seek medical treatment after he had been diagnosed with cancer in 1992.[8] In late 1998, after a six months medical absence from Jordan, the King publicly criticized his brother's management of Jordanian internal affairs by accusing him of abusing his powers as regent and crown prince.[8] On 24 January 1999, just two weeks before his death, the King surprised everyone, including Abdullah, by naming him as his heir-apparent, replacing Prince Hassan.[8]

Hussein died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma complications on 7 February 1999, his difficult 47-year reign extended throughout the Cold War and four decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict.[11] The late King, a respected statesman and a renowned peacemaker, successfully turned his infant country by the end of his rule into a modern state.[3] A few hours after the announcement of his father's death, Abdullah went before an emergency session of the Jordanian parliament.[11] Wearing a Jordanian red-and-white Keffiyeh, Abdullah entered the parliament to quiet applause from senators and representatives, some weeping.[11] Hussein's two brothers, Hassan and Mohammed, walked ahead of him. Abdullah stood in front of a portrait of Hussein at-attention, drawing more applause.[11] Abdullah then spoke in Arabic the oath taken by Hussein almost fifty years before; "I swear by Almighty God to uphold the constitution and to be faithful to the nation".[11] Zaid Al-Rifai, speaker of the Senate, opened the session with Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Quran.[11] His voice cracked with emotion as he led the recitation. "God, save his majesty," "God, give him advice and take care of him."[11]

First year (1999–2000)[edit]

Although Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, the king retains wide executive and legislative powers, and serves as the Head of State and the Commander-in-Chief of the Jordanian Armed Forces.[12] The king appoints the prime minister and heads of security directorates.[12] The prime minister is free to choose his own cabinet and regional governors.[12] The king may dissolve parliament and dismiss the government.[13] The Parliament of Jordan consists of two chambers: the upper Senate (Arabic: مجلس الأعيان‎‎ Majlis Al-'Aayan) and the lower House of Representatives (Arabic: مجلس النواب‎‎ Majlis Al-Nuwab).[12] All members of the elected House of Representatives, which should number double the members of the Senate whose members are appointed by the king, are in for a 4-year election cycle.[14]

Abdullah's first visit to the United States as king in 1999.

When Abdullah ascended to the throne as the 4th king of the country, observers casted doubt on the new King's ability to manage Jordan's daunting economic crisis, a legacy of the 1990 Gulf War.[15] The King maintained his father's moderate and pro-Western policy, and voiced support to the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty.[11] The transition to Abdullah's rule prompted the United States and Arab Gulf countries to increase their aid.[15] In the early years of his reign, it was reported in the media that Abdullah frequently went undercover to witness firsthand the challenges facing the country.[16] Abdullah in the year 2000 commenting on his undercover visits to governmental institutions "The bureaucrats are terrified. It's great."[17]

Abdullah cracked down on Hamas presence in Jordan in November 1999, following pleas from the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.[18] The crackdown was considered to be Abdullah's boldest move since his ascension to the throne, and was during promising Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.[18] The King exiled four Hamas officials to Qatar and barred 20 from political activities, while closing their offices in Amman.[18] However, the peace talks collapsed and turned into a violent Palestinian uprising; the Second Intifada in September 2000.[18] Jordan faced another challenge with dwindling tourist numbers as a result of the instability in the neighboring West Bank, tourism is a cornerstone of the Jordanian economy which, unlike its neighbors, is lacking in natural resources.[19] Abdullah reportedly spearheaded efforts to defuse the political violence to his west.[9]

2000s[edit]

The September 11 attacks in 2001 against American targets gathered fierce condemnation from Abdullah, and Jordan responded quickly to American requests for assistance.[20] The Kingdom acted proactively by ratifying counterterrorism legislation and its security apparatus maintained high vigilance.[20] The country's General Intelligence Directorate managed to foil similar plots the following year against western targets, including plots against the American and British embassies in Lebanon.[21]

With the United States planning an attack on Iraq, controversially accusing the Saddam Hussein regime of owning weapons of mass destruction, Abdullah was opposed to American intervention.[22] "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" King Abdullah warned during American vice president Dick Cheney's visit to the Middle East in 2002.[22] In March 2003, during a meeting with American president George W. Bush in the White House, Abdullah tried to dissuade Bush from invading Iraq.[23] King Hussein refused to side against Saddam Hussein during the 1990 Gulf War, which alienated Jordan from its Arab Gulf allies and the western world.[23] King Hussein's stance precipitated in an economic crisis due to the halt of foreign aid to Jordan.[24] Failing to convince Bush, Abdullah drove away from his father's known stance in the past and in defiance of an overwhelming local opposition, made the difficult decision to allow some American and British units to station in the Jordanian desert along the border with Iraq, but the units maintained a defensive position and were not used as launching pads.[23] Jordan used to receive subsidized oil from its Iraqi neighbor under Saddam Hussein, at savings amounting to around $500 million a year, equal to the amount of American foreign aid to Jordan at the time.[23]

King Abdullah next to Queen Rania during the World Economic Forum which was held in Jordan at the Dead Sea, 20 May 2007.

The 2003 Jordanian general election was the first parliamentary election under Abdullah's rule.[25] They were supposed to be held in 2001, but the elections were postponed by the King due to regional political instability, in accordance with the Jordanian constitution which grants the monarch power to postpone the elections to a maximum of two years.[25] This move was heavily criticized by Islamist opposition parties, namely the Islamic Action Front; the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, who accused Abdullah of reversing the democratic process.[25] Abdullah inherited a controversial single non-transferable vote electoral system put forward by his father King Hussein in 1991, which systematically disadvantaged Islamic political parties, after they managed to obtain 22 seats out of 80 in 1989.[25] Abdullah issued a royal decree before the election, introducing an amendment to the elections law, granting women for the first time a six-seat quota in the parliament.[25]

In 2004, Abdullah coined a term; a "Shia Crescent". The King warned from a crescent that spreads from Damascus to Tehran, passing by Baghdad, dominated by a Shia government that seeks to promote a sectarian brand of politics.[26] The warning garnered international attention, leading Abdullah to reiterate that he meant shifts in political alignments, rather than in a sectarian sense.[26] Analysts saw that Abdullah's prediction was proven right after the rise of Shia Nouri Al-Maliki to the Iraqi government in 2006, and subsequent events.[26]

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, founder of Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a rare terrorist attack that hit the capital city Amman on 9 November 2005.[27] It was the deadliest attack in Jordan's history, suicide bombers targeted three hotels, one of which was hosting a Jordanian wedding.[27] The attack killed 60 people and injured 115. Jordan's security was dramatically improved afterwards and no major terrorist attacks were reported since.[28] Jordan and its King are viewed with contempt by Islamic extremists, for its peace treaty with Israel and relationship with the west.[27] Following the attack Al-Zarqawi threatened "what is coming is more vicious and bitter", however, he was killed in an airstrike the next year by the help of intel provided by the Jordanian intelligence.[29]

Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Jordan for the first time in February 2007 where he was welcomed by King Abdullah.[30] The two leaders discussed prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran's nuclear program and the violence in Iraq.[30]

Abdullah established King's Academy near Madaba in 2007, the Middle East's first boarding school, in appreciation of the education he received at Deerfield Academy in his youth.[31] He hired Deerfield Headmaster Eric Widmer to lead the Academy that has students from all around the region.[31]

In a 2010 interview, Abdullah accused Israel of trying to disrupt Jordan's nuclear program which seeks to utilize the country's Uranium reserves to generate electricity.[32]

Arab Spring (2010–2014)[edit]

The Tunisian Revolution in December 2010 to unseat the president, inspired the Egyptian streets, and by January 2011, the Egyptians succeeded in overthrowing president Hosni Mubarak.[33] Protests in Libya, Yemen, Syria and many other countries soon followed.[33] Jordan's streets witnessed a small-scale uprising orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, leftist and other opposition groups.[33] By 1 February 2011, domestic unrest prompted Abdullah to sack Samir Rifai's government, while pledging to immediately embark on a democratic reform trajectory.[33]

A demonstration part of the Arab Spring in Amman protesting a government decision, later revoked, that cut fuel subsidies, 16 November 2012.

The 2011–12 Jordanian protests were driven by complaints of a troubled economy; soaring prices, widespread unemployment and a relatively low standard of living.[33] Although some of the protests called for the end of the monarchy, the protesters' anger was directed at politicians, who were viewed as undemocratic, corrupt and unaccountable.[33] Demonstrators called for the dissolution of the parliament that was just elected 3 months earlier in November 2010, where pro-regime figures won majority of seats.[33] The Monarchy became the first Arab regime to offer political concessions during the Arab Spring.[33] Marouf Bakhit was appointed as prime minister, but the protests continued throughout the summer as Bakhit was viewed as a conservative who was unlikely to push for reform.[34] Dissatisfied with the pace of reform, Abdullah sacked Bakhit's government and appointed Awn Khasawneh to form a cabinet.[34] Khasawneh abruptly resigned in April 2012 and the King appointed Fayez Tarawneh as interim, the third government reshuffle in 18 months.[35]

In November 2012, the government cut subsidies on fuel, increasing its price.[36] The decision, which was later revoked, caused large scale protests to break out across the country.[37][38] The regime managed to quench the protests by introducing reforms; amending around a third of the constitution, and establishing a number of independent governmental institutions.[39] The King called for early elections and appointed Abdullah Ensour to form a cabinet, the elections that concluded on January 2013, also saw pro-regime figures victorious as opposition groups continued their boycott.[40]

In December 2012, the King became the first head of state to visit the West Bank after a vote at the United Nations General Assembly that upgraded the status of the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state.[41] Jordan views an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders as part of the two state solution to be of supreme national interest.[42] Jordan is the only country bordering the West Bank other than Israel, and the Kingdom controlled this territory when it occupied it after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and lost in the 1967 Six Day War.[41] Jordan's annexation of the West Bank was not recognized by anyone, and in 1988 the Kingdom ceded any claims to the territory.[41] Al-Aqsa mosque lied under Jordanian authority between 1948 and 1967, but it was under Hashemite guardianship since 1924 during the days of Abdullah's great-great-grandfather, Sharif Hussein bin Ali.[43] The guardianship became a Hashemite legacy controlled by consecutive Jordanian kings.[43] Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel in 2014 following tensions at Al-Aqsa Mosque between Israelis and Palestinians, concerning Jordan's role in safeguarding the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.[44] Abdullah met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman in late 2014 and the Jordanian ambassador was returned after the Israeli authorities eased restrictions and allowed, for the first time in months, men of all ages to pray at Al-Aqsa.[44]

Regional turmoil (2014–present)[edit]

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.

Abdullah's 23 November 2016 interview with abc.[45]

The eruption of the Syrian Civil War in 2012 forced masses of refugees across the border with Syria, around 3,000 refugee a day in the early stages of the war.[46] Speaking about the unrest in Syria and Iraq, Abdullah told a delegation of US congressmen in June 2014 of his fears of the turmoil spilling over into the entire region.[47] He added that any solution to the problems in the war-torn countries must involve all of the people of Iraq and Syria.[47] Jordan started erecting barriers on the 175 km (109 mi) border with Iraq and 379 km (235 mi) border with Syria.[48] Since then, several infiltration attempts were successfully foiled by the highly vigilant Jordanian border guard who were also occupied with the refugee flow.[49]

In April 2014, the Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group that emerged strongly in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities, published a video online threatening to invade the Kingdom and slaughter Abdullah, who they viewed as an enemy of Islam.[50] "We are the descendants of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and we have come to slaughter you", said a young teenager as he tore a Jordanian passport and tossed it in fire, while a crowd of Jihadists chanted "Allahu Akbar" around him.[50] In August 2014, thousands of Iraqi Christians fled their hometowns from the Islamic State and sought shelter in Jordan.[51]

A week after Jordan joined the international coalition against ISIS in mid-September 2014, the country's security apparatus foiled an ISIS terror attack targeting the Kingdom.[52] Abdullah soon claimed in an interview that the country's borders with Iraq and Syria were "extremely safe".[52] In late December 2014, a Jordanian F16 fighter jet crashed near Raqqa in Syria during a bombing mission.[53] A video that gained global notoriety was published on 3 February 2015, showing the captured Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh being burnt alive in a cage.[53] Throughout January, Jordan was negotiating for Kasasbeh's release.[53] It was reported that the terrorist group demanded the release of Sajida Al-Rishawi, a suicide bomber whose suicide belt failed to detonate in the 2005 Amman bombings.[53] The barbaric execution of the pilot provoked outrage in the country and thousands rallied across Jordanian cities chanting "death to ISIS", as Abdullah cut short a visit to the United States vowing an "earth-shattering" response.[53] Abdullah swiftly ratified the death sentence issued previously on two imprisoned Iraqi Jihadists; Sajida Al-Rishawi and Ziad Al-Karbouly.[53] Abdullah received an outpouring of support, both locally and internationally, for the swift executions.[53] The King went further and launched 56 airstrikes against Islamic State targets within the following week, which targeted weapon caches, training camps and oil extracting facilities.[54] The airstrikes reportedly killed a number of high ranking Islamic State officials.[54] Abdullah's retaliation was celebrated widely on the internet,[55] where false rumors circulated that he personally led airstrikes.[56]

Abdullah shows his son, Crown Prince Hussein, a photograph given to them by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, 17 July 2013.

During an interview with the BBC in January 2016, Abdullah stated that Jordan is at "boiling point" due to the Syrian refugee influx, around 1.4 million Syrians according to the national census performed in November 2015.[57] The King complained of tremendous pressure facing the country's economy, infrastructure and services, "Sooner or later, I think, the dam is going to burst" Abdullah warned.[57] Jordan has historically welcomed refugees, as early as 1948 with the Palestinian refugees, Iraqis during the American invasion, and now Syrians who make up around 20% of the population. But the King said "for the first time, we can't do it any more."[57]

The 2016 Jordanian general election held in November was the first election since 1989 to be held primarily under a form of proportional representation; intervening elections were held under the single non-transferable vote system.[58] The reforms led to opposition parties deciding to contest this election, including the Islamic Action Front, who boycotted multiple previous elections including the two immediately preceding this one (in 2010, 2013).[58] The elections were regarded as fair and transparent by independent international observers.[59] The reforms introduced in the 2016 general elections, led Freedom House, an independent watchdog, to designate Jordan as "partly free" from "not free" in its Freedom in the World 2017 report. The report added that the change was "due to electoral law changes that led to somewhat fairer parliamentary elections."[60] Proportional representation is seen as the first step towards the establishing of parliamentary governments, where parliamentary blocs get to elect the prime minister, instead of being appointed by the king.[61]

Following Donald Trump's inauguration as United States president on 20 January 2017, Abdullah travelled to the United States on an official visit.[62] Abdullah was worried about the new administration's position on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, specifically on issues relating to Israeli settlements, and Trump's electoral campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move that Jordan considers a "red line".[63] Abdullah had a chance to meet Trump shortly on the sidelines of the National Prayer Breakfast on 2 February, and reportedly succeeded in convincing the President to shift his policy towards Israeli settlements.[64] A claim substantiated by Trump's press secretary's surprising comments two days later that considered that the expansion of Israeli settlements may not be helpful in achieving peace.[62] The New York Times reported that the "encounter put the king, one of the most respected leaders of the Arab world, ahead of Mr. Netanyahu in seeing the new president."[64] 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."[65]

Administrative reforms[edit]

Economic and political reforms[edit]

King Abdullah speaking during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, 25 January 2013.

Abdullah put forward significant economic reforms to the country during the first decade of his reign.[66] Jordan, a semi-arid almost landlocked country, has one of the smallest economies in the region.[66] Insufficient natural resources especially in water and oil, unlike its neighbors, has cursed the Kingdom with chronic governmental debt, unemployment and poverty.[66] This led to an inevitable dependency on foreign aid from its western and Arab Gulf allies.[66] Jordan embarked on an aggressive economic liberalization program when Abdullah ascended the throne in 1999, in an effort to stimulate the economy and raise the standard of living.[66] Jordan's economy has improved since Abdullah's assumption of power.[66] He has been credited with attracting foreign investment, improving public-private partnerships and providing the foundation of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and Jordan's flourishing information and communication technology (ICT) sector.[67] He also 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 8% annually between 2004 and 2008 compared to the latter half of the 1990s.[66][67]

Direct foreign investment from the West as well as from the countries of the Persian Gulf continued to increase.[68] He also successfully negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States, which was the third free trade agreement for the United States and the first with an Arab country.[69] The free trade agreement enabled Jordan to increase its exports to the United States by some twentyfold from 2000 to 2012.[69] Jordan's foreign debt to GDP percentage fell from more than 210 percent in 1990 to 83 percent by the end of 2005, a substantial decrease that was described as an "extraordinary achievement" by the International Monetary Fund.[67] His efforts have turned Jordan into the freest Arab economy and the 9th freest economy in the world according to an 2015 study issued by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty.[70]

Jordan was dependent on subsidized Iraqi oil for energy production, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq halted the petroleum supply and led Jordan to seek importing gas from Egypt in 2006.[71] The insurgency in Sinai started after the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, where the Arab Gas Pipeline lies. Since 2011, the pipeline was attacked over 32 times by Islamic State Sinai affiliates, causing Jordan to import expensive Saudi Arabian diesel to generate electricity, severely straining the country's finances.[71] The regional turmoil caused by the Arab Spring in the 2010s and the Global financial crisis of 2007–08 has severely crippled the Jordanian economy and its growth, making it increasingly reliant on foreign aid.[71] The shock hit Jordan's tourism sector hardest, a cornerstone of the country's economy. Tourist arrivals have dropped sharply by over 60% since 2011.[38] The Jordanian economy's growth slowed down to an average of 2.8% from 2010 to 2016.[66]

Jordan's total foreign debt in 2012 was $22 billion, representing 72% of its GDP.[36] In 2016, the debt reached $35.1 billion representing 90.6% of its GDP. This substantial increase is attributed to effects of regional instability causing; decrease in tourist activity, decreased foreign investments, increased military expenditure, attacks on Egyptian pipeline, the collapse of trade with Iraq and Syria, expenses from hosting Syrian refugees and accumulated interests from loans.[71] According to the World Bank, Syrian refugees have cost Jordan more than $2.5 billion a year, amounting to 6% of the GDP and 25% of the government's annual revenue.[72] Foreign aid covers only a small part of these costs, 63% of the total costs are covered by Jordan.[73]

In 2014, two constitutional amendments, approved by the majority of both upper and lower houses, granted the King of Jordan sole authority to appoint the head of the armed forces and director of the kingdom’s General Intelligence Department (GID). Almost three years earlier, in October 2011, in response to public protests calling for political reforms, Abdullah had approved a number of constitutional amendments that curtailed some of his powers and allowed for the creation of a Constitutional Court and an Independent Elections Commission.[74]

In 2016 a series of constitutional amendments were approved by the overwhelming majority of both upper and lower houses, that would grant the King of Jordan absolute power to appoint his crown prince, deputy, the chief and members of the constitutional court and the head of the paramilitary police force.[75]

In 2008 Abdullah began his Decent Housing for Decent Living campaign in which all Jordanian citizens, and Palestinian refugees, will be guaranteed residential housing with access to community needs such as health, education, and community activities.

Military reforms[edit]

Due to his military background, Abdullah has a strong belief in a powerful military and has led Jordan into adopting a "quality over quantity" policy.[76] At the first year of his reign, he established the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), whose stated goal is to "provide an indigenous capability for the supply of scientific and technical services to the Jordanian Armed Forces."[77] The venture proved successful, and Jordan's military industry thrived.[77] The Bureau manufactures all types of military products, many of which are presented at the bi-annually held international SOFEX military exhibition.[77] In 2015, KADDB exported $72 million worth of industries to over 42 countries.[77] Abdullah pursued modernizing the army which has led Jordan to acquire advanced weaponry and greatly increase and enhance its F-16 fighter jet fleet.[76] The ground forces have acquired the Challenger 1 main battle tank, a vehicle far superior to the T-72/55 tanks that have traditionally dominated Arab armies.[78]

Energy sector reforms[edit]

The 117 MW Tafila Wind Farm inaugurated by King Abdullah in 2014, is the first and largest onshore wind farm in the Middle East.[79]

In 2007 Abdullah revealed that Jordan has plans to develop nuclear power for peaceful internal energy purposes, Jordan is one of the few non-petroleum producing nations in the region.[80] Vandalism to the Egyptian pipeline supplying Jordan added enormous strain on the country's electrical company whose debts rose substantially, prompting Abdullah to urge the government to formulate a 10-year vision (2015-2025) aiming to diversify the Kingdom's energy sources. Jordan aims to benefit from its large uranium reserves with two nuclear plants, 1000 MW each, scheduled for completion in 2025. The construction of Jordan's first nuclear facility was inaugurated by Abdullah in 2016. It is called the Jordan Research and Training Reactor located in Jordan University of Science and Technology near the city of Ar Ramtha which aims to train Jordanian students in the already existing Nuclear engineering program. The two commercial nuclear reactors will be completed by 2025, located near Qasr Amra, built with Rosatom's Russian technology.[81]

Jordan receives 330 days of sunshine per year, and wind speeds reach over 7 m/s over the mountainous areas.[82] Abdullah inaugurated several large-scale projects in the 2010s like the 117 MW Tafila Wind Farm and the 53 MW Shams Ma'an Power Plant. The Kingdom has set a target to obtain 10% of Jordan's electrical consumption from renewable resources by 2020, around 1800 MW.[83]

Religious affairs[edit]

The Dome of the Rock, and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, are under the custodianship of King Abdullah, a position his ancestors held for decades.

Our faith, like yours, commands mercy, peace and tolerance. It upholds, as yours does, the equal human dignity of every person — men and women, neighbours and strangers. Those outlaws of Islam who deny these truths are vastly outnumbered by the ocean of believers — 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. In fact, these terrorists have made the world’s Muslims their greatest target. We will not allow them to hijack our faith.

Abdullah's 15 March 2015 speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.[84]

In response to Islamophobic rhetoric circulating after the September 11 attacks, Abdullah issued the Amman Message in November 2004.[4] The Message is a detailed statement that gathered Muslim scholars, of all sects, from around the world to denounce terrorism, call for religious tolerance and represent the true nature of the Muslim faith.[85] The statement was adopted unanimously in a conference hosted by Abdullah in Amman in 2005 by 200 leading Islamic scholars.[85] The Message stressed on three key points; the validity of all eight schools of Islam, forbidding takfir (declaration of apostasy) and set standards for those issuing fatwas.[85] It was an unprecedented religious consensus by the Islamic nation in contemporary times.[4] Abdullah presented the Message in 2010 to the United Nations General Assembly, where he took the initiative to propose a World Interfaith Harmony Week. The initiative was adopted, and it is marked on the first week of February as an annual celebration to promote peace and harmony between people of different faiths.[86]

In the 2016 edition that is published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, he is leading the field as most influential Muslim in the world, but as second in the 2017 edition. Queen Rania held 35th in the same edition.[87]

In 2016, it was announced that Abdullah will fund the restoration of Christ’s Tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Royal Hashemite Court informed the Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem of the “makruma” (Royal Benefaction) in a letter of 10 April 2016. The Tomb has remained untouched since 1947 when the British put in place steel support beams as part of a restoration project that never took place.[88] A careful renovation is undergoing of the tomb, funded by a $4 million gift from the King.[89][90]

Successor[edit]

On 28 November 2004, Abdullah removed the title of crown prince from his half-brother, Prince Hamzah, whom he had appointed on 7 February 1999, in accordance with their father's wishes.[91] In a letter from Abdullah to Hamzah, read on Jordanian state television, he said, "Your holding this symbolic position has restrained your freedom and hindered our entrusting you with certain responsibilities that you are fully qualified to undertake."[91] No successor to the title was named at that time, but it was anticipated that Abdullah intended to appoint formally his own son and new heir apparent, Prince Hussein, as crown prince.[91] Hussein was granted the title on 2 July 2009.[92]

Personal life[edit]

Abdullah is married to Rania Al-Yassin, who is of Palestinian descent.[5] He is the first king of Jordan who has never had more than one wife. They have four children:

Abdullah has listed sky diving, rally racing, scuba diving, football, and science fiction among his interests and hobbies. He promotes tourism in Jordan, having served as a tour guide for Discovery Channel travel host Peter Greenberg in the "Jordan: The Royal Tour".[93] In the program Abdullah said that he is no longer permitted to sky dive since his assumption of the throne. Abdullah also likes motorcycles, and toured Northern California on a Harley-Davidson in July 2010.[94]

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, one of his brothers and president of the Jordan Football Association, has claimed that King Abdullah is the biggest fan of the Jordan national football team. King Abdullah himself was a former president of the football association until he assumed his father's throne and became King of Jordan and was succeeded by Prince Ali.

He is a fan of the science fiction series Star Trek. In 1996, while still a prince, he appeared briefly in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Investigations" in a non-speaking role, as he is not a member of the Screen Actors Guild.[95]

His interest in the film industry has also influenced his decision to create the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts in the Red Sea coastal town of Aqaba, in partnership with the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts on 20 September 2006.[96] When the producers of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen chose to film in Jordan, he called on 38 military helicopters to help transport equipment into Petra.

He is also a fan of stand-up comedian Russell Peters, granting him an audience in 2009 and inviting him for dinner.[97] Abdullah helped push a car stuck in snow in Amman during the 2013 Middle East cold snap.[98]

Ancestry[edit]

Titles, honours and awards[edit]

Titles[edit]

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 The 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[edit]

National honours[edit]

Awards[edit]

  • On 19 January 2017, the king accepted the Abu Bakr Al Siddeiq Medal of the First Class from the Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross Organisation, in recognition of His Majesty's humanitarian efforts towards Syrian refugees and continuous support for the Palestinian people and their just cause.[107]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Official

Media coverage

Interviews

Abdullah II of Jordan
Born: 30 January 1962
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Hussein
King of Jordan
1999–present
Incumbent
Heir apparent:
Hussein bin Abdullah