Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein (Arabic: عبد الله الثاني بن الحسين‎‎, ʿAbdullāh aṯ-ṯānī ibn Al-Ḥusayn; born 30 January 1962) has been the King of Jordan since he ascended the throne on 7 February 1999 upon the death of his father King Hussein. Abdullah is a member of the Hashemite family, which has ruled Jordan since 1921, and claims to be descended from the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[2]

Abdullah was born to Hussein and his second wife, the British-born Princess Muna al-Hussein. Abdullah was named Crown Prince shortly after his birth. King Hussein transferred the title to his own brother, Hassan, in 1965, only to return it to Abdullah in 1999. Abdullah is married to Queen Rania of Jordan, who is of Palestinian origin. In 1993, Abdullah assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces, and became a Major General in May 1998.[3] The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, is his brother-in-law, through marriage to Abdullah's sister Haya bint Al Hussein.

Early life

Abdullah was born in Amman, to King Hussein, during his marriage to British-born Princess Muna al-Hussein (born Antoinette Avril Gardiner). Abdullah was the king's eldest son and as such he was heir apparent to the throne of Jordan under the 1952 constitution. However, due to unstable times in the 1960s, King Hussein decided to appoint his brother, Prince Hassan bin Talal, as his heir-apparent.

Abdullah began his schooling at the Islamic Educational College in Amman. Abdullah then attended St Edmund's School, Hindhead, in England, before continuing his education in the United States at Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts. In 1980, Abdullah attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, was commissioned into the British Army as a Second Lieutenant, and served for a year as a troop commander in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.[4] In 1982, Abdullah was admitted to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he completed a one-year Special Studies course in Middle Eastern Affairs. Upon returning home, Abdullah joined the Royal Jordanian Army, serving as an officer in the 40th Armored Brigade, and undergoing a parachuting and freefall course. In 1985, Abdullah attended the Armored Officer's Advanced Course at Fort Knox, and in 1986, he became commander of a tank company in the 91st Armored Brigade, holding the rank of Captain.[6] He also served with the Royal Jordanian Air Force in its Anti-Tank Wing, where he was trained to fly Cobra attack helicopters.

In 1987, Abdullah attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.[8]

In 1993, Abdullah assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces, and became a Major General in May 1998.

On 24 January 1999, King Hussein named Abdullah as his heir-apparent, replacing Prince Hassan.

King of Jordan

Abdullah became King on 7 February 1999, upon the death of his father King Hussein. Hussein had recently named him Crown Prince on 24 January, changing the constitution and replacing Hussein's brother Hassan, who had served many years in the position (nearly 34 years, from 1965 to 1999). Abdullah's namesake is King Abdullah I, his great grandfather who founded modern Jordan.[9]

A few hours after the announcement of his father's death, Abdullah went before an emergency session of the Jordanian National Assembly. Wearing a red-and-white Keffiyeh, Abdullah entered the parliament to quiet applause from senators and assemblymen, some weeping. 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. 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". Zaid al-Rifai, speaker of the House of Notables (Senate), opened the session with Al-Fatiha, the opening Sura (chapter) of the Quran. His voice cracked with emotion as he led the recitation. "God, save his majesty," "God, give him advice and take care of him."[10]

Politics as king

Abdullah is the head of a constitutional monarchy in which the king retains substantial power. In 2010, he was chosen as the fourth most influential Muslim in the world. In the 2016 edition he is leading the field as most influential Muslim.[11]

Jordan's economy has improved since Abdullah ascended to the throne in 1999, and he has been credited with increasing foreign investment, improving public-private partnerships, and providing the foundation for Aqaba's free trade zone and Jordan's flourishing ICT sector. 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 has doubled to 6% annually under Abdullah's rule compared to the latter half of the 1990s.[12] Foreign direct investment from the West as well as the countries of the Persian Gulf has continued to increase.[13] He also negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States, which was the third free trade agreement for the U.S. and the first with an Arab country.[14]

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.

Abdullah's speech at The Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in September 2005 was entitled "Traditional Islam: The Path to Peace." While en route to the United States, Abdullah met with Pope Benedict XVI to build on the relations that Jordan had established with Pope John Paul II to discuss ways in which Muslims and Christians can continue to work together for peace, tolerance, and coexistence.

Abdullah announced on 2 March 2007 municipal elections in Jordan and on 25 November 2006 in his parliament address, told the parliament to work on reforms of the press and publication law.[15]

Abdullah has worked for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, attending the Arab Summit in 2002, OIC conferences and having several summits with US, Israeli and Palestinian delegations to find a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. On 6 December 2012, Abdullah traveled to the West Bank to visit the Palestinian Authority, becoming the first head of state to visit the territory after it was accepted as a non-member observer state to the United Nations.[16]

Jordan received criticism when Toujan al-Faisal, Jordan's first female member of Parliament and an outspoken advocate for freedom of expression and human rights, was jailed for slandering the government after she charged it with corruption in a letter to Abdullah.[17] She was pardoned and released by Abdullah. Despite these events, Abdullah has continued his aggressive liberalization of Jordan's media. He recently issued a declaration forbidding detention of journalists in Jordan.

Major General Yair Naveh, GOC of the Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command and former GOC of Israeli Central Command, said in a gathering with reporters that Abdullah might fall and that he could be the last king of Jordan. The statement created tension between the two countries, and afterwards Naveh retracted his statement and apologized.[18] Later, the Israeli prime minister Olmert expressed the disagreement of Israel with Naveh's statement, and referred to it as a personal and irrelevant view.[2][2]

In March 2007, Ehud Olmert commented on any American withdrawal from Iraq by saying that: "Israel is worried a hasty American withdrawal from Iraq could have negative impact on the Hashemite regime in Jordan..." Jordan's spokesman Nasser Jawdeh replied by saying: "The Israeli prime minister should worry about his political future before worrying about us."[2]

Abdullah has a strong belief in a powerful military and has led Jordan into adopting a "quality over quantity" policy. This policy has led Jordan to acquire advanced weaponry and greatly increase and enhance its F-16 fighter jet fleet.[2] The ground forces have acquired the Challenger 1 main battle tank,[2] a vehicle far superior to the T-72/55 tanks that have traditionally dominated Arab armies.

Abdullah has made women's rights an important part of his dynasty.

Successor

See Line of succession to the Jordanian throne.

On 28 November 2004, Abdullah removed the title of crown prince from his half-brother, Hamzah, whom he had appointed on 7 February 1999, in accordance with their father's wishes. 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." 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.[2] Hussein was granted the title on 2 July 2009.[2]

Democracy in Jordan

In 2005 BBC International published an article titled "Jordan edging towards democracy", where Abdullah expressed his intentions of making Jordan a democratic country. According to the article, United States President George W. Bush urged Abdullah to "...take steps towards democracy."[2] Thus far, however, democratic development has been limited, with the monarchy maintaining most power and its allies dominating parliament.

Elections were held in November 2010, and following the Arab Spring in 2011, a new prime minister was appointed. In June 2011 Abdullah announced a move to a British style of Cabinet Government but it is still under debate. In 2015, the one vote system was shed. The move is expected to empower political parties, in an attempt to introduce party-based governments chosen by the parliament in the future.[2]

Economic liberalization

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. Jordan's economy has improved since Abdullah's assumption of power. He has been credited with increasing 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. 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 has doubled to 6% annually under Abdullah II's rule compared to the latter half of the 1990s. Direct foreign investment from the West as well as from the countries of the Persian Gulf continued to increase.[28] He also negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States, which was the third free trade agreement for the U.S. and the first with an Arab country. 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. 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.[29] However, regional turmoil 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.[30]

Nuclear plans for Jordan

In 2007 Abdullah revealed that Jordan has plans to develop nuclear power for internal energy purposes because unlike other countries in the region, Jordan has almost no oil.[31] Jordan is one of the few non-petroleum producing nations in the region and was strategically dependent on subsidized oil from its neighbor Iraq. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq cut the oil supply to Jordan and put its national and energy security at risk. Jordan in 2007 signed a gas deal with Egypt, the pipeline was attacked 37 times by Islamic State affiliates in the Sinai by 2014, this added enormous strain on Jordan's electrical company whose debts rose substantially. The cut in Egyptian gas supplies coincided with Jordan hosting millions of Syrian refugees. Jordan's first nuclear facility will be ready by 2016 called Jordan Research and Training Reactor located in Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid which aims to train Jordanian students in the already existing Nuclear engineering program. There will be two other nuclear reactors to be completed by 2023 and 2025 which will be located near Qasr Amra. In turn, the nuclear power plants will desalinate the water and pump it to northern Jordan. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jordan is the world's third poorest country in terms of water resources.[33]

Interfaith work

In 2010 Abdullah proposed a World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations, to promote a culture of peace; the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief; and the promotion of interreligious dialogue.[34] 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 Court informed the Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem of the “makruma” (Royal Benefaction) in a letter of 10 April 2016. According to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the aedicule, the place of burial and resurrection of Christ, will be the object of the restoration. It has remained untouched since 1947 when the British put in place steel support beams as part of a restoration project that never took place.[35]

Regional unrest

Speaking about the unrest in Syria and Iraq, Abdullah told a delegation of US congressmen in June 2014 of his fears of wider unrest in the Middle East the turmoil in Iraq could spill over into the entire region. He added that any solution to the problems in the war-torn country must involve all of the people of Iraq. Abdullah’s comments put him at odds with Israel on Iraq’s future. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called for full independence for Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, echoing earlier statements by President Shimon Peres. Abdullah’s comments came as the Iraqi army continued to attack jihadist forces that had recently seized large areas of the country north of Baghdad. In the biggest operation at the time against the Islamic State, troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships battled to retake the city of Tikrit.[36]

This followed reports of ISIS activity inside Jordan itself, at two rallies in Ma'an tens of protesters took it to the street raising their fists while waving home-made banners bearing the logo and inscriptions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and shouted, "Down, down with Abdullah," the king of Jordan.[37] Supporters of Islamic State in Jordan is extremely low and even might have become non-existent after the murder of the Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh by the Islamic State in February 2015.[38][39]

Increased powers

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.[40]

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.[41]

Activities

According to The Royal Hashemite Court, King Abdullah conducted a total of 1,381 activities in 2015. Of which; 835 were meetings with Jordanian figures, 435 meetings with foreign figures, 92 phone calls with Arab and foreign leaders, 52 military events, 19 speeches and interviews, 36 working visits and received 123 leaders and officials from Arab and foreign countries. Of the total 835 meetings with Jordanian figures; 647 were meetings with officials and 52 were with military staff.[42]

Family and personal life

Abdullah is married to Rania al-Abdullah of Palestinian origin. 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".[43] 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.

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.

Abdullah attended Deerfield Academy in his youth, and in appreciation of the schooling he received, he has created King's Academy, a sister institution, in Jordan. He hired Deerfield Headmaster Eric Widmer to lead it, along with many other Deerfield staff. Prior to Deerfield, King Abdullah attended Eaglebrook School. He is the Colonel-in-Chief of the UK Light Dragoons regiment;[44] his previous connection to the unit includes his service as a Troop Leader in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.

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.[45] A Star Trek theme park is planned to open in 2020[46] as part of the $1.5-billion The Red Sea Astrarium (TRSA) project in Aqaba, with the King being the majority local investor.[4]

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.[4] 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.

Abdullah has an interest in the internet and information technology, and commented on two Jordanian blogs that discussed his interview with the Petra News Agency: the Black Iris and the newspaper daily Ad-Dustor.[4]

He is also a fan of stand-up comedian Russell Peters, granting him an audience in 2009 and inviting him for dinner.[4] Abdullah helped push a car stuck in snow in Amman during the 2013 Middle East cold snap.[4]

Titles, honours and awards

Titles

  • 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

Jordanian national honours

Other honours

Ancestry