King Hussein of Jordan dumps brother as heir to the throne; Ailing monarch names son as successor, altering royal order after 33 years


AMMAN, Jordan -- While many in his kingdom slept, King Hussein of Jordan confirmed early today his much rumored decision to replace his brother Hassan as heir to the throne with the monarch's oldest son, Abdullah.

The announcement came in a one-paragraph royal decree read on Jordanian television at about 12: 50 a.m. The decree named the king's 36-year-old son as crown prince, the title held for 33 years by Hussein's younger brother, Hassan.

Prince Abdullah, married and the father of two, is an Army major general who heads an elite palace security force.

In a letter to Hassan, read on Jordanian television, the king listed some problems he had with his brother's stewardship.

Hassan pledged his loyalty. "I put myself in your hands and abide by your honorable order," Hassan said in a responding letter seen by the Associated Press.

Reports that the king was considering returning the line of succession to his immediate family surfaced last week when Hussein returned from a six-month stay in the United States for treatment for lymphatic cancer.

The speculation raised concern among Jordanians that a change in the royal lineup would jeopardize the stability of the country, a desert kingdom where Palestinians outnumber Jordanians and tribal customs outweigh democratic precepts.

While he may lack the charisma of his brother, Hassan, 51, has been viewed as an intelligent, able and dedicated regent since his brother named him to the post in 1965. And the king always has treated his brother warmly in public, characterizing him as his right-hand and closest confidante.

The king's decision to name his son as his successor is his right under the constitution, which stipulates that the throne should pass from father to son. Hussein sought an exception to the constitution in 1965 to name his brother as crown prince because his two oldest sons were small children.

In the Arab world, first-born sons are accorded special standing in the family. Hussein is known as "Abu Abdullah" -- father of Abdullah -- in the tradition of Arab society.

In the past week, palace sources and other unnamed government officials have been speculating to the foreign media reasons for Hussein's action. And the speculation resembled an orchestrated campaign to smear the crown prince. Pictures of Hassan, usually hung beside those of the king, began to come down.

The reaction differed greatly from the expressions of confidence in the crown prince when Hussein left six months ago for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The king's decision was expected to be announced yesterday at the 8 p.m. news hour. It came more than four hours later.

"We, Hussein I, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. decree our eldest son, his Royal Highness Prince Abdullah bin Hussein, as crown prince and grant him all related rights and privileges," the terse decree read.

After the announcement, a letter from the king to his brother was read over television. Hussein said Hassan was influenced by "greedy" aides who had tried to force Hussein loyalists from the military. The king also accused Hassan's administration of responsibility for several scandals.

At times in the past week, the succession saga took on the trappings of a Shakespearean drama or a palace soap opera. Speculation arose over whether the king would chose Abdullah, his oldest son by his second, British-born wife, or 19-year-old Hamzeh, whose mother is the present, U.S.-born Queen Noor.

Hussein's greeting of his brother last week, his choice of the word "deputy" instead of "crown prince," his body language, became grist for the rumor mill and palace prognosticators.

The treatment of Hassan by Hussein made some Jordanians uneasy -- it seemed so out of character for the king they have loved and admired.

"He has never acted so impulsively," said one political observer. "This is contrary to his nature. He went out of his way to show his anger to make his private feelings public, to treat his brother badly."

And yet, because of the king's popularity and longevity -- he has reigned for 47 years -- other Jordanians backed the king. They decided that if the king wants to do this, he must have a good reason.

"The people are intrigued [by the move], but they trust the king and look at him as a final authority," said Fahed Fanek, a Jordanian economist and journalist. "But most likely they will accept any decision made by him."

"Choosing his brother as crown prince was an exceptional case made for exceptional reasons that are no more valid," he said.

"He did that when the country was in turmoil, when the whole Middle East was boiling, when his life was at risk when the country had no institutions to guarantee the country's future. All these have changed now so he can feel comfortable now, even with his son."

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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