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Jordanian king's son sworn in as successor; Family dispute ended, Hussein returns to U.S. for treatment


AMMAN, Jordan -- Hours after King Hussein of Jordan settled a nasty family quarrel over his successor, the longest ruling monarch in the world hobbled aboard a royal jet yesterday and rushed back to a U.S. hospital where doctors have been trying to save his life.

The king's last official act before boarding the plane was to swear in his eldest son, Prince Abdullah, as Jordan's new crown prince and the successor to the Hashemite throne. King Hussein, who has ruled this desert kingdom for 46 years, expressed "categorical confidence and trust" in his 36-year-old son and his ability to carry out his responsibilities "with the utmost dedication, loyalty and selflessness."

The king has played a central role in holding together the often fractious Middle East peace process. And the image of the king broadcast on Jordanian television -- flushed and leaning on a cane -- vividly demonstrated the effect the events of the past six months have had on him. He underwent grueling chemotherapy sessions to combat lymphatic cancer and returned to Jordan last week. From his sickbed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., he also was forced to deal with a messy family situation back home.

The king had heard reports that aides to his brother Hassan, the then-crown prince and heir apparent, were meddling in affairs of the Jordanian army, and that there was a campaign of "slandering and falsehoods" against his American-born wife, Queen Noor, and their children.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, while most people were asleep in his kingdom, the king announced he was stripping his "dear" Hassan of his right to succession.

King Hussein cited these issues in a frank and harsh, 14-page letter that accompanied his royal decree naming Prince Abdullah, a career army officer, as successor.

The king's medical relapse this week stunned Jordanians, who a week ago jammed the streets of Amman in a pouring rain to celebrate his return after months of cancer treatment and to personally greet him. But it also has pointed up the importance of his decision to settle the succession issue.

The confluence of the two events has generated concern and anxiety among many Jordanians about the stability of Jordan, a key American ally in the contentious Middle East and a buffer against some of the region's troublesome regimes.

Prince Hassan, a 51-year-old statesman and scholar, "gave many Jordanians the feeling of security and confidence in the future because of his long experience, his personal qualities, his moderation, his reformer's zeal," said Radwan Abdulla, a political scientist in Amman. "The removal of someone of this caliber will certainly leave a vacuum in the short run. We hope we will overcome this."

But some Jordanians interviewed here believe that their countrymen will put aside their concerns about the depressed economy, high unemployment and slow progress of reform now that their king is ill again.

"I can tell you responsible internal forces or political forces will rally behind the new crown prince because Jordanians have enjoyed stability for a long time, and they want to enjoy that privilege for an even longer time," said Taher Masri, a former prime minister now serving in Jordan's parliament. "Regardless of what they think about the appointment or experience or inexperience of the crown prince, or in spite of it, they want to help and that means to maintain stability."

Although Prince Hassan served loyally and ably as regent for 33 years, King Hussein has wanted to return the line of succession to his immediate family and sought his brother's approval of a special family court that would handle such matters. But Hassan, according to the king's letter, did not want to accept the proposal until he was king.

King Hussein named his brother crown prince in 1965, when Jordan faced external and internal problems and the king's life was in danger. At the time, his two oldest sons were small children. After his first bout with cancer in 1992, the king said in his letter, he considered abdicating the throne in favor of his brother.

But he beat back the illness and carried on. During this recent illness, succession apparently became an issue again for the king and the events of the last several weeks have had all the markings of a classic struggle for a throne.

There was a campaign against King Hussein's immediate family that hurt the king, he said in the 14-page letter. Reports began to surface that Queen Noor was lobbying the king in support of her 18-year-old son Hamzah, an affable, intelligent prince whom the king has referred to as his favorite.

The king did not personally blame his younger brother, Hassan, whom he helped raise and once characterized as "the apple of my eye." He attributed the rumor-mongering and gossiping to "climbers" among Prince Hassan's entourage who want to "ruin the relation between brothers and father and son."

"My small family was offended by slandering and falsehoods," King Hussein wrote.

In the letter, he heaped praise on his 47-year-old wife, Queen Noor, who brought "happiness to me and cared for me during my illness with the utmost loving affection."

In one reference, he called her "the Jordanian," saying she "belongs to this country with every fiber of her being." His description of his American-born, Princeton-educated wife was aimed at those who view her as an interloper.

With his health failing again and his brother objecting to the family council as envisioned by the king, King Hussein decided to invoke his right under the Jordanian constitution and appoint his eldest son as his successor.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's oldest son by his second, British-born wife, is a major general in the army who heads an elite security force that protects the royal family. Like his father, Prince Abdullah was educated at a series of prestigious schools and military academies here and abroad. His English is apparently better than his Arabic, some say, but his facility with his native language has much improved.

Like his father, he is a race-car driver. Married to a Palestinian from a well-known family, he has two children.

For the moment, the public appears to have accepted the king's decision without question.

'He knows his brother and he knows his son," said Ahmed Afghani, a 23-year-old salesman at a Jordanian gift shop. "We trust him."

Added Jordanian truck driver Mohammed Jaradat: "We have a saying in Arabic,'The son of the duck swims like the duck.' "

Others, including some Western diplomats, said the appointment will help ensure the Jordanian army's support.

"It's no secret that the king and the country depend a lot on the loyalty of the army," said Hamdi Tabbaa, a Jordanian businessman and boyhood friend of the king. "The prince is a very popular figure [within the army.]"

"If he chooses the right people around him," added Walid Salah, a retired lawyer and former Jordanian ambassador, "I believe he could be a great king."

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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