King Hussein's eldest son handed power in Jordan; Crown Prince Abdullah is sworn in as regent; 'A photocopy of his father'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AMMAN, Jordan -- As King Hussein lay dying in the hospital, Jordan's Cabinet declared the region's longest-ruling monarch incapable of performing his duties and named his eldest son and heir to lead the desert kingdom.

The resolution by Jordan's ministerial council appointed Crown Prince Abdullah regent, giving him all the powers and authority invested in a king. The move began the transition of power that has been expected since Hussein suffered a relapse of lymphatic cancer and a second bone marrow transplant failed.

The 63-year-old king named his eldest son as his heir Jan. 19. The royal decree, which shocked Jordanians, removed the king's younger brother, Prince Hassan, from the post he had held for 34 years.

Hussein returned to Jordan on Thursday from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota after his doctors said nothing more could be done to combat his cancer. He arrived here unconscious, and his condition has steadily deteriorated.

In a statement yesterday, the king's doctor, Samir Farrij, said the king was sedated and kept breathing by a ventilator. His liver and only kidney -- he lost the other kidney to cancer in 1992 -- are failing, but his heart and brain remain "intact," the statement said.

For the past two days, hundreds of Jordanians have maintained a vigil outside the King Hussein Medical Center. Many cannot accept the idea of Jordan without Hussein -- the only monarch most Jordanians have known.

Yesterday, the king's wife, American-born Queen Noor, emerged from the hospital and waded into the crowd to show her appreciation for their prayers. Accompanied by four of the king's sons, the queen was surrounded by her husband's subjects. The crowd chanted, "How is our dear king?"

"We ask God to save Hussein and give him health," said Khalid Mohammed Aljahn, who led a line of men in special prayer for the dying monarch. "If this situation is for one year, we will stay here waiting."

Discrete plans

But palace officials are already discreetly planning for the eventuality of the king's death. Foreign embassies in the capital have been asked about delegations expected to attend a royal funeral. Although Crown Prince Abdullah is acting as king, he is not yet one. Upon the death of the king, he will be sworn in and ascend to the throne of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

As the 37-year-old crown prince and heir to the Hashemite throne prepares to take over, the legacy of his father is lighting the way. But that legacy could also prove to be Abdullah's biggest challenge.

Ever since Hussein named him as his heir, the little-known Abdullah has been compared to his father. He has his smile, his voice, his humility, and, officials and others say, his support of the peace process.

"He is a photocopy of his father," said Hamdi Tabbaa, a Jordanian businessman who knows the family. "He has the charisma of his father. He was raised as his father."

A major general who led Jordan's elite Special Forces, Abdullah attended the same prestigious British military academy as his father. It was thought he would one day lead Jordan's armed forces as its chief of staff. But now he is the next king.

Jordanians, from state senators to students, have expressed their confidence in the crown prince by invoking his father's name.

"There is no difference between King Hussein and Crown Prince Abdullah," said Aljahn, the Muslim elder who stood outside the hospital awaiting word on the king's condition.

"Crown Prince Abdullah really combines continuity in the policies of his majesty with a youthful approach to problems in taking Jordan to the 21st century," said Marwan Muasher, Jordan's ambassador to Washington.

The crown prince was born to Hussein's second wife, Briton Toni Gardnier, who took the name Princess Muna upon her marriage. At age 4, Abdullah was sent to a British school.

He attended the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts for high school and received his military education at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in England. The crown prince's English is crisp and tinged with a slight British accent. His Arabic is less than perfect.

Abdullah made the military his career, rising from the rank of second lieutenant to major general.

While his father piloted jets, Abdullah flew Cobra attack helicopters. Both father and son raced cars. An athlete with a stocky build, the crown prince enjoys water sports, scuba diving and collecting antique weapons.

He is married to Rania Yassin, an attractive brunette who is of Palestinian descent, as are a majority of Jordanians now. They have a 4-year-old son, Prince Hussein, and a 2-year-old daughter, Princess Iman.

Military ties

Until his appointment as crown prince, Abdullah commanded the Special Forces and was on the scene last year of a well-publicized raid to capture an infamous murderer. He has a strong relationship with Jordan's armed forces, an institution that is considered crucial to the security of the country and the Hashemite dynasty.

But his military background has prepared him in another way to rule.

"I feel his time in the army gave him good insight into the country," said a former Jordanian official in the royal palace. "Every Jordanian city and town is represented in one way or another. Being a soldier himself he will have introduced himself to so many problems in the society. I think this is an advantage."

"He meets with Jordanians of different backgrounds. He doesn't associate with eggheads," said a member of the royal family who served in the government.

The crown prince's military experience also facilitated his good relations with his contemporaries in other Arab countries.

Abdullah isn't just a man in a uniform. He did graduate work at Oxford University, specializing in international affairs, and received a master's degree in foreign relations from Georgetown University. But whether his academic credentials can transfer into statesmanship and diplomacy is another question.

"He needs time. He is open-minded. I think he is willing to gain more information and experience," said Ahmad Obeidat, a former Jordanian minister. "He's receptive."

Muasher, the ambassador to Washington, said he watched the crown prince work the halls of Congress last year as he "lobbied successfully" to increase military aid to Jordan.

"He has been instrumental in improving relations between Jordan and the gulf in a very difficult situation after the gulf crisis," the ambassador said, referring to Jordan's decision to side with Iraq during the Persian Gulf war of 1991. "He is a team player and serves as a unifier in the country."

Potential for leadership

Rima Khalaf, an economist and Jordanian lawmaker, also observed the crown prince on trips abroad. She said she believes he will be a leader who strives to empower and include others in the decision-making process.

"He relies on institutions and current structures to undertake what is necessary to implement policy. He is always capable of providing a vision of what needs to be done," said Khalaf. "He had this vision of modernizing and introducing international practices into the military. He was very successful in this."

Khalaf said the crown prince will benefit from the work of his father, who began the process of democratizing the country by establishing political institutions.

"Such a setup, established over the past 40 years of building a nation, combined with his vision, makes me feel very comfortable about the future," said Khalaf. " "We have to realize he's not starting from scratch. We credit [this] to his majesty, King Hussein."

Abdullah recognizes the challenge that awaits him.

"It is not easy to walk in the footsteps of such a character [Hussein]," he said of his father in an interview Oct. 19 with the magazine Al-Wasat.

Pub Date: 02/07/99

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