The World Today for February 21, 2022


It’s Good to Be King


Jordan is technically a constitutional monarchy. However, King Abdullah II of Jordan wields the ultimate power in the strategically located Middle Eastern kingdom bordering Iraq, Israel, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

It’s good to be king. Abdullah recently celebrated his 60th birthday. Photographs of his lovely family in the Daily Mail suggest that they can at least project happiness and confidence convincingly. Other top royals, in contrast, have stumbled recently in maintaining positive optics.

Abdullah owns a $100 million property empire around the world in addition to his holdings within his realm, including a seaside house in Malibu, condominiums in Washington, DC and numerous homes in Britain, including three in Belgravia, a tony section of London. Until last year’s release of the Pandora Papers, a batch of documents outlining how the global elite have hidden their wealth from public scrutiny and tax authorities, few folks knew about those properties, the Guardian noted.

But the king wants more.

Abdullah has proposed constitutional amendments that would allow him to appoint top officials in the security forces, judiciary and Islamic religious clerisy. Under the new rules, which Abdullah has described as “modernization” measures rather than reforms – a word that Arab Spring activists used in 2011 when they called for the downfall of their region’s corrupt leaders – the king would also tighten his grip on defense policy under a new national security council.

The king’s prime minister, Bisher al-Khasawneh, said the national security council would serve as a “safety valve” to ensure that “no partisan considerations affect…national issues,” reported Al Jazeera.

But critics say the moves are not about modernization. Instead, they argue, they are about consolidating power. Some lawmakers agreed, precipitating a fistfight in Jordan’s parliament during a recent discussion of the constitutional amendments.

Perhaps Abdullah is not acting out of strength but fears his potential weakness, however.

As London-based Arab journalist Mohammad Ayesh explained in a Middle East Eye op-ed, the new rules were designed to cement Abdullah’s power after his authorities arrested his half-brother, Prince Hamzah, last year. The palace never said why Hamzah was jailed but speculation held that he was plotting to overthrow Abdullah.

“Prince Hamzah’s moves…clearly ignited a wave of anxiety within the royal palace, prompting the king to seek to cement his control over Jordan’s key institutions,” wrote Ayesh. “(Abdullah) wants to secure the kingdom’s leadership and weaken any possible future rebellion.”

That’s the thing about ultimate power. It’s never enough.

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