Stephen J. Rubin
Stephen J. Rubin
Last updated: December 9, 2011
Stephen J. Rubin: Abdullah’s Vindication

"[King] Abdullah seems to be seizing the reins of the Arab Spring as a means to increase his previously diminished role in the region"

This past February, as revolutions were gaining fervor across the Arab world, Jordan’s King Abdullah II released his memoirs – something usually reserved for the latter part of one’s life.

It seemed eerily ironic and blindly premature for an Arab leader, especially one still a year shy of his fiftieth birthday, to be publishing such a body of work at a time when gusting political winds were beginning to rewrite history and create even more unpredictability in a region where a single day’s events are enough to fill headlines for an entire year.

Yet, as the initial phases of the Arab Spring have toppled autocrats across the Middle East and North Africa, Jordan’s Hashemite Monarchy – a direct line of descent from the Prophet Mohammed - has thus far managed to weather the storm despite intermittent protests, mainly in Amman.

The protests do not appear to be aimed at toppling the Monarchy as much as they do in creating more accountability against corruption, combating the 13% unemployment rate and fostering greater measures for more democratic inclusion on the parliamentary level.

This has caused the King to dissolve and restructure his cabinet, including naming former International Court of Justice judge Awn Khasawneh as the new Prime Minister. 

The recent shuffle in the Jordanian cabinet may be nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at quieting the protesters - Jordan has changed Prime Ministers ten times since Abdullah assumed the throne in 1999 - however, what is clear is that Abdullah seems to be seizing the reins of the Arab Spring as a means to increase his previously diminished role in the region.

It is no coincidence that over the last month, Abdullah has become increasingly vocal and more diplomatically visible. 

In an interview with the BBC, he was the first Arab leader to call for Syria’s Bashar Assad to relinquish his control of Syria.

The King made an even bolder gesture when he made his first official visit to Ramallah in ten years to meet with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. 

The long overdue trip showed that Jordan still views the Palestinian Authority as the primary representative of the Palestinian people in light of ongoing reconciliation talks with Hamas.

Just days later, Abdullah received Israeli President Shimon Peres in Amman in a move aimed at encouraging stalled progress on the peace process, while also assuring Peres that Palestinian reconciliation would not come at the expense of Israel’s security. 

The unpublicized meeting was also meant to express the King’s gratitude for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ‘postponement’ of the demolition of the Mughrabi bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount.  

Abdullah has been a major opponent of the proposed demolition and has continuously warned about the consequences of what would be seen as a large-scale provocation within local Muslim circles. 

This outspoken opposition and Netanyahu’s reconsideration are a critical pronouncement of Israel’s recognition, outlined in the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, to honor and respect Jordan's “special role in protecting Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem” while giving “high priority to Jordan's historic role in these shrines during permanent status negotiations” with the Palestinians.

Regardless of whether or not the Jerusalem city council eventually finalizes the closing of the bridge and its eventual reconstruction, Abdullah will have made a clear statement that Jordan will continue to play an important role in determining the status of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, even as the Palestinian Authority’s acceptance to UNESCO could threaten the status of Jordan’s Muslim religious trust – the Waqf – as applied to Jerusalem.  

The most shocking move, however, may be the King’s hosting of Hamas Political Bureau Chairman, Khaled Meshal, in the Kingdom within the coming weeks.  Hamas was exiled from Jordan in 1999 after what the Monarchy stated was the organization’s failure to refrain from conducting illicit activity within its borders.  In less diplomatic terms, the organization was kicked out for using Jordan as a base from which to conduct terror-related activities while attempting to become overly influential within Jordanian politics via its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Having met Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas during the visit to Ramallah while also pursuing a meeting with Meshal, Abdullah seems to be asserting himself as the key mediator in Palestinian reconciliation talks at a time when Egypt – the presumed facilitator of such dialogue – is having enough problems reconciling its own internal issues.  

The King also appears to be paving inroads for Hamas to re-establish its headquarters in the Hashemite Kingdom should the organization feel that President Assad’s lack of stability in Syria will force it to look elsewhere for a new host-country. 

Not only would this reposition Abdullah as a steadfast third-party negotiator in the region, it would also be a popular move with Jordan’s Palestinian population - approximately fifty percent of the country.

By allowing Meshal’s return to Jordan, the King would be making a cordial gesture to the country’s faction of the Muslim Brotherhood without fully appeasing the Brotherhood’s demands for more inclusion within the Hashemite political system.

Just as his father, the late King Hussein, masterfully maneuvered through the cutthroat landscape that defines Middle East politics, Abdullah is demonstrating similar tactics within his own political and diplomatic savvy. More importantly, however, the current King seems to be justifying his father’s decision in the waning days of his life to confirm Abdullah as Crown Prince.

In his biography of King Hussein, Nigel Ashton wrote that the destiny of the Hashemite Kingdom  “was always a quixotic ideology in the face of the hard-headed realities of power.”

For Abdullah today, there is no harder reality of power than the events that have transpired in the Arab world over the last year. 

So far, Abdullah has had no problems embracing this quixotic vision.

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