Jordan - Leadership

Hussein was regarded as a firm but tolerant ruler who inspired confidence in Jordan's stability and symbolized national unity. Abdullah is largely unknown to most of his people and is seen as a political novice, unseasoned in the rough-and-tumble of Middle Eastern statecraft. Though he lacks Hussein's stature and experience, Abdullah is said to have inherited many of his father's personal qualities. Indeed, his energy, character, and common touch have reassured those concerned about the transition. Beyond expressing a desire to continue his father's legacy, Abdullah has yet to articulate his own vision for the country's future. Most observers believe that his inexperience will force Abdullah to rely on advisors and may inhibit the bold steps needed to deal with the challenges he is likely to face.

Daunting tests await Abdullah's promised inclusive leadership style. A delicate balancing act will be required to deal with the country's large Palestinian population, its economic woes, and calls for greater democratization. The rapprochement with Israel has grown increasingly unpopular among many Jordanians, especially those of Palestinian origin. Abdullah has pledged his commitment to peace with Israel. However, Palestinian intentions to declare statehood for West Bank territories under their control have provoked Israeli retaliation and resulted in violence, threatening the kingdom's stability. Abdullah rejected Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's offer to federate these territories with Jordan and urged him to delay the declaration of statehood. On the economic front, Abdullah aims to further liberalize Jordan's economy through market-oriented reforms. He is expected to face strong opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamist parties, and leftists.

Most analysts anticipate that Abdullah will take steps to consolidate his authority first and then proceed gradually on political reforms. Despite calls for lifting restrictive media and electoral laws and dissolving what is widely regarded as a "rubber stamp" parliament, no immediate moves towards political liberalization are foreseen. Abdullah has quickly moved to establish his control of the government and military by replacing Hassan loyalists. A new cabinet has been formed, but the palace holds real power.

Rumored royal family tensions, stemming from Hassan's abrupt dismissal, are officially discounted. Hassan has pledged fealty to the new king. Respecting his father's wishes, Abdullah has appointed his half-brother, Hamzeh, to be the new crown prince. This choice has received universal praise.

In June 2000, King Abdullah implemented his first major government shakeup, replacing Prime Minister Abdul-Raouf al-Rawabdeh with the more progressive Ali Abu al-Ragheb, a former minister of commerce and industry. A new cabinet was appointed as well. Al-Rawabdeh had been the target of widespread criticism for alleged nepotism and corruption.

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