Monday, February 7, 2011

Jordan vs. Egypt: The Same and Yet Different

Guest Post by BanditBasheert

Prior to his death, King Hussein of Jordan married Elizabeth (Lisa) Halaby who was his last wife until his death in 1999. Taking the name Queen Noor, she has chosen to remain in Jordan and is known as the Queen Dowager. Lisa Halaby was born, raised, and educated in the United States. She attended National Cathedral School from fourth to eighth grade. She briefly attended The Chapin School in New York City's Manhattan, then went on to Concord Academy in Massachusetts. She entered Princeton University with its first coeducational freshman class, and received a BA in Architectureand Urban Planning in 1973. Queen Noor renounced her US citizenship upon her marriage and took Jordanian citizenship. She has remained actively involved in literacy issues in Jordan, is the current President of the United World Colleges and a strong advocate of the anti-nuclear weapons proliferation campaign Global Zero.

When King Hussein was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the subject of the succession came under discussion. King Hussein received medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States on multiple occasions. When he at last came home to Jordan, to die, he surprised the world and named Abdullah as his successor.

King Abdullah II of Jordan succeeded his father King Hussein upon his death February 2, 1999. Born in Amman, Jordan in 1962, he is highly educated having attended St. Edmunds School in Surrey, England, and then attending the Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. He has regularly attended Deerfield Commencements, flying his own plane to Boston and helicoptering to the soccer field at the school to give the address.

He entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (U.K.) in 1980 and was commissioned as second Lieutenant in spring of 81.

He also has several attachments to the Special Forces and a year as a tactics instructor with Jordan Army's Anti-Tank, Cobra Helicopter Wing.

An adrenalin junkie at heart, he flies his own planes, helicopters and loves to race motorcycles. A very unusual king.

King Abdullah II has continued his late father's commitment to creating a strong and positive moderating role for Jordan within the Arab region and the world and has worked towards the establishment of a just and lasting comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. King Abdullah II is committed to building on the late King's legacy to further institutionalize democratic and political pluralism in Jordan. He has exerted extensive effort to ensuring sustainable levels of economic growth and social development aimed at improving the standard of living of all Jordanians. He is also working towards modernizing Jordan's information technology and educational systems.

Under King Abdullah's reign, Jordan was admitted to the World Trade Organization, and ratified agreements for the establishment of a Free Trade Area with the United States of America, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association countries, and sixteen Arab countries. King Abdullah II has also been involved in the drive for national administrative reform, as well as governmental transparency and accountability. He has been working on the advancement of civil liberties making Jordan one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. Also, he has been involved in enacting the necessary legislations that guarantee women a full role in the Kingdom's socio-economic and political life.

King Abdullah II married Queen Rania on June 10th, 1993. The Royal Couple have two sons, Prince Hussein, the Crown Prince, born on June 28th, 1994, and Prince Hashem, born on January 30th 2005, and two daughters, Princess Iman, born on September 27th, 1996, and Princess Salma, born on September 26th, 2000. The King has four brothers and six sisters. Queen Rania is of Palestinian heritage.

King Abdullah II has a vision for Jordan that includes opportunities for all Jordanians to attend school. In the mid 2000s he announced he would build the first co-educational boarding school in the Middle East, King’s Academy. A daunting project, since a boarding school that included girls could be a challenge in a Muslim country.

Following the 2006 Kings Commencement Address at Deerfield, the Deerfield Reunion was treated to the exciting news that King Abdullah II of Jordan (a staunch supportive alum of the Academy) had begun building the very first co-educational College Preparatory School in Jordan, to be located in Madaba, outside of Amman. The first classes entered in the Fall of 2007. In addition, King Abdullah invited the Deerfield Faculty to a week visiting the school prior to its opening.

Kings Academy is a college Preparatory Academy for students wishing to attend a variety of American Universities worldwide. Set on 144 acres in Madaba, it took two years to build and includes the finest of facilities from an Olympic-sized swimming pool and equestrian center to a "spirituality center," where students of all religions will be free to practice their faith in the predominantly Muslim country.

Kings Academy has separate facilities for female and male students. According to custom. Even the pool areas are screened. A small token to the fathers of the female students.

When Egypt erupted in protests on Friday January 28, 2011, fear spread to the Jordanians. Unlike Egypt, in Amman, security forces were handing out water and juice says an International Crisis Group Official who was visiting Jordan from Washington, reported. “It was really tepid and friendly”.

When King Abdullah II dismissed his cabinet, it was observed that this does happen frequently in Jordan, according to “The government was perceived to be a corrupt government. It was made up of businessmen who profit from their positions. It was a pre-emptive move.”

"There is no comparison between Egypt and Jordan," an Islamic Action Front official told AFP. "The people there demand a regime change, but here we ask for political reforms and an elected government. We recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Hashemites."

Independent observers judge that the respect for Jordan's royals is grounded in realpolitik. The Hashemite royal family hails from the Hejaz of what is now eastern Saudi Arabia and was given control of Jordan by the British mapmakers who (with the French) drew the borders of the modern Middle East. Once a collection of nomadic tribes in what was dubbed TransJordan, the modern kingdom is majority Palestinian, having absorbed a huge number of refugees from the land Jewish armies took over in 1948 to create Israel.

The current monarch's charismatic father, King Hussein, not only navigated the demographic landscape but proved so adept at accommodating assorted parties — including Washington — that he made himself seem indispensable. Abdullah II, who ascended to the throne in 1999, has garnered less glowing reviews. But he married a Palestinian, Queen Rania, and when protesters began gathering in Cairo, he had the wits to get out of the castle that is Amman and be seen inquiring as to the welfare of his subjects in the desert south of the capital.

"While the sort of demands being voiced across the region are very similar — better governments, accountability, fighting corruption, political reform generally — the countries we're dealing with are very different," says Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "The way these demands are being processed is going to differ from country to country. In Jordan we have a situation where a monarchy has been accepted historically as an outsider bringing together different tribes and populations across Jordan, especially the Palestinians. The monarchy plays a very specific role and has been accepted because of it. I think in Jordan the Hashemite monarchy has a lot of good will."

Young of the Daily Star agrees. "Jordan is different from the region," he says. "There are problems. But the monarchy is not the same as a Mubarak. Mubarak may have behaved like a King, but he was a tyrant, and perceptions are different. No one is going to demand the removal of the Hashemite dynasty. Sure, they can demand that the government be changed, or the removal of parliament, but things in Jordan are a little more complicated than they are in Egypt."

Like so many countries in the Middle East, the ebb and flow of protests due to lack of food and water and education causes upheaval within the civilian population. Since the Middle East was artificially created as “states” by the British, not taking tribal influences into account, and leader influence, it is unfair to consider all of the Middle East leaders as corrupt or as a tyrant.

In 2004, King Abdullah II laid the cornerstone of the $62.5M Kings Academy in Madaba, fulfilling a dream to recreate his beloved Deerfield Academy in Jordan to provide educational opportunities for his people. Like Deerfield, there are many scholarship students attending. King Abdullah II is a modern leader, and politically astute. But he feels a great love for his people and is genuinely attempting to make life better for them.

Jordan has no oil or natural resources. It has no water access. It is forced to trade with its neighbors, often a difficult line to walk, but necessary for Jordan to survive. As the article stated, King Abdullah II’s success is due to the “realpolitik”. He knows his strength and it comes from the heart of his people.

Jordan is a very unique Middle Eastern Country. A young, vibrant king, married to a Palestinian Queen, he is the intellectual equal of any ruler in the world.

He is a political moderate, and he loves and cares for his people. Upon arriving in Amman – we were overwhelmed with the kindness and the beauty of Jordan, the home of Mt. Nebo – overlooking the Dead Sea. We had the experience of Petra – an amazing artifact of the Nabatean Culture. Featured in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we took horses partway and walked the souk until the valley opened up and we were treated to The Treasury. We then hiked, rode donkeys, rode camels . We spent 2 days discovering the beauty of Petra.

Prior to visiting Jordan, we were located at the Nile Hilton, the hotel at the “right” of the Cairo Museum on the Nile. While in Jordan, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Amman, one of the hotels that was firebombed in 2005. It is very difficult to watch and see places that you love and treasure being blown up. Visually I can smell and hear both places. And it makes me sad. It becomes very personal.

The Middle East will survive. And those of us who were fortunate to experience the incredible caring and sharing of the culture are the better for it.


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