15 FEBRUARY 2012


We paused when reading a certain headline in a certain Arab media. An exquisitely casual love story about a Prince and a commoner, youth, mystery and religion.

A sample of a best headline taught at some Communications colleges says: "Oh God. The Queen is pregnant. Who did it?"

No queen is pregnant, certainly not in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan -- at least not yet. Yet the story in itself makes popular reading.

A dashing young Prince, the most eligible in the Royal Family, with a special passion for skydiving, meets the only young Jordanian woman who unknowingly shares the same passion. Only she is living abroad. She arrived with a Canadian team for a daring sponsored exhibit. Keenly taking by the talented flyer, the sponsoring Prince enquired enough to find out that she in fact was his own compatriot, residing in Canada. They immediately clicked in mid-air. He persuaded her to stay three months, rather than one week, then proposed to her the old-fashioned way. His elder brother, King Abdullah II, asked her hand from her family elder, her grandfather who lives in a villa in Mount Amman. During the festive dinner, the Prince insisted on personally serving his guests, a tribal traditional of real leadership.

It is the background details that make the story more interesting, if not intriguing.

Prince Hamzah is the only son of American-born Queen Noor who -- according to several sources -- had tried very hard to persuade her late husband to nominate him as Crown Prince during his last weeks in an American hospital. At the time there was a long-standing Crown Prince, Hassan -- the King's brother, who was presumed to automatically take over. Whether instigating or not, rumors had it that Prince Hassan, a distinguished statesman in his own right, was already orchestrating his own transitory set-up. Despite his terminal illness -- perhaps because of it -- the popular King returned in a last visit to Amman and surprised everyone by anointing his first born son, Abdullah, to take over.

Royalty adheres to its own symbolism. When the first King Abdallah, first Emir of Transjordan by British decree, then King of the Hashemite Kingdom, was assassinated by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, his grandson Hussein was accompanying him. After taking over and a brief marriage to his cousin Princess Dina, King Hussein Bin Talal named his son from his British-born wife "Muna" after his grandfather, yet seemed to keep him at a public distance as His Majesty built a wider family with two more wives. One of the most informed, most dignified and shrewdest of Arab rulers, King Hussein may have intentionally kept his real choice for succession out of harm's way to segregate him from competitive targeting in a very rough neighbourhood. "Prince" Abdullah, however, was the only one to be adequately trained to serve full-time as a Lt. General in the armed forces, the crucial shield of the Kingdom. His classical Arabic needed serious polish when he started dealing with other Arab heads of state. He spoke accented Jordanian army talk and seemed more at ease in his mother's British English, although he resorts to American when addressing officials across the Atlantic or leads U.S. Harley Davidson fans on occasional events.

It is common knowledge in Amman that King Abdullah II has cleared the Royal deck, with a special focus on his own rule. The once-aspiring Queen Noor is a sensitive issue. With Queen Rania in the forefront, her active predecessor seems to be in constant travel abroad, getting some interesting gossip coverage like the transient one linking her to the world's richest man, Lebanese-Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. Nee Lisa Halaby, her father Najeeb was a former PanAm executive of Syrian origin. She had joined Jordan Airlines when its creative chief Ali Ghandour turned its private club into one of the most coveted beauty hangouts in the capital. Her marriage and closeness to the late King, particularly in his last years, and her effective sponsorings of worthy causes gave her a special international status of her own -- and she readily projects it in her own right. Also, it would be logical to assume that she maintained exceedingly influential contacts at highest levels in several key countries, including her one of origin.

It is equally logical to assume that those around the current monarch, if not he and his illustrative wife, would curiously trace the former Queen's activities, although by decree there is only one Queen in Jordan, Rania Al-Abdullah. For example, an effort a couple of years ago by the Representative of Qatar to the U.N. (now General Assembly President) to subsidize a dinner in honour of "Queen Noor" drew raised eyebrows in Amman and may have raised undue tensions between the two countries.

More to the point, the King has designated his own teenage son Hussein, as Crown Prince, distancing the former Queen's son, Hamzah.

That's why Jordanians followed with special interest Prince Hamzah's betrothal. It was prominently attended, for the first time in years by his mother and sponsored by his half-brother the King and his wife Rania, who was the first to announce it on her Twitter site. It was widely reported that the Prince enjoys wide popularity because of his striking resemblance to his father, even in his voice and manner of speech. Prince Hamzah now seems to have almost perfected looking, walking, and talking like the late King Hussein. That deserved repeated special notice by Qatari-financed Arab media, which equally highlighted that his newfound love and bride Basmah Al-Atoom hapens to hail from the biggest tribe in North Jordan near the region of Jarash. That area east of River Jordan is mainly a tribal society, the backbone of the Kingdom, where Palestinians from west of the river like Queen Rania, increasingly need to prove their loyalty almost daily.

While Jordan has been outside the circuit of change in the region, there are recent reports of widening criticism, which led to three governmental shifts in the last 18 months. There were the usual demonstrations by strengthened Islamic groupings seeking their share like in Egypt, Tunis, and Libya. More relevant is the unprecedented criticism amongst tribes (tribes?!), some of whose leaders issued public statements of dissatisfaction.

While some U.S. operatives explore options with the emergence of new Islamists, would an agreed deal on Jordan be tempting?

No doubt King Abdullah has been fully supportive of U.S. policy in the region, giving full logistical, operational, and military support for any project, open or clandestine. There are no indications of any shift in solid mutual support. The British government is certainly one thousand percent behind their favorite Arab head of state.

However, in case -- just in case -- difficulties increased and criticism widened, there seems to be those who think that Prince Hamzah is being prepared "to come to the rescue." His background and newly acquired tribal connections would come in handy. And if his voice, like his father's, would remind Islamist groups of a once smooth deferential relationship, Qatar-influenced Arab media readily point out that his name is after the Uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, who always came to the rescue.

As to those pondering U.S. decisions in a very foggy "Arab Spring" overcrowded with confusing backchannels, someone may find it tempting to opt for that skydive. After all, Prince Hamzah's mother was born in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, former Crown Prince Hassein seems to be stirring for a renewed "reformist role." Interesting. No?!