For the position: King of Jordan
Age: 47 (born Jan. 30, 1962)
Parents: King Hussein of Jordan and his second wife, Princess Muna al-Hussein.
Wife and kids: Queen Rania, who regularly appears as one of Forbes 100 most influential women and has been voted one of People Magazine's 50 most beautiful people in the world.
Education: International Politics and World Affairs one-year course, Oxford University; Mid-Career Fellow, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (Advanced Study and Research in International Affairs under the auspices of the Master of Science in Foreign Service, School of Foreign Service); officer training, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Net worth: Unknown
AMMAN, Jordan — When it comes to interviewing world leaders, journalists usually have to all but beg for a meeting. But when Randa Habib met Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein shortly after he took the throne in 1999, he was insistent that they begin meeting once a week, even as Habib questioned if he would have time in his new role.
“The intention was there to continue leading a normal life and be as close as possible to the people. But, security, his advisers, the role of the king, everything made it not as simple,” says Habib, a Jordanian author and journalist.
In many ways this is the story of King Abdullah II, a man who unexpectedly and somewhat unwillingly found himself as leader of a nation. With minimal grooming, King Abdullah II has stepped into his role with a laid-back temperament as he steers the nation through the murky waters of relations with its neighbors and growing domestic concerns.
Though he was the oldest son of the charismatic King Hussein bin Talal, up until two weeks before King Hussein’s death, the crown was set to go to the then-king’s brother, Prince El-Hassan bin Talaal.
With the throne apparently out of reach, a young Abdullah pursued a military career. After completing primary school at St. Edmund's School in Surrey, England, and high school at the Deerfield Academy in Michigan, the then-prince enrolled in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the British military officer training school.
Upon graduating in 1980, he took a junior leadership role in the British Army’s 13/18th Royal Hussars Regiment, before joining his nation’s Army. Before being crowned king, he would become a certified diver, parachutist and pilot, and eventually command Jordanian Special Forces.
As Abdullah moved through the ranks, his father began thinking about the possibility of changing the line of succession to one of his children. In 1992, he asked Abdullah to consider taking his place after he died, but Abdullah refused saying that he wanted to stay in the military.
Yet when his father made the decision to pass the crown to his son years later, Abdullah said that as a soldier he would follow orders and accept the new role.
Despite his military service, some Jordanians have criticized the king’s close ties with the United States and U.K., saying that he’s too pro-Western. Still, others contest that his education abroad has made him well equipped to serve as a representative to the outside world.
“He serves as a good balance between the Arabs and the world,” says Ghazi Rababha, a political science professor at the University of Jordan. “He also has a good knowledge of the Arab and Islamic culture at the same time.”
Entering his 10th year as king, Abdullah has started to forge his own style of leadership, but faces continued challenges as the situation in neighboring Israel-Palestine and Iraq continues to affect his nation. Queen Rania, among a host of efforts, has launched campaigns to dispel Arab stereotypes, reform education, improve the rights of women and stop child abuse.
“Jordan is in a delicate position,” Habib says. “There’s a new government in Israel … [and] things can explode at any time.”
Through it all, the king, who plays video games to unwind, has continued to remain even-tempered and approachable.
His official Web site lists frogman, pilot and a free-fall parachutist as qualifications, and car racing (he is a former Jordanian National Rally Racing Champion), water sports, scuba diving and collecting ancient weapons and armaments as interests.
He is also a fan of Star Trek and appeared on the series in 1995. Reportedly, the only reason they didn't give him a speaking role was because he wasn't a member of the screen actors' guild.
Back to Sons of the Desert