2 JUNE 1961, Page 4

King Hussein Plays a Cool Hand



Now that The Wedding is over, it is plain to all that King Hussein has pulled it off again, and in the teeth this time of more powerful and concerted opposition than he used to face in the bad old days of 1957 and 1958. Then, he had to contend with the street mobs who could be mobilised at a moment's notice to riot against whatever unpopular foreign or internal policy the king was pursuing; this time he had massed against him the united forces of his own family, his Cabinet, the diplomatic corps in Amman, and the always hostile educated classes in the cities —and even his loyal Bedouin were startled and dismayed at the prospect of having to pay their respects in future, not simply to himself as king and descendant of the Prophet, but also to his consort, the twenty-year-old daughter of a British officer, who until a few weeks before the wedding had been the switchboard operator for a motion- picture company in Jordan.

It was a bit too much, was the feeling in Amman; while in Jerusalem, where the educated Palestinians in any case regard the monarchy as a slightly comic puppet show for the benefit of their backward cousins on the far side of the Jordan, it was dismissed as one more absurd foible on the part of a young man who should not be taken too seriously. Typical comments were, 'it might have been all right if she had been Norwegian, or even Italian—but a British girl . . .,' or 'Now Dina [the king's first wife, a distant cousin several years older than himself, whom he divorced after less than two years] had dignity and a good education, besides being an Arab herself.' And indeed the king's new choice seemed designed to antagonise every single sec- tion of the already divided Jordanian community. The Arab nationalists objected to the 'imperialist' background of the British officer's daughter; the Bedouin disliked the choice of a foreign girl from a Christian background; the Christians were annoyed that she should renounce Christianity, while the Moslems were sceptical about her con- version to Islam; the snobs sniffed at her humble origins, and the man in the street grumbled that if the king preferred to take a foreign wife he might at least have softened the blow to Arab womanhood by picking one of more distin- guished antecedents or accomplishments. And the British and American Embassies, of course, battened down the hatches and waited for the storm.

In the event it took King Hussein less than a month to scatter his opponents. He announced his engagement on May 1, and on May 25, against the strongest advice from his own closest advisers, he rode slowly through the streets of Amman in an open car with his bride sitting beside him (looking composed and charming in her wedding dress of raw silk), while the crowds cheered and the Bedouin soldiers sitting in armoured cars at the street corners fingered the triggers of their machine guns with what proved to be unnecessary anticipation.

How was it done? King Hussein played his cards as usual with assuP.:;...... and a commanding courage. His family, who had shown their dis- approval by dissociating themselves from all the Preliminary arrangements for the wedding, were Persuaded to go no further; the Queen Mother, who had pointedly left Jordan on hearing of the engagement, was back in her palace for the wed- ding, which indeed was solemnised under her roof. The Cabinet saw its threat of mass resigna- tion neatly trumped by the king's threat of abdication—which reminded them that there was nO one to take his place and that they themselves Would be left in an uncomfortably exposed posi- tion if he executed it. The more sophisticated Palestinians and the small educated class which shares their sympathies on the east bank of the Jordan were ignored, on the sensible calculation that nothing would temper their ingrained hos- tility and that they were not in a position to make trouble anyway. And to the unsophisticated • Bedouin, whose importance lies partly in the fact that they provide the bulk of the recruits for the army, King Hussein presented his case in the context of the accepted Bedouin tradition of equality and hospitality.

It worked like a charm, and if the atmosphere Oil the wedding day was not one of wild enthus- iasm, there were at least no open signs of opposi- tion, and the kirig's courage in insisting twice on driving through the streets of Amman (once after the military parade in the-morning in celebration of Jordan's independence day, and again with his bride in the late afternoon) brought at least a Cheerful clatter of applause from the onlookers. Mainly, this triumphant assertion by the king of his own will was due to his own personal quali- ties and to the position which he has built up for himself in Jordan. He stands between the country and chaos, and while this gives his supporters a Cogent reason to stand by him in moments of crisis, it also finds his enemies disunited and un- prepared for a struggle whose outcome they can- not safely predict.

But there was another factor which contributed to the peaceful outcome of the 'wedding crisis.' The Voice of the Arabs, Cairo's principal propa- ganda outlet, was silent; and whatever criticisms Cairo might have about the wedding it kept to Itself. If Cairo had chosen to restart the radio

. and I don't think your policemen as wonderful as all that.'

war which only recently died down between the two regimes, the outcome might have been different But now that the wedding is over, and King Hussein has once again shown himself master of his own destiny, there seems no reason why the acquisition of a foreign bride should weaken his hold on the throne. Perhaps the danger is even on the other side—that this further demonstration that he is more than a match for his opponents may blind the king to his con- tinuing limitations, and encourage him to chance his arm once too often.