King Finds Fault With Everyone Concerned
CAIRO — King Abdullah II of Jordan leads one
of the smallest, poorest and most vulnerable Arab nations. But that does not stop him from looking down on many of those around him, including the leaders of Egypt, Turkey and Syria, as well as members of his own royal family, his secret police, his traditional tribal political base, his Islamist opponents and even United States diplomats.
President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt has “no depth,” King Abdullah said in an interview with the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, to be published this week in The Atlantic magazine. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is an authoritarian who views democracy as a “bus ride,” as in, “Once I get to my stop, I am getting off,” the king said.
And he said President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is so provincial that at a social dinner he once asked the monarchs of Jordan and Morocco to explain jet lag. “He never heard of jet lag,” King Abdullah said, according to an advance copy of the article.
The king’s conversations with Mr. Goldberg, an influential writer on the Middle East and an acquaintance of more than a decade, offer a rare view of the contradictory mind-set of Washington’s closest ally in the Arab world as he struggles to master the upheaval of the Arab Spring revolts. Seldom has an Arab autocrat spoken so candidly in public.
King Abdullah appears humbled and even fatigued by the many challenges he failed to foresee when he inherited the throne 14 years ago, describing himself before coronation as a “Forrest Gump” in the background of his father’s long reign. In contrast to his father, King Hussein, King Abdullah promises to move Jordan closer to a British-style constitutional monarchy, and thus to stay ahead of the Arab Spring wave
But he insists that only he can lead the transition to democracy, in part to ensure that democracy will not deliver power to his Islamist opponents.
The era of Arab monarchies is passing, King Abdullah said. “Where are monarchies in 50 years?” he asked. But even his own family, with 11 siblings and half-siblings, does not yet understand the lessons of the Arab Spring for dynasties like theirs, he said, adding that the public will no longer tolerate egregious displays of excess or corruption.
“Members of my family don’t get it,” he said. “Look at some of my brothers. They believe that they’re princes, but my cousins are more princes than my brothers, and their in-laws are like — oh my God!” he continued.