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King Abdullah of Jordan: a warrior and a biker but is he a statesman?
Jordan's "action man" King, a helicopter pilot, one-time extra on Star Trek and Harley Davidson lover faces the test that will make or break his monarchy
By Richard Spencer
05 February 2015 • 6:55pm
A rumour swept Twitter and other social media on Thursday morning: King Abdullah of Jordan was so incensed at the burning of one of his pilots that he was going to lead the next fighter jet attack on Isil in person.
Photographs soon followed, taken from the King’s own Facebook collection, of the monarch wearing a pilot’s kit.
The story was backed up with answers to questions he had given on Tuesday night before to US congressmen in Washington, in which he had been so angry he had apparently quoted the Clint Eastwood film “Unforgiven”.
The precise words weren’t recorded, except that it was the part where the hero says: "Any man I see out there, I'm gonna kill him. Any son of a bitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only going to kill him, I'm going to kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down."
Yesterday, the Royal Court was swift to deny that the King was going to put his life and, possibly, the stability of his country at risk. “Not true,” said Manar Dabbas, political director.
The story was, however, a perfect addition to the image the king has cultivated as the Middle East’s “action man” king.
It is not all fictitious. The then Prince Abdullah, who is British on his mother’s side and speaks fluent American English from his days at boarding school in the United States, trained as an army officer at Sandhurst and even served in the British army.
He is a qualified helicopter pilot, and ran Jordan’s special forces before being anointed successor by his father, King Hussein, a few days before the latter's death in 1999.
He may not have expected the role, in which his father survived amidst the turmoil of the Middle East thanks to considerable intelligence and guile. His cousin by contrast, who was king of neighbouring Iraq, ended up being overthrown in a coup and machine-gunned to death, along with several other members of the family.
King Abdullah offers his condolences to Safi al-Kasaesbeh, the father of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh (REUTERS)
Until succeeding to the throne, Prince Abdullah had been happy to concentrate on less cerebral matters, including his love of adventure movies - a trait once happily referred to by his wife, Queen Rania, who complained that he didn’t like the softer "chick flick" fare that she enjoyed.
He likes Star Trek so much that in 1996 he asked for - and was given - a part as an extra. When Jordan gave filming permits to the makers of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, he allowed the air force to help ferry equipment to the site.
According to reports from surprised local newspapers, he also goes on private motorbiking tours on a Harley Davidson - venues have included California, America’s north-west coast and South Africa. He is said - by his wife, among others - to be a genial family man whose preferred relaxation is a quiet restaurant meal with his family.
Jordanian policewomen stand guard behind a picture of Jordanian King Abdullah during a rally in loyalty to the King and against the Islamic State (REUTERS)
His younger brother is head of the Jordan Football Association, and currently challenging Sepp Blatter to take over as head of FIFA.
Diplomats sometimes hint he has less aptitude for the labrynthine debates and manoeuvrings required for balancing Jordan’s complex society, which is made up of Bedouin tribes, an urban middle class strongly influenced by islamism, a majority Palestinian population and a new influx of Syrians and Iraqis.
That is a task that also requires patience.
Political necessity may have required that his immediate response to the killing of Lt Moaz al-Kasaesbeh by Isil be tough and angry. His allies, who rely on him to keep his country stable as all around him collapses, will be hoping that he shows the unflappability as well as the machismo of his on-screen heroes.
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