King Abdullah of Jordan is spending extravagant sums of money to rule his country from abroad while using intimidation to bully his opponents into silence, according to an interview published Sunday with a former Jordanian politician.
King Abdullah “seems to rule the country by remote control, as he is always away from the country,” the former politician, Laith Shubeilat, told Middle East Eye, adding that the King spends about JD 2 million (NIS 11m.) a day to do so.
“A private plane for him, a private plane for her [Queen Rania]. Maybe planes for the kids, [too],” said Shubeilat.
A member of parliament in the 1980s and early 1990s, Shubeilat has been one of Jordan’s most prominent voices calling for reform since the time of King Hussein. He was famously sentenced to three years prison in 1992 after leading an investigative committee in parliament that was planning to indict Jordan’s then-prime minister.
Shubeilat told Middle East Eye that in 2001, he publicly accused King Abdullah of illegally confiscating thousands of dunams of land for his own enrichment. He was punished for saying so, Shubeilat said.
“The palace sent their thugs around and smashed up my car. The following morning the head of the Amman police told me, ‘Next time it is your neck.’” Shubeilat said he had obtained a document substantiating his claim about the king misappropriating land.
This is not the only time the royal family in Jordan has been accused of corruption: an open letter published in 2011 by three dozen Jordanian tribal leaders alleged that King Abdullah had illegally acquired farms “belonging to the Jordanian people” in order to give them to the family of his wife, Queen Rania, who are of Palestinian descent.
The letter from Beduin leaders in Jordan in 2011 also accused Queen Rania of stealing from the treasury to promote her own public image, and compared her to the wife of former Tunisian president Zine Al Abedini Ben Ali, who was notorious for going on lavish shopping sprees in Dubai and who reportedly fled Tunisia during the Arab Spring with 1.5 tons of gold bars taken from Tunisia’s treasury.
Shubeilat, 73, was born in Amman to a prominent political family; his father was an ambassador. Shubeilat studied engineering in the US and later became an Islamist politician, getting elected twice to Jordan’s House of Representatives – first in 1984 and again in 1989 – where he made a name for himself as a campaigner for constitutional reform.
In 1992, he was sentenced to death for “plotting a coup d’etat,” but won a reprieve from King Hussein just 48 hours later. King Hussein personally picked him up from prison at the Swaqa Correction and Rehabilitation Center, 50 miles south of Amman, and drove him home.
In 1994 he fought King Hussein over the issue of peace with Israel but ultimately failed as Hussein went on to sign a peace treaty with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that year.
Although Shubeilat has been a bugbear to two successive regimes in Jordan over the years, he says that without the king, Jordan would succumb to civil war.
“The stability of the country needs the throne,” he told The Jerusalem Post
In his interview, Shubeilat also spoke about the civil war in Syria, saying that he’d met with Prime Minister Bashar Assad in March 2011, less than two weeks before popular uprisings there turned violent, leading to full-blown war. At the time, Assad said he was confident that Syria’s stability was assured because it had a strong, “anti-Israel” foreign policy, Shubeilat said.
“I said to him: ‘Look Doctor. The tempo of your reforms is too slow. The pace of events is much quicker. Something is going to happen in Syria,’” Shubeilat said in the interview.
Assad responded, “No, no, no. We are nationalist and we have a very good foreign policy, anti-Israel.”
The protests in southern Syria that are widely credited with having started the war occurred just 12 days later. To date, the war has claimed nearly half a million lives, according to a report from the Syrian Center For Policy Research.