Love or politics? Jordan’s Crown Prince ties the knot with Saudi bride

Jordan's crown prince married the daughter of a Saudi businessman in a royal wedding viewed by some as a diplomatic move and by others as a genuine love story

Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif greet Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan during a reception on the day of the royal wedding of Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif, in Amman, Jordan, June 1, 2023.  (photo credit: Royal Hashemite Court (RHC)/Handout via REUTERS)
Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif greet Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan during a reception on the day of the royal wedding of Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif, in Amman, Jordan, June 1, 2023.
(photo credit: Royal Hashemite Court (RHC)/Handout via REUTERS)

Jordan’s capital Amman was alive with celebrations for the wedding of Crown Prince Hussein to Saudi Arabian architect Rajwa Al Saif, which was held on Thursday.

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The wedding was the first of a future Jordanian regent since 1993, when then-Crown Prince Abdullah married Rania Al-Yassin. That makes this week’s wedding the first of such significance that many of the younger generation have seen, although the crown prince’s sister, Princess Iman, wed Venezuelan-born financier Jameel Alexander Thermiotis in March.

The 28-year-old crown prince and next in line to the Jordanian throne married his bride, the 29-year-old daughter of a prominent Saudi Arabian businessman, at Zahran Palace in a lavish ceremony.

Royal guests are expected came from all over the world, including Belgium, Denmark, Japan Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Spain.

With friendly relations and historical connections between the UK and Jordan, and the crown prince’s grandmother Princess Muna al-Hussein herself being British, William and Kate, Prince and Princess of Wales attended the wedding.

Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif travel in a motorcade on the day of their royal wedding, in Amman, Jordan, June 1, 2023. (credit: Royal Hashemite Court (RHC)/Handout via REUTERS)
Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif travel in a motorcade on the day of their royal wedding, in Amman, Jordan, June 1, 2023. (credit: Royal Hashemite Court (RHC)/Handout via REUTERS)

The United States was represented at the wedding by first lady Jill Biden, who, with her husband President Joe Biden, is known to enjoy a friendship with the betrothed crown prince’s parents King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.

The youth believe in the romantic love story

While the older generation can be more cynical and see the marriage as a political move, much of Jordan’s youth believes it is based on love.

Popular Jordanian singer Zain Awad, who performed at the henna party after being invited by Queen Rania, told The Media Line: “I think the wedding is based more on chemistry and is a [real] love story because, as we know, Crown Prince Hussein is very down-to-earth, they are so close to [their] people. After we saw [how they communicate together], their eye contact, we [can see] that it is love for sure.”

The singer, who has over a million followers on Instagram, released a song on Monday in honor of the crown prince, titled “Akbal Alaina,” which roughly translates as “He came to us.”

Awad says the song’s lyrics describe “his looks, prestige and appearance” and being “from God. The song is about that and how people look up to him and consider him a role model.”

She says the song took six months to put together, a process she compares to a delicate operation: “It was a slow procedure, but I think this one will live. … People just love it.” A video of the track on her YouTube channel already has almost 40,000 views. The video shows clips of the crown prince in an array of activities, doing water sports, visiting children in a hospital, shooting guns, and dancing.

Jordanian social media influencer Alaa Bani Hassan, who has 456,000 followers on TikTok (a1.a7) and 262,000 on Instagram (alaa.kbh)—mainly comprising Jordanian 16- to 31-year-olds—also believes the marriage is based on love and not politics.

“The prince said that he loves her, so until now, there is no political marriage. There is a good relationship anyway between Jordan and Saudi Arabia so there is no need for a political relationship,” he told The Media Line.

He went on to say that the crown prince and his father, the king, are widely liked, respected, and trusted to rule because of their intelligence.

“[Crown Prince Hussein] is generally very well-liked in Jordan; he tries to connect a lot with his people. He is popular,” Bani Hassan says. “King Abdullah is one of the most intelligent people, he has a lot of awards, [people] trust him a lot, he is very smart.”

The Jordanian royal family is known throughout the Arab world for its Western orientation, with most royals being educated and working in the US.

Al Saif currently works as an architect in a Los Angeles firm and has a degree from Syracuse University’s College of Architecture in New York. The crown prince earned his degree, in international history, at Georgetown University in Washington and then attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Some have speculated that Hussein and Rajwa’s engagement photos were consciously modeled after those of William, the future British monarch, and Kate. Rajwa wore a similar dress, and styled her hair and makeup similarly, to Kate’s.

Bani Hassan said of their modern ways: “They are kings. So for me and most people in Jordan, [we] recognize that they have to be modern and we don’t have a problem with it as they are kings, so it is good for them.” He went on to acknowledge that the family’s Western appearance can be good for international relations.

The older generation is convinced the marriage is motivated by politics

While youth in the region tend to believe the marriage is one of true love, some of the older generation are more dubious.

Eyal Zisser, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line: “Weddings in the Middle East, especially tribal [ones]—it may also be love but it’s basically politics. … The Saudis—the way it [the kingdom] was formed is that the founder used to marry four women at the same time from four different tribes, then technically divorce and marry another four, so it aligned himself with dozens of tribes.”

Zisser continued: “So it’s politics. There is no big love between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, taking into consideration the history, but it’s realpolitik. They are two countries that are facing the same challenges—Iran, radical Islam, and so on and so forth—so why not?”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a source of tension

While the two countries get on, overall, one sore point is the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi Arabia is seen by Palestinians as more sympathetic to their cause than Jordan.

“The king himself is married to a Palestinian,” Zisser noted. “The Palestinians are less popular in Jordan, but Saudis are OK. [The marriage] establishes and strengthens relations between the two countries. It gives legitimacy to both the royal families.”

Despite Jordan refusing to support Saudi Arabia during the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017–2021, when several Arab countries severed ties with Doha, citing support for terrorism, Saudi Arabia is generally on friendly terms with Jordan.

Latest polls show that more than 88% of Jordanians have a favorable opinion of Saudi Arabia.

Marwan A. Kardoosh, a Jordanian development economist, told The Media Line that relations between Jordan and Gulf countries cooled down in the early 1990s, “when, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the late King Hussein tried to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis instead of joining the US and other international forces fighting the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

The king’s position led to a cessation of financial aid from the Gulf and the repatriation of countless Jordanian workers. This dealt a substantial blow to Jordan's economy, causing a considerable slump in GDP growth from 1992 to 1995 and a rapid surge in joblessness due to the large-scale departure.

“Fast forward to 2021 and the alleged thwarted coup in Jordan—which some had linked to external interests in the region, though not mentioning them outright—triggered another souring of relations with Riyadh,” Kardoosh said.

Once more, this adversely affected Jordan’s economy, which was just beginning to bounce back from the pandemic's conclusion. Beyond historical, religious, and familial ties, Saudi Arabia holds significance for Jordan in several areas, including financial aid, money sent home by overseas workers, foreign direct investment, oil, and more.

“The current Jordanian prince is going to be a king in a decade or two,” speculates Kardoosh, “and so the coming together of Jordanian royalty with Saudi blue blood could only bode well for Jordan and provide new impetus to bilateral relations with Riyadh.”