The Middle Eastern country of Jordan is set to host its biggest royal wedding in years on Thursday as the country’s young Crown Prince Hussein exchanges vows with Rajwa Alseif, daughter of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest and most influential families.
With a VIP list that includes First Lady Jill Biden, White House climate envoy John Kerry and members of several European and Asian royal families, the wedding is sure to provide plenty of fodder for tabloids and gossip columns.
But the ceremony will reverberate across the region in other ways as well. It is a test of sorts for Jordan’s ruling family, which has gone through a rough patch in recent years due to economic troubles and some public infighting. It deepens the ties between two countries in a turbulent region. And perhaps most importantly, it will give the world its first glimpse of the man tapped to one day rule this desert kingdom.
Longtime AP journalist Josef Federman has been covering the Middle East for two decades, and in 2019 began overseeing all coverage of Jordan. He says it's a strong U.S. ally — and seen as a pro-Western bulwark and source of stability in a volatile region.
Here, Federman breaks down what this wedding means for the country, for the region — and, of course, for the new royal couple.
The royal wedding is a big deal for Jordan's royal family. It’s a chance for the monarchy to show its best face to its own public and also to the outside world after a rough couple of years.
Jordan has lots of challenges, lots of problems. It is home to a huge population of refugees who fled war in neighboring Syria and neighboring Iraq, and of course a large Palestinian population as well. Relations with Israel have been strained for the past few years.
Its economy is in poor shape. It’s a country with few natural resources. It’s even been been dealing with some palace intrigue. For the past two years, the former crown prince Hamzah has been under house arrest after the king accused him of insubordination. Hamzah was a popular figure with the Jordanian public — especially in poorer tribal areas. It is rare for the royal family to air its dirty laundry like that, and the king's crackdown on his half brother certainly raised some eyebrows.
So now, at least for a day, this is a time for the monarchy to celebrate and try to repair its tarnished image. But that may not be so easy.
We will see lots of pomp and circumstance. Hussein's parents, King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, have global star appeal. We will see visiting VIPs, European royalty, Asian royalty from Japan. John Kerry and Jill Biden will be representing the U.S.
The royal family wants to have a happy day. They want to celebrate. But an extravagant wedding could also alienate the masses of people who are unemployed or living in deep poverty. They will have to tread carefully.
FOR THE REGION
This wedding is creating a union of people from the highest levels of important countries. That always packs a punch.
Jordan is seen as a strategic ally for the West. It may be poor, but its location gives it great importance. It's in the heart of the Middle East. It borders a number of problematic countries: Syria, with a civil war; Iraq, which is recovering from war; and Israel and the West Bank, which are in a constant state of friction. So Jordan is an important source of stability for the region.
Saudi Arabia is important for other reasons. It is an immensely wealthy country. It's a leading oil producer and a rising power globally. Traditionally it's been a key U.S. ally, though that has begun to change. You see it making up with Iran. You see it forging ties with China, resisting U.S. requests to pump more oil.
So these two countries now are coming together at the highest levels. Jordan depends heavily on international aid. But it has seen aid from wealthy Gulf oil states like Saudi Arabia decrease in recent years. This wedding is likely raising some hopes in Jordan of restoring that flow of aid.
Now, we don’t know when the crown prince is going to assume the throne. But whenever that happens he will inherit a country with huge challenges, especially for the younger generation, people his own age who have few opportunities.
Hussein will need all the help he can get. He needs allies. He needs foreign investment. So the closer he can be with Saudi Arabia, the better that will be for Jordan's ruling monarchy in the short run and also down the road whenever he might take power.
FOR THE COUPLE
With this wedding, we are going to see the emergence of a new Middle Eastern power couple. Obviously you have the crown prince on one hand. On the other hand, you have his wife who comes from a family with close ties to the royal family in Saudi Arabia, the daughter of a very wealthy businessman.
Both of them are Western-educated. They went to college at prestigious universities in the United States. They speak fluent English. They clearly feel comfortable hobnobbing with other royals, with business leaders, and politicians. They can look forward to a life of great privilege. But like other royal families elsewhere, they will also be living under a microscope.
Perhaps the bigger challenge is for the crown prince. In many ways, he has been groomed for this moment since he was a child. His father has taken him on world travels in recent years. He went with the king to the White House. He delivered a high profile speech to the United Nations a couple of years ago. But this is really his coming out party as a future leader of a Middle Eastern kingdom.
The wedding is a first small test. People are going to look at his appearance to see how he carries himself.
But the bigger test will be in the coming months, in the coming years, as he truly emerges as a public figure. He’s going to be well-known now on the global stage.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be how he is viewed at home. The nation is struggling in so many ways and people are going to be watching him very closely. It’s going to be interesting to see how he carries himself in front of the people that he is set to one day rule.
Follow Josef Federman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joseffederman