Jordan gave the world an atypically intimate look inside the ritzy wedding of Crown Prince Hussein and his Saudi wife, whose nuptials this week provided a glamorous diversion for a country struggling through a long period of economic hardship and political tensions.
Wedding fever reverberated across the Arab world, a region that rarely gets a detailed peek into the pomp and fuss of its royals’ celebrations. Jordan’s capital Amman was awash with flags and filled with celebrants, who lined the streets waiting for a glimpse of the procession for Hussein, 28, and his new wife Rajwa, 29.
At the heart of the ceremony was a well-crafted message: This young, royal couple represents the bright future of Jordan, even amid a tough period of anemic economic growth, ballooning public debt, high unemployment and withering foreign investment.
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries, forcing the government to urge the public to limit consumption. Last year, a rise in fuel prices set off nationwide protests. Teachers protesting the shuttering of the Teacher’s Syndicate were arrested, much to the public’s ire.
The country has also suffered from the spillover of the crisis next door in Syria. The war pushed hundreds of thousands of refugees into the kingdom and shuttered for years an important trade corridor. Security concerns have grown in recent years as Jordan became a favored route for smuggling drugs, namely Captagon, an amphetamine. Jordan has tried to contain the problem, even going as far as striking Syria in May — the first such attack in nearly a decade.
Officials have acknowledged the increasingly biting economic reality, last year adopting an modernization vision under the supervision of the king, as well as the crown prince who, over the past few years, has publicly taken on more responsibilities.
But in the past two decades, Jordan has unfurled nearly a dozen expansive economic plans, casting doubt that the latest will be any different.
Hussein, the crown prince, has been at the helm of advocating the latest package of reforms. Speaking in April at a forum, the heir emphasized that the job of empowering Jordan’s youths falls on the public sector, and advocated for transformation and learning from past mistakes to “make a qualitative leap in our performance.”
Hussein’s ascension to the throne has been slowly building for some time, replete with rumors of royal infighting as well as a fumbled coup attempt led by his uncle, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who is King Abdullah II’s half brother.
Hamzah’s supporters are quick to contrast his image to that of his king brother, whose blue eyes, tightknit relationships with the West and weaker command of Arabic make him less fully Jordanian in the eyes of some of the public. In moments of popular discontent, social media is peppered with videos praising Hamzah and calling for him to take charge, amid accusations that the king is absent and uninterested in rule.
This oft-repeated concern of Jordanian authenticity was addressed in the celebrations, where Jordanian identity was placed front and center. A singer chanted “Jordanian, Saudi” as the couple walked into their banquet reception. Queen Rania shared a slickly edited video a week earlier of the traditional bridal henna ceremony that showed a mix of princesses as well as hundreds of women from all over Jordan — notably including women from more modest villages and deserts.
“There was a lot of attempt at creating authenticity, but very clearly through a lens that appeals on social media and Instagram,” said Bessma Momani, a Jordanian professor at University of Waterloo and international affairs analyst at The Arab Gulf States Institute.
“This was a nice change of the news story,” she continued. “This was a way to reaffirm the strength of the monarchy after an internal struggle for the monarchy. It’s a way to remind everybody that this is your future king.”
The new princess’ own Saudi lineage is significant. Only two years had passed since the coup attempt, during which speculation about a Saudi connection intensified after an unscheduled visit to Jordan by a high-ranking delegation from Saudi Arabia. A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official at the time told The Post that the Saudi officials had requested the release of one of the men arrested, Bassem Awadallah, who was reportedly close with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Relations had since cooled between the two kingdoms. Rajwa’s lineage, however, raised questions about whether this bodes well for Jordan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“This is a geopolitical wedding,” Momani noted.
Rajwa’s father, Khalid Al Seif, is a Saudi businessman whose construction company received investments from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund this year. Perhaps even more significant is her mother, Azza bint Nayef Abdulaziz Ahmed al-Sudairi, who is related to Hussa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi, the mother of current Saudi ruler King Salman.
The Sudairis are a powerful clan in Saudi Arabia, with Hussa rumored to be the favorite wife of the late King Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of the Saudi Arabian state. Her sons, dubbed the Sudairi Seven, were seen as a major power bloc in the Saudi royal family.
While the very public celebrations were an attempt to “play up hereditary rule,” they also raised questions among Jordanians about cost, especially during this extended period of economic pain.
“Jordanians are not generally about pomp and ceremony,” said Momani. “Maybe this is trying to speak to the masses, but the masses only think about bread and butter issues.” During this economic crisis, people are primarily concerned with what this cost the public purse, Momani continued.
“It appeals to cosmetic senses, but doesn’t put bread on Jordanians’ tables.”