Palace Intrigue Leaves Jordan Uncertain

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AMMAN, Jordan: Palace intrigue worthy of Shakespeare has rendered the Mideast's most stable country something of a wild card. Jordan's King Hussein on Monday removed his brother Hassan as his successor to the throne; named his 37-year-old son Abdullah as crown prince; and then immediately flew back to the U.S. for further cancer treatment. "Jordan suddenly has an acting head of state who wasn't even in contention for the crown a week ago, and this creates a measure of uncertainty," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "Not that there's any reason to suspect any dramatic changes in policy, but Abdullah's is an unknown and untested hand on the reins."

Hassan ran the kingdom during King Hussein's six-month cancer treatment in the U.S., but on his return last week the king was plainly unhappy with his brother's performance. "The letter explaining Hassan's ouster as crown prince was more abrasive than it needed to be," says MacLeod. "It refers to palace infighting and meddling in the army during his absence, and serious differences of opinion over who would succeed Hassan to the throne." Hussein always wanted to leave the throne to his own progeny, and when Hassan cast doubt on that prospect, the king wielded the ax. It is a monarchy, after all.