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King Abdullah Dishes on His Neighbors



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Jeffrey Goldberg has an interesting and depressing interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on various aspects of Middle Eastern politics in The Atlantic this week:

On Bashar Assad:

When I asked King Abdullah whether he could unravel the enigma of Bashar al€‘Assad for me, he replied with an anecdote about the conference in Cairo. At the time, Assad was already controversial; the Syrian parliament had, upon Hafez al‑Assad’s death, voted to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 34—Bashar’s age at the time. Even by the standards of Levantine power grabs, this was considered to be a gauche act. In Syria, murmurs of discontent about the Assad family’s despotic inclinations had become audible. Abdullah says he took it upon himself to try to coach the new Syrian president in the ways of international statecraft. Even before the Arab League Summit, Abdullah says, he had devised a program to help Assad elevate his reputation. “I went to visit him and I said, ‘There’s the opening of the United Nations in September, please come—I can set up lunches and dinners,” the king recounted. “The World Economic Forum was doing something, and I said, ‘You’ll be the belle of the ball: everyone wants to meet you, you’re the new guy, you can have some interviews.”

“And he was like, ‘There’s no need—I have Syrian businessmen who can go on my behalf and get the contracts and investments.’ And I was like, ‘No, when you show up at the UN, everybody will come because you’re the flavor of the month.’ But he said he wouldn’t go.”

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So, I asked, Bashar was a bit of a provincial? The king smiled, and told me about a conversation he had at the Arab Summit. “There was a dinner with me and him and the king of Morocco, at the king’s residence in Cairo. And so Bashar at dinner turns to us and says, ‘Can you guys explain to me what jet lag is?’”

On the Muslim Brotherhood:  

The Brotherhood is run by “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and wants to impose its retrograde vision of society and its anti-Western politics on the Muslim Middle East. This, he said, is “our major fight”—to prevent the Muslim Brothers from conniving their way into power across the region.

On Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan:

“Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride,” Abdullah reports. “ ‘Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’”



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