Most fascinating, perhaps, was Abdullah's opinions on the leaders of Turkey, Egypt and Syria, as well as his understanding of the evil of the Muslim Brotherhood that surpasses those of many Western analysts:
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.’Today, Abdullah wrote on his Facebook page that the interview was not accurate.
“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.”
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?’ ”
The king arched an eyebrow at me. “He never heard of jet lag.”
Of course, provincialism alone can’t explain Assad’s behavior. After all, he’s not really that provincial: he’s a physician who trained in London. “He’s a smart guy, he’s married to someone who lived in the West,” the king conceded. But then he contrasted Assad’s upbringing with his own. “The fathers are two very different people,” he said. “The way his father ruled Syria, and the way my father ruled this country, and the relationship between the people and the ruler, were just very different.”
Which is not to say that the Hashemites don’t harbor visceral dislike for the Brotherhood. Abdullah expounds on that dislike to many of the Western visitors he receives—in part because he believes his Western allies are naive about the Brotherhood’s intentions. “When you go to the State Department and talk about this, they’re like, ‘This is just the liberals talking, this is the monarch saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is deep-rooted and sinister.’ ” Some of his Western interlocutors, he told me, argue that “the only way you can have democracy is through the Muslim Brotherhood.” His job, he says, is to point out that 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.
Though most of the gulf monarchs remain his allies—because they, too, fear the Muslim Brotherhood—the king’s expansive, moderate understanding of Islam has served to isolate him from the Arab world’s rising rulers. Tunisia is now ruled by Islamists. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a longtime Jordanian ally, has been replaced by Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader. The king argues that a new, radical alliance is emerging—one that both complements and rivals the Iranian-led Shia crescent. “I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey,” he told me. “The Arab Spring highlighted a new crescent in the process of development.”
Abdullah is wary of Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, whose Justice and Development Party is, he believes, merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism. (“Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride,” Abdullah reports. “ ‘Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’ ”) He sees Erdogan as a more restrained and more savvy version of Mohamed Morsi, who set back Muslim Brotherhood’s cause in Egypt by making a premature play for absolute power. “Instead of the Turkish model, taking six or seven years—being an Erdogan—Morsi wanted to do it overnight,” the king said.
If the king is wary of Erdogan, he is decidedly unimpressed with Morsi, whom he recently met in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The two men were discussing the role of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. “There is no depth there,” Abdullah told me. “I was trying to explain to him how to deal with Hamas, how to get the peace process moving, and he was like, ‘The Israelis will not move.’ I said, ‘Listen, whether the Israelis move or don’t move, it’s how we get Fatah and Hamas”—the two rival Palestinian factions—“together.” When Morsi remained fixated on the Israelis (“He’s like, ‘The Israelis, the Israelis’ ”), Abdullah said, he tried to reiterate the importance of sorting out “the mess” on the Palestinian side.
“There’s no depth to the guy,” he repeated.
With regard to the section on Jordan's relations with the leaders of some friendly countries, the relations between these States is distinctive and respectful based on mutual trust, stressing keenness to develop them in all areas, through permanent coordination with their leaders and Presidents, who has his respect and appreciation.
In this context, [he would like to point out] the recent successful visit of his Majesty the King to Turkey, and the continued coordination and consultation between his Majesty and the Egyptian leadership on various regional issues.