Author:Darwish, Adel

When 63-year-old King Hussein of Jordan appeared at the White House to place his personal seal on the Palestinian-Israeli agreement, he won the longest round of applause of all the participants. It was a moment of pathos and pride for Jordanians everywhere.

His presence there acknowledged his prestige as a peacemaker and influential world statesman; his appearance, made spectral by chemotherapy, drove home to many how severely cancer has stricken him.

King Hussein's openness about his ailment, unprecedented among Arab rulers, has touched a cord with most of his four million subjects. But it has also intensified efforts to settle the sensitive issue of the succession and to quell family rivalries that threaten to divide his court. A Royal Council is to be established to resolve a palace intrigue Byzantine in its complexity.

In 1965 the King, who then had no son, named his younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan bin Talal, 42nd-generation descendant of Prophet Mohammed, as his heir. However, a line of the King's own sons, the youngest of whom, Hamze, is 18, the same age as the King when he first took the throne, are now pushing their case.

Queen Noor, the monarch's wife, and Queen Muna, his British-born former wife, are said by royal sources to be manoeuvring to secure favour for their sons. The son of the late Queen Alia is favoured in other circles as he is the only son of pure Arab extraction. Now the King has decided it is time for the speculation to stop.

A source close to the ailing monarch said the Royal Council's appointment would be at the top of the King's agenda when he returns from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he has been undergoing a chemotherapy course for lymphatic cancer since falling ill in June.

The King wants his nation to continue its modernisation and liberalisation, not by following the example of traditional, autocratic rulers by hiding truth from the nation but by sharing with them the possibilities of a worst case scenario and preparing them -- after 45 years as their king -- for a transition.

Such positive messages have inspired those around him -- from his 51-year-old brother, Crown Prince Hassan, to the loyalists who make up the government -- to concentrate their efforts on promoting the idea that transition, when it does come, will be as seamless as the King intended.

In an interview with the New York Times, Prince Hassan repeatedly said that he had spent 33 years as his brother's closest confidant, understudy...

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