Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967; it was under Hashemite custodianship since 1924, during the reign of Abdullah's great-great-grandfather Sharif Hussein bin Ali. The legacy began when the Supreme Muslim Council, the highest body in charge of Muslim community affairs in Mandatory Palestine, accepted the sharif as custodian of the site. He restored Al-Aqsa and other mosques in Palestine. The sharif's son, King Abdullah I, is said to have personally taken charge of efforts to extinguish a fire which engulfed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1949. Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock were restored four times by the Hashemites during the 20th century, and the custodianship became a Hashemite legacy given by Jordanian kings. In 2013 an agreement was signed between the Palestinian Authority and Abdullah, replacing the decades-old Verbal agreement which was reinforced by the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel in 2014 following tensions at Al-Aqsa Mosque between Israelis and Palestinians concerned about Jordan's role in safeguarding Muslim and Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman in late 2014, and the Jordanian ambassador returned when Israeli authorities eased restrictions and revoked a decision that prevented men of all ages from praying at Al-Aqsa—for the first time in months.
As Hussein's eldest son, Abdullah became heir apparent to the Jordanian throne under the 1952 constitution. Due to political instability, King Hussein appointed Abdullah's uncle Prince Hassan as his heir apparent in 1965; he returned the appointment to Abdullah shortly before his death in 1999. Abdullah has four brothers and six sisters—Princess Alia, Prince Faisal, Princess Aisha, Princess Zein, Princess Haya, Prince Ali, Prince Hamza, Prince Hashem, Princess Iman, Princess Raiyah—seven of whom are paternal half-siblings.
Abdullah was born on 30 January 1962 in Amman, to King Hussein, and Hussein's British-born second wife, Princess Muna Al-Hussein. He is the namesake of his great-grandfather, Abdullah I, who founded modern Jordan. Abdullah says that he is the 41st direct descendant of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah, whose husband was Ali, the fourth caliph. The Hashemites ruled Mecca for over 700 years—until the House of Saud conquered Mecca in 1925—and have ruled Jordan since 1921. The Hashemites are the oldest ruling dynasty in the Muslim world.
He was born in Amman as the first child of King Hussein and his second wife, British-born Princess Muna. Shortly after his birth, Abdullah was named the crown Prince. King Hussein transferred the title to his brother, Prince Hassan, in 1965 and unexpectedly returned it to Abdullah in early 1999 a few weeks before his death. Abdullah began his schooling in Amman, continuing his education abroad. He assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces in 1994, and became a major general in 1998. In 1993 Abdullah married Rania Al-Yassin (of Palestinian descent), and they have four children: Crown Prince Hussein, Princess Iman, Princess Salma and Prince Hashem.
He began his schooling in 1966 at the Islamic Educational College in Amman, and continued at St Edmund's School in England. Abdullah attended high school at Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in the United States.
He began his military career at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1980, while he was a training officer in the Jordanian Armed Forces. After Sandhurst, Abdullah was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British Army and served a year in Britain and West Germany as a troop commander in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars.
Abdullah was admitted to Pembroke College, Oxford, in 1982, where he completed a one-year special-studies course in Middle Eastern affairs. He joined the Royal Jordanian Army on his return home, serving as first lieutenant and then as platoon commander and assistant commander of a company in the 40th Armored Brigade. Abdullah took a free-fall parachuting course in Jordan, and in 1985 he took the Armored Officer's Advanced Course at Fort Knox. He became commander of a tank company in the 91st Armored Brigade, with the rank of captain. Abdullah also served with the Royal Jordanian Air Force's anti-tank helicopter wing, where he was trained to fly Cobra attack helicopters.
The Prince then attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1987, undertaking advanced study and research in international affairs. He returned home to serve as assistant commander of the 17th Royal Tank Battalion in 1989, later being promoted to major. Abdullah attended a staff course at the British Staff College in 1990, and served the following year in the Office of the Inspector General of the Jordanian Armed Forces as the Armored Corps representative. He commanded a battalion in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 1992 and was promoted to colonel the following year, commanding the 40th Brigade.
Abdullah joined his father on a number of missions, including meetings abroad with Soviet and American Leaders. He was occasionally King Hussein's regent during the 1990s but this duty was mainly performed by Hussein's younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan. Abdullah led his father's delegation to Moscow for talks in 1987 at the age of 25. He frequently visited The Pentagon in Washington, where he lobbied for increased military assistance to Jordan. The Prince joined his father on trips to visit Hafez Al-Assad in Damascus and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad (before the 1990 Gulf War). Abdullah commanded military exercises during Israeli military officials' visits to Jordan in 1997, and was sent to hand-deliver a message to Muammar Gaddafi in 1998.
Abdullah is married to Rania Al-Yassin, who is of Palestinian descent. Rania, a marketing employee at Apple Inc. in Amman, met Abdullah at a dinner organized by his sister Princess Aisha in January 1993. They were engaged two months later, and were married in June 1993. He and Rania have four children:
In 1994 Abdullah assumed command of Jordan's Special Forces and other elite units as brigadier general, restructuring them into the Joint Special Operations Command two years later. He became a major general, attended a course in defence resources management at the American Naval Postgraduate School and commanded an elite special-forces manhunt in the pursuit of outlaws in 1998. The operation reportedly ended successfully, with his name chanted on the streets of Amman.
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, is married to Abdullah's half-sister Princess Haya. Abdullah has listed skydiving, motorcycling, water Sports, and collecting ancient weapons as his interests and hobbies, and is a fan of the science-fiction series Star Trek. In 1996 he appeared briefly in the Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Investigations", in a non-speaking role.
Abdullah cracked down on the Hamas presence in Jordan in November 1999 after pleas from the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The crackdown occurred during peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The king exiled four Hamas officials to Qatar and barred the group from political activity, closing their offices in Amman. The peace talks collapsed into a violent Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada, in September 2000. As a result, Jordan faced dwindling tourism; tourism is an economic cornerstone of Jordan, a country with few natural resources. Abdullah reportedly spearheaded efforts to defuse the political violence.
Abdullah negotiated a free-trade agreement with the United States, the third free-trade agreement for the US and its first with an Arab country. Under the agreement, Jordanian exports to the United States increased from $63 million in 2000 to over $1.4 billion in 2015. Jordan's foreign debt-to-GDP ratio fell from more than 210 percent in 1990 to 83 percent by the end of 2005, a decrease called an "extraordinary achievement" by the International Monetary Fund. Abdullah's efforts have made Jordan the freest Arab economy and the ninth-freest economy in the world, according to a 2014 study by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty.
The September 11 attacks in 2001 on American targets were fiercely condemned by Abdullah. Jordan responded quickly to American requests for assistance, enacting counterterrorism legislation and maintaining a high level of vigilance. The country's mukhabarat foiled similar plots the following year against Western targets, including the American and British embassies in Lebanon.
With the George W. Bush administration planning an attack on Iraq, accusing Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction, Abdullah opposed American intervention. "A strike on Iraq will be disastrous for Iraq and the region as a whole and will threaten the security and stability of the Middle East", he warned during American vice President Dick Cheney's 2002 visit to the Middle East. In March 2003, during a meeting with George W. Bush at the White House, Abdullah tried to dissuade the President from invading Iraq. During the 1990 Gulf War, King Hussein's wariness of war was seen as siding with Saddam Hussein, which alienated Jordan from its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf region and the Western world; his stance precipitated an economic crisis triggered by the suspension of foreign aid and investment to Jordan. Failing to persuade Bush, Abdullah broke with his father and domestic opposition. He allowed American Patriot batteries to be stationed in the Jordanian desert along its border with Iraq, but did not allow coalition troops to launch an invasion from Jordan. Jordan had received subsidized oil from Saddam Hussein's Iraq at a savings of about $500 million per year, equal to American aid to Jordan at the time.
Jordan was dependent on subsidized Iraqi oil for its Energy. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq halted the petroleum supply and drove Jordan to begin importing gas from Egypt in 2009. Insurgency in Sinai began when the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, where the Arab Gas Pipeline runs. Since 2011 the pipeline has been attacked over 30 times by ISIL's Sinai affiliates, and the pipeline was effectively closed in 2014. Jordan incurred $6 billion in losses. The Great Recession and regional turmoil triggered by the Arab Spring during the 2010s hobbled the Jordanian economy, making it increasingly reliant on foreign aid. The shocks hit Jordan's tourism sector (a cornerstone of the country's economy) hardest, and tourist arrivals have fallen by over 66 percent since 2011. However, in 2017, tourism started to pick up again. Growth of the Jordanian economy slowed to an annual average rate of 2.8 percent between 2010 and 2016—down from an average of 8% in previous years—insufficient to accommodate the exponential growth of the population.
On 28 November 2004 Abdullah removed the title of crown Prince from his half-brother, Prince Hamzah, whom he had appointed on 7 February 1999 in accordance with their father's advice. In a letter to Hamzah read on Jordanian state television, Abdullah said: "Your holding this symbolic position has restrained your freedom and hindered our entrusting you with certain responsibilities that you are fully qualified to undertake." Although no successor to the title was named at that time, the king was expected to appoint his son and heir apparent, Prince Hussein, crown Prince. Hussein received the title on 2 July 2009.
Abdullah was criticized during his early years for focusing on economic, rather than political, reform. A committee was formed in February 2005 to formulate a blueprint for political reform in the country for the next decade. This National Agenda, finalized about nine months later, was never implemented. It included incorporating proportional representation into general elections, improving the judicial branch and respect for human rights, and tackling issues related to employment, welfare, education and infrastructure. The Agenda was reportedly never implemented due to conservative opposition. After the Arab Spring, a new election law in 2012 was enacted and used in the 2013 elections. It incorporated elements of proportional representation, and 27 of the 150 House of Representatives members could be elected accordingly. A number of political reforms were undertaken to curtail some of the king's powers, including amending about one-third of the constitution, establishing a constitutional court and the Independent Election Commission and improvements to laws governing human rights and freedom of speech and assembly.
His interest in the film industry influenced his decision to create the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts in the Red Sea coastal town of Aqaba on 20 September 2006, in partnership with the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. When the producers of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen decided to film in Jordan, Abdullah called on military helicopters to help transport equipment into Petra. In 2016, the king honored the cast of Theeb, the first Jordanian film nominated for an Oscar.
In 2007, Abdullah said that Jordan planned to develop nuclear power for peaceful internal Energy purposes; the country is one of the few non-petroleum-producing nations in the region. Vandalism of the Egyptian pipeline supplying Jordan strained the country's electrical company, whose debt increased substantially; this prompted Abdullah to urge the government to formulate a 10-year plan (2015–2025) to diversify the kingdom's Energy sources. Jordan intends to benefit from its large uranium reserves with two 1,000 MW nuclear plants scheduled for completion in 2025, and Abdullah inaugurated the construction of Jordan's first nuclear facility in 2016. The Jordan Research and Training Reactor, in the Jordan University of Science and Technology near Ar Ramtha, aims to train Jordanian students in the school's nuclear-engineering program. The two commercial nuclear reactors, located near Qasr Amra, will be built with Rosatom Technology. In a 2010 interview, Abdullah accused Israel of trying to disrupt Jordan's nuclear program.
Abdullah, a constitutional monarch, liberalized the economy when he assumed the throne, and his reforms led to an economic boom which continued until 2008. During the following years Jordan's economy experienced hardship as it dealt with the effects of the Great Recession and spillover from the Arab Spring, including a cut in its petroleum supply and the collapse of trade with neighboring countries. In 2011, large-scale protests demanding reform erupted in the Arab world. Many of the protests led to civil wars in other countries, but Abdullah responded quickly to domestic unrest by replacing the government and introducing reforms to the constitution and laws governing public freedoms and elections. Proportional representation was reintroduced to the Jordanian parliament in the 2016 general election, a move which he said would eventually lead to establishing parliamentary governments. The reforms took place amid unprecedented challenges stemming from regional instability: an influx of 1.4 million Syrian refugees into the natural resources-lacking country and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Abdullah also enjoys stand-up comedy. When Gabriel Iglesias, Russell Peters and a number of other stand-up comedians visited Jordan for a 2009 comedy festival, the king invited them over for dinner. In 2013, a video of Abdullah helping push a car stuck in snow in Amman during the 2013 Middle East cold snap went viral. In 2017, another amateur video that went viral showed Abdullah wearing pyjamas helping in extinguishing a fire in a wood near the royal palace.
Abdullah published his autobiography, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril, in 2010. He documents the first decade of his rule in a manner similar to his father's 1962 book, Uneasy Lies the Head. Abdullah's book contains insights into his childhood and behind-the-scenes accounts of encounters with political figures.
The March 2011 outbreak of the Syrian Civil War forced masses of refugees across Jordan's border with Syria—about 3,000 refugees per day in the war's early stages. When asked about the Syrian conflict In an interview with the BBC in November 2011, Abdullah said that he would resign if he was in Bashar Al-Assad's shoes. "Whenever you exert violence on your own people, it’s never going to end well and so as far as I’m concerned, yes, there will be an expiration date, but again it is almost impossible for anybody to predict whether that is six weeks, six months or six years."
Jordan's total foreign debt in 2012 was $22 billion, 72 percent of its GDP. In 2016 the debt reached $35.1 billion, 95 percent of the country's GDP. The increase was attributed to regional challenges, which decreased tourist activity and foreign investment and increased military spending; attacks on the Egyptian pipeline; the collapse of trade with Iraq and Syria; the expense of hosting Syrian refugees, and accumulated loan interest. According to the World Bank, Syrian refugees cost Jordan more than $2.5 billion a year (six percent of its GDP and 25 percent of the government's annual revenue). Foreign aid covers only a portion of these costs, 63 percent of which are borne by Jordan. An austerity program was adopted by the government which aims to reduce Jordan's debt-to-GDP ratio to 77 percent by 2021.
Another 2013 article in The Atlantic advised him to address governmental corruption, saying that there "is a growing perception that the degeneracy reaches the palace". According to the article, Abdullah was accused of "illegally appropriating 'tribal' lands" shortly after his accession and members of 36 Jordanian tribes issued a statement denouncing Queen Rania's "publicized and extravagant" 40th birthday party in 2013.
Abdullah led The 500 Most Influential Muslims' 2016 list, published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, and is third on its 2018 list. Queen Rania was 35th on the 2016 list.
On 15 August 2017, local elections were held for municipal councils, local councils, and governorate councils, which were added by a new decentralization law. The law intends to cede some central-government power to elected councils, increasing citizen participation in municipal decision-making. In a 15 August 2016 interview, Abdullah described the new decentralization law as "a very important link in the chain of reforms".
Leaders of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sent out a letter of support to Abdullah on 1 March 2018 after Israel shelved a proposed bill that aimed to propose new tax measures to churches in the West Bank. "Your defence of religious freedom and Your leadership, in ensuring that the Status Quo is respected and maintained, has been crucial in our ongoing attempts to guard and protect the Christian presence especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem", the letter read.