JNS: The Saudi-Jordanian marriage
On June 1, 2023, Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein—son of King Abdullah bin Hussein—married Rajwa al-Seif, a Saudi royal whose maternal grandmother is a first cousin of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. The king and al-Seif are part of the Saudi Sudeiri tribe, which is one of the most important in the Saudi royal establishment.
This marriage is of great importance. The Hashemites (a clan of the Quraysh tribe), who rule Jordan, ruled the holy city of Mecca in today’s Saudi Arabia for approximately 1,000 years. They were overthrown and expelled by the Saudis a century ago.
Despite their defeat, the Hashemites were and remain one of the most respected tribes of Arabia because they trace their ancestry back to Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad. The Hashemites follow what we in the West might call a “moderate” form of Sunni Islam.
The Saudis, on the other hand, come from Arabia’s “Wild East.” They are the founders of Wahhabi Islam, one of Sunni Islam’s most radical variants. They are, one might say, “upstarts,” lacking any “royal” Muslim ancestors related to Muhammad or his companions.
After the Hashemites’ defeat, they fled north to what is now Jordan and Iraq, but their prestige remained intact. As a result, the Saudis deeply resented the Hashemites.
Ever since, the Saudis have kept a watchful eye on the Hashemites. They long suspected that the Hashemites would do their utmost to regain what the Hashemites see as their rightful status as rulers of Mecca. In Muslim culture, bygones are rarely bygones. Muslims are prepared to wait for generations if necessary to avenge their defeats or perceived slights to their honor.
Nevertheless, there are ways to mollify such disputes. One of the most important is for senior members of tribes, clans and family units to sit down and work out a truce. In order to cement this truce, they then marry their sons and daughters to members of their opponents’ clan.
The marriage of Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa al-Seif is a case in point and a particularly significant one. That such an important branch of the Saudi royal establishment was prepared to let one of its own daughters marry into the Jordanian Hashemite ruling family indicates that, after 100 years of enmity, the Saudi royal family feels secure enough to bury the hatchet and build a familial alliance with their rivals. It also shows that the Hashemites are willing to put aside their unspoken but ever-present claims to Mecca, at least for the time being.
All of this has major ramifications for the political future of the Middle East. That the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, was prepared to allow and enable the marriage appears to be part of his program to build a more solid and stable Middle East.
The Saudis and Jordanians share the same enemies: Radical Sunni Islam, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the likes of Al-Qaeda, and radical Shiite Islam led by the Iranian regime. Thus, an alliance between the Saudis and the Jordanians makes geopolitical and ideological sense.
The rapprochement between the two countries and their ruling tribes also has ramifications for Israel, which shares these same enemies. Although it is rarely made public, the Saudis and the Hashemites view the Palestinian Authority, Hamas (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (backed by Iran) as mortal enemies. These three groups are also threats to Israel.
Despite public meetings with Palestinian leaders, the Jordanians and the Saudis see these leaders as potential threats to their regimes. Thus, they need Israel to keep these Palestinian groups under control, no matter what the Saudis and Jordanians say to the media.
The Jordanians and the Saudis see Iran the same way. They, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, don’t trust the Americans to protect them against Iran, which is why they have had no choice but to reestablish their relationships with the Islamic republic. A line from The Godfather Part II sums this up: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
Clearly, the marriage between the Jordanian and Saudi royal establishments is another important sign that most Middle Eastern countries are continuing to find ways to deepen their alliances. Thus, they can work together to confront their common enemies, which are, whether we choose to see it or not, the enemies of the U.S. as well.