The homecoming of Jordan’s King Hussein was marked in Amman’s mass circulation daily Al Ra’i Friday by an editorial asking that God might show him mercy “equal to the size of our prayers and love for our beloved king,” but the Jordanian press was unable to report on the possible repercussions of his likely death because of government-imposed censorship. The Times of London’s Middle East correspondent, Christopher Walker, reported Friday from Jordan that “public jitters could turn to panic despite efforts by palace officials to convey the impression of a smooth transfer of power to the new Crown Prince,” Hussein’s 37-year-old son and heir, Prince Abdullah.
Walker said anxiety had been increased by “a clumsy purge of the local media” that had involved the imposition Thursday of a 15 day detention order on the editor of the Arab nationalist weekly Al-Majd after it had published the first full account of the deposition of Hassan, the king’s younger brother, as crown prince. Al-Majd had revealed that Prince Hassan, 51, had laid down his revolver before the king and asked to be shot if Hussein thought he was a traitor. As part of the same purge, two senior editors of the popular Amman daily Al-Arab al-Yawm were fired by their board president, also for publishing unofficial accounts of the succession crisis, Walker wrote. The new English language Arab Daily said Thursday that the government’s clampdown on “bad news” has “opened the door to rumors, inflicting a higher toll on the people than the truth would achieve.”
The king’s health crisis led the front pages of many European papers, with La Repubblica of Rome and Corriere della Sera of Milan both carrying front-page editorials about him. La Repubblica’s editorial, titled “The Little Great King,” recalled that Hussein had come to the throne in 1953, when “Stalin was still alive, Churchill still in Downing Street, and Eisenhower still to conclude his first term as president of the United States.” The paper doubted that Crown Prince Abdullah has the experience to face the current dangers in the Middle East and concluded that “if the void left by the death of Hussein isn’t filled, the whole of the region–not only Jordan–will be regretting the loss of ‘the little king.’ ” Corriere della Sera said his death will “further complicate a Middle Eastern crisis fed by Arafat’s difficulties and the paralysis caused by Israel’s turbulent election campaign.” It said, “Everyone will miss King Hussein. Soon we will know how much.”
Across the River Jordan in Israel, Ha’aretz Thursday pronounced the Wye agreement “buried,” adding that far from achieving its purpose of extricating the peace process from an 18 month impasse, it had instead thrown up new barriers to progress. For this it put most of the blame on Benjamin Netanyahu. “More than five years after the signing of the Oslo accord, Netanyahu has turned Israeli-Palestinian relations and the entire peace process back into a zero-sum game,” it said. “He cannot prove his claim that the Wye accord is better than the Oslo accord because he is not implementing it, nor can he attribute the current quiet to an unimplemented agreement. It is not yet too late to carry out the agreement, but there is no reason to expect that the prime minister will respect even his own signature.”
Across the Arab world, papers continued their outcry against America’s policy toward Iraq. In Cairo, the English language Egyptian Gazette said Thursday that “virtually everybody agrees that Saddam Hussein’s despicable and shuddering deeds qualify him for the title of the world’s most notorious despot.” But, like practically every other Arab paper, it condemned U.S. plans to replace him. It predicted that if Saddam were removed, he would be replaced by a “puppet regime,” which would “spark bitter rivalries” and lead to a carve-up of the country. “This chaos is bound to spill over beyond the border into neighboring states,” it concluded.
The Bahrain daily Akhbar al-Khaleej rejoiced at the failure of Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk to obtain endorsement for America’s plans from the five Gulf states he visited earlier in the week. Their refusal to support the toppling of the Iraqi regime would oblige Washington either to reconsider or to press ahead unilaterally in defiance of its allies and international law, the paper said.
In Australia, where Sydney is to host the next Olympic Games, the row about corruption in the International Olympic Committee continued to dominate the newspapers. In an editorial Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald said the rot was systematic and that, as IOC president, “Juan Antonio Samaranch must carry the ultimate responsibility for the crisis that is engulfing the Olympic movement.” It said, “He is not an answer to the problem. He represents the problem. … This means that Mr Samaranch must resign now to allow a reformist leader to restore the shattered ideals of the IOC.”
In India, the Hindu led its front page Friday with a report that the United States had started to ease the sanctions it imposed after India’s nuclear tests last year. It saw significance in America having given the go-ahead for a World Bank loan for a power project in Andhra Pradesh and its invitation of the Indian Chief of the Army Staff General V.P. Malik to attend a military ceremony in Hawaii later this month. Both the Times of India and the Pakistani paper Dawn reported a thaw in relations between their two countries.
In Albania, the newspaper Klan reported that the country had become a paradise for drug traffickers because of the war in Bosnia. The war made it impossible for them to use their traditional routes through Yugoslavia, so they had turned to Albania, it said. “With its porous borders, inefficient government and extreme poverty, it was the perfect alternative,” Klan added. “Within ten years the country has changed from being an isolated backwater into the chief departure terminal for Europe’s drug trade.”