Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Profile: Jordan’s Prince Zeid bin Raad al-Hussein

Jordan-Prince Zeid bin Raad al-Hussein
Prince Zeid bin Raad al-Hussein. Photo AP

Prince Zeid bin Raad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan was born on 26 January 1964 to Prince Raad bin Zeid, Jordan’s lord chamberlain, and his Swedish-born wife, Margaretha Inga Elisabeth Lind, subsequently known as Majda Raad. He is descended from the House of Hashim, which briefly ruled Syria, Hejaz (now part of Saudi Arabia) and Iraq following the First World War. His grandfather, Zeid bin Hussein, was appointed head of the Iraqi monarchy following the assassination of his great-nephew, King Faisal II, in a military coup in 1958 and the declaration of a republic.

Although Zeid bin Hussein subsequently moved to Jordan, his son and grandson retained the title of crown prince of the Kingdom of Iraq. Prince Zeid married Sarah Butler on 5 July 2000. Butler, known as Princess Sarah Zeid after her marriage, was born in Houston, Texas on 1 August 1972. The couple has three children together.

Early Life and Career

Zeid was educated in England, where his parents lived, and then at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, from which he graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1987. He earned a PhD from Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1993.

He spent two years as a political affairs officer for UNPROFOR, the United Nations (UN) force in the former Yugoslavia, before starting his diplomatic career.

From 1996 to 2000, he served as Jordan’s deputy permanent representative to the UN. He was subsequently appointed as permanent representative to the UN, a post he held until 2007.

In 2006, he was one of seven nominees to succeed Kofi Annan as the next UN secretary-general, but he lost out to Ban Ki-moon. From 2007 to 2010, he was Jordan’s ambassador to the United States. In 2010, he returned to the UN as Jordan’s permanent representative, a post he held until July 2014.

In January 2014, he served as president of the UN Security Council and chaired the Security Council committees 1533 and 1521, overseeing sanctions measures against the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.

On 6 June 2014, Ban Ki-moon proposed that Zeid replace South Africa‘s Navi Pillay as the UN‘s high commissioner for human rights. Following an extensive selection and screening process, his nomination was approved by the 193-state UN General Assembly on 16 June 2014, making him the first Muslim to lead the UN Human Rights Office.

Controversial Appointment

The same month, Jacob Mchangama, co-founder and director of the Freedom Rights Project, wrote an article for Foreign Policy magazine titled ‘The Scandal of Ambassador Zeid‘. In the article, he argued that Zeid was the wrong man for the job. Although the UN General Assembly had unanimously approved him, and his nomination had met with a largely positive reaction from major human rights organizations, Mchangama wrote, ‘…there are grounds for concern about how Ambassador Zeid will treat what is arguably the most consequential human right: the right to freedom of expression.’

For instance, between 1999 and 2010, member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation successfully tabled resolutions on ‘combating defamation of religion’ as part of their campaign to implement a global blasphemy ban under human rights law. During both of Zeid’s terms as Jordan’s ambassador to the UN, Jordan voted in favour of these resolutions when they were introduced at the General Assembly. Although the resolutions passed, their call for ‘the enactment or strengthening of domestic frameworks and legislation to prevent the vilification of religions’ was seen by many Westerners as tools to curb freedom of expression, and raised questions about how aggressively Zeid would defend the right to free speech in the face of domestic pressure.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Nevertheless, since his appointment, Zeid has adopted a more critical stance to his native country. For instance, after Amman reinstated the death penalty and executed 11 men in 2014, Zeid condemned Jordan for ending the eight-year moratorium, noting the “tragic frequencies” of executed detainees later proven innocent.

When Jordan welcomed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, Zeid said Jordan was “failing the ICC and weakening the global struggle against impunity and for justice”.

Moreover, Zeid has been extremely critical of Jordan’s strategic allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, prompting Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to reject the prince’s ‘claims’ regarding the two countries’ human rights record in their war with Yemen.

He has been outspoken about the wave of fascism and religious radicalism around the world. He accused US President Donald Trump of breaking taboos by suggesting bringing back torture, and warned world powers against undermining civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. He criticized Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s support for extrajudicial killings, and British Prime Minister Theresa May’s threat to change human right laws if they got in the way of the war on terror.

Similarly, he has denounced the Islamic State group (ISIS), saying it is trying to create a “house of blood” and calling on the international community to combat the spread of the group in Iraq and Syria.

In a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on 5 February 2015, he said that lessons from the Holocaust provide a key to understanding ISIS. “If we have learned anything from our collective history, it is this: scrambling only for ourselves, our people, our political or religious ideology, or for our own kind will only scramble it all – eventually, sometimes horrifyingly so – for everyone.”

More recently, he blasted an Israeli bill that would legalize around 4,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank, saying it was a clear violation of international law. “I strongly urge lawmakers to reconsider their support for this bill, which if enacted, would have far-reaching consequences and would seriously damage the reputation of Israel around the world,” he told the Guardian.

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