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Jordanian king's controversial interview sparks uproar

By Ivan Watson and Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Wed March 20, 2013
King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania arrive at the Royal Palace on March 12, 2013 in Amman, Jordan.
King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania arrive at the Royal Palace on March 12, 2013 in Amman, Jordan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • King Abdullah is quoted calling the opposition Muslim Brotherhood a "Masonic cult"
  • He also reportedly refers to tribal elders as "old dinosaurs"
  • The article quickly triggered a flurry of accusations and denials inside Jordan
  • U.S. president is due to visit Jordan during his trip to the Middle East

Amman, Jordan (CNN) -- Controversial remarks made by the Jordanian ruling monarch to an American magazine triggered a domestic media uproar and denials from the royal palace, just days before the U.S. president was scheduled to visit Jordan.

In an article published this week in The Atlantic, Jordan's King Abdullah was quoted calling the opposition Muslim Brotherhood a "Masonic cult."

He also referred to tribal elders as "old dinosaurs" and spoke at length about how he could not trust his own intelligence agency.

The profile quickly triggered a flurry of accusations and denials inside Jordan. It was debated on national television news Tuesday night, and denials from the royal court dominated the front pages of Jordanian newspapers.

2012: Jordanians protest fuel prices
2012: Jordanians demand reform

"The article ... contained many fallacies, as statements were taken out of context," an informed royal court source said in a statement quoted by the state-run Petra news agency.

"The content of the article was analysis that reflected the writer's point of view and information attributed to his majesty inaccurately and in a dishonest manner," the statement said.

"The timing of it was really bad," said journalist and analyst Randa Habib, who is also the author of the book "Hussein and Abdullah: Inside the Jordanian Royal Family."

"The group that he called dinosaurs are the tribal elders who are the backbone of the monarchy," she added. "People felt they were insulted."

U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Israel on Wednesday -- his first trip to the country as president and part of his sweep across the Middle East, which will include visits to the West Bank and Jordan.

READ: Obama's Israel trip is about legacy

Unlike Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Syria, the Jordanian monarchy has so far survived the wave of popular discontent widely referred to as the Arab Spring.

But the government has faced significant challenges over the past two years. Jordan, a country long plagued by resource shortages, poverty and high unemployment, is going through a period of economic difficulty.

In an effort to tame its ballooning international debt, the government began stripping fuel subsidies last fall. The move triggered nationwide protests in November.

READ: Opposition source: Syrian rebels get U.S.-organized training in Jordan

Jordanians have also watched with increasing worry as the civil war in neighboring Syria has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border.

More than 450,000 officially registered Syrian refugees are now competing with Jordanians for scarce jobs, real estate and even water.

READ: Prince Charles visits Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

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