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What the crown prince of Jordan's marriage to a Saudi architect means for politics

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That singing you hear - it's about unity between Jordan and Saudi Arabia today. The occasion is a royal wedding in Amman. Jordan's crown prince, the heir to the throne, is marrying a woman from Saudi Arabia. Here's Crown Prince Hussein taking his vows.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AHMED AL KHALAILEH: (Non-English language spoken).

PRINCE HUSSEIN: (Non-English language spoken).

AL KHALAILEH: (Non-English language spoken).

HUSSEIN: (Non-English language spoken).

AL KHALAILEH: (Non-English language spoken).

HUSSEIN: (Non-English language spoken).

AL KHALAILEH: (Non-English language spoken).

HUSSEIN: (Non-English language spoken).

AL KHALAILEH: (Non-English language spoken).

HUSSEIN: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Performing zaghrouta).

CHANG: But this is more than the story of a young couple. It also carries political overtones that are creating a buzz across the region. NPR's Aya Batrawy joins us now from Dubai. Hi, Aya.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I want to go back to the bride and groom for a moment. What can you tell us about this couple?

BATRAWY: So the groom is Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, Jordan's future king. The 28-year-old is named after his grandfather, King Hussein, who ruled Jordan for almost 50 years and cemented it as a U.S. ally in the region. And Prince Hussein - he's been in the spotlight since he was born, and now he's being groomed to succeed his 61-year-old father, King Abdullah II. So since graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and attending the U.K.'s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, the young crown prince has been at his father's side in meetings at the White House.

And as for the bride, Rajwa Alseif, she's fluent in Arabic, English and French, and she studied architecture in New York and design in LA. But what really stands out about her is her Saudi heritage. Her father is a wealthy businessman who runs one of the biggest construction companies in the Middle East out of Saudi Arabia. And crucially, her mother hails from the al-Sudairi family, and that directly links to the maternal lineage of Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the crown prince. And I think that's why, yeah, this marriage has gotten so much attention - not just because it's the wedding of a future king, presumably but because it's really being seen as a union between Jordan's royal family and Saudi Arabia's.

CHANG: So can you tell us about who attended this wedding and what their attendance tells us about the wider regional implications of this marriage?

BATRAWY: So yeah. I mean, you had first Lady Jill Biden at the wedding, underscoring, again, the close ties between the U.S. and Jordan. There were monarchs from across Asia and Europe, like Prince William and his wife, too, all there supporting one another. But this is not the first time a Jordanian marries a Saudi - a royal Jordanian marries a Saudi. And the royal family of Jordan actually has links to Saudi Arabia that stretch centuries. Jordan's Royal Hashemite family draws its lineage to Mecca and to the Prophet Muhammad, and that gives the king of Jordan added gravitas as custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound - one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem. But just a couple of years ago, an indictment in a court in Jordan accused a senior Jordanian prince of seeking Saudi backing in a plot to overthrow Jordan's king. Now, Saudi Arabia, of course, says it supports Jordan's monarch and stability there. But that episode made public simmering tensions between the two countries.

CHANG: Well, ultimately, Aya, what does this wedding mean for Jordanians and for the country as a whole?

BATRAWY: Well, it's a chance for the royal family to shore up their image and popularity. Thousands of people lined the streets today to see the young couple in a motorcade procession. It's a moment of pride, you know, the country coming together. But look. Jordan is a small country. It's wrangling with high unemployment. It hosts millions of Palestinian, Syrian refugees. The family - the royal family - has come under scrutiny for their spending and wealth overseas. But I think it's fair to say a lot is riding on the success of Crown Prince Hussein and his wife, now Princess Rajwa, as they step into their new lives as a married couple with an eye on one day becoming king and queen.

CHANG: No pressure. That is NPR's Aya Batrawy on the royal wedding in Jordan today. Thank you so much, Aya.

BATRAWY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARISA ANDERSON'S "CLOUD CORNER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.