Hussein I of Jordan

From New World Encyclopedia

King Hussein I of Jordan, 1997

Hussein bin Talal (Arabic: حسين بن طلال Husayn bin Talāl) (November 14, 1935 – February 7, 1999) was born in Amman to Prince Talal bin Abdullah and Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil, of the royal Hashemite family. At the time of his passing, he was the longest serving executive head of state in the world.

Upon the assassination of his grandfather, King Abdullah, and the medically-necessary abdication of his father King Talal, Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952. His formal accession to the throne took place nine months later, on May 2, 1953. He assumed his constitutional powers after reaching the age of 18, according to the Islamic calendar. During his reign, he gained wide acclaim for moving Jordan and its Arab neighbors toward peace with Israel.

The late King Hussein, a forty-second generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and the father of modern Jordan, is known as a leader who guided his country through years of turmoil, transforming it into a nation of peace and moderation in the Middle East. Known to the Jordanian people as Al-Malik Al-Insan ("The Humane King"), King Hussein was a man of compassion who established a legacy that serves as a model for the Middle East.

Personal life

Hussein's life and philosophy were so intricately tied to his lineage and his nation that he cannot be studied without considering both his immediate family and his extended family of Hashemites.

Immediate Family

Hussein was born in Amman, Jordan on November 14, 1935, to Prince Talal bin Abdullah and Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil. Hussein had two brothers, Prince Muhammad and Crown Prince El Hassan, and one sister, Princess Basma.

After completing his elementary education in Amman, Hussein attended Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt, and Harrow School in England. He later received his military education at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England.

Early in young Hussein’s life, on July 20, 1951, his grandfather, King Abdullah, was assassinated at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The 15-year-old Hussein was with his grandfather as they entered the mosque for Friday prayers. The assassin was a Palestinian extremist who feared the king might negotiate a peace treaty with the newly-created State of Israel. It was reported that a medal given to the young Prince Hussein by his grandfather, and worn at his insistence, saved the boy, who pursued the fleeing gunman.

Hashemite Family

The Hashemite royal family is closely interlinked into the life of Jordan, having established the modern state in 1921. It is not possible to understand the structure and complexity of Jordan’s modern history without some knowledge of the royal family.

Rulers of the holy city of Mecca for over seven hundred years (ending in 1925), Hussein's family claims a line of descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad and Ismail, son of the biblical prophet Abraham. "We are the family of the prophet and we are the oldest tribe in the Arab world," the king once said of his Hashemite ancestry. [1]

It was King Hussein's great-grandfather, Al-Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and King of the Arabs, who led the liberation of Arab lands from their domination by the Ottoman Turks during the Great Arab Revolt of 1916. After freeing the lands of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Hijaz, Sharif Hussein’s son Abdullah assumed the throne of Transjordan and his second son Faisal assumed the throne of Syria and later Iraq. The Emirate of Transjordan was founded on April 11, 1921, later to become the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan when independence was formally granted from Britain in 1946.[2]

Hussein bin Talal was born in Amman, the capital city of the newly formed Transjordan. He was the grandson of Transjordan's emir, Abdullah bin Al-Hussein. His parents were Abdullah's son Talal and Talal's wife, Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil.

Hussein was ten years old when Transjordan gained its independence from Great Britain and became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with his grandfather Abdullah as its first king.

Marriages and children

King Hussein married four times, though he was never married to more than one wife at a time, which his Muslim beliefs would have allowed, had he desired.

King Hussein's first wife was seven years his senior, Dina bint Abedelhamid, a distant cousin. She was a graduate of the University of Cambridge and a former lecturer in English literature at Cairo University. After one year of marriage and the birth of a daughter, Princess Alia in 1956, King Hussein and Queen Dina were divorced.

In 1961 Hussein married his second wife, a British army officer's daughter, Antoinette "Toni" Gardner. She was renamed Princess Muna, but because she did not convert to Islam she was not named queen. They had two sons, Prince Abdullah and Prince Feisal, followed by two daughters, Princess Zein and Princess Aisha. The couple divorced in 1972. Their eldest son ascended to the throne upon his father's death and is currently known as King Abdullah II of Jordan.

In 1972 King Hussein married his third wife, Alia Toukan. They had a daughter, Princess Haya (who is married to Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai), and a son, Prince Ali, as well as an adopted daughter, Abeer Muhaisin. In 1977, tragedy struck when Queen Alia was killed in a helicopter crash in Amman. Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan is named after her.

The following year, King Hussein married his fourth and last wife, American-born Lisa Halaby, who left behind her Western lifestyle and converted to Islam. The king named her Queen Noor al-Hussein, "the light of Hussein." They had two sons, Prince Hamzah and Prince Hashim, and two daughters, Princess Iman and Princess Raiyah. Their fairy-tale romance endured for more than two decades, until the king's death in 1999.

Public Life

Ascension to the throne

On July 20, 1951, King Abdullah I traveled to Jerusalem to perform his Friday prayers with his young grandson, Prince Hussein. He was assassinated by a gunman at the instigation of Colonel Abdullah Tell, ex-military governor of Jerusalem, and Dr. Musa Abdullah Husseini, on the steps of one of the holiest shrines of Islam, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The assailant shot at Hussein, but the young prince is said to have been saved by a bullet fortuitously striking a medal that his grandfather had recently awarded him and insisted he wear.

On September 6, 1951, King Abdullah’s eldest son, King Talal assumed the throne. He held this position until the Jordanian parliament forced his abdication a year later, when he was determined to be mentally incapacitated. He was then quickly replaced by his eldest son, Hussein, who was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952. A Regency Council was appointed until King Hussein’s formal accession to the throne on May 2, 1953, at which time he assumed full constitutional powers upon reaching the age of 18, according to the Islamic calendar.

Hussein later wrote in his memoirs; "At seventeen, I knew the end of a dream. I would never be a schoolboy again."[3]


Throughout his long and eventful reign, Hussein worked hard at building his country and raising the standard of living. He had inherited a land with few natural resources and a population that included a huge number of Palestinians who had been displaced with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. His focus was concentrated on the building of an economic and industrial infrastructure that would support the advances he desired to attain in the quality of life of his people.

The Six-Day War

Many historians believe Hussein's greatest mistake during his reign was caused by his bowing under pressure to his country's swiftly growing Palestinian population. This occurred with Jordan's joining of forces with Egypt during the Six-Day War fought between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. Hussein's military advisers had warned against Jordan joining this coalition. By war's end, Israel had gained control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem, Islam's third-holiest city. The cost to Jordan was tremendous: the West Bank was Jordan's top agricultural region, and the war cost the king his entire air force and fifteen thousand troops. The consequences of that war affect the geopolitics of the region to this day.

In November 1967, Hussein helped draft U.N. Resolution 242, which calls for "the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East" to be achieved by "the application of both the following principles:" "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and: "Termination of all claims or states of belligerency" and respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries (in other words, the idea of "land for peace" in the Arab-Israeli conflict).

Black September

Hussein (right) with U.S. president Jimmy Carter in 1977

Following Israel's overwhelming victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, a number of Arab groups were looking for alternatives to conventional inter-state warfare to recover territory and advance other goals. In particular, displaced Palestinian Arabs constituted a large internal population of Jordan and were supported by many Arab regimes. Israel was repeatedly hit with cross-border attacks by Palestinian fedayeen guerrillas.

On September 1 1970, several attempts to assassinate the king failed. On September 6, in the series of Dawson's Field hijackings, three planes were hijacked by PFLP: a SwissAir and a TWA that were landed in Zarqa and a Pan Am that was landed in Cairo. Then on September 9, a BOAC flight from Bahrain was also hijacked to Zarqa. After all hostages were removed, the planes were demonstratively blown up in front of television cameras. Directly confronting and angering the King, the rebels declared the Irbid area a "liberated region."

On September 16, King Hussein responded by declaring martial law. The following day, Jordanian tanks attacked the headquarters of Palestinian organizations in Amman; the army also attacked camps in Irbid, Salt, Sweileh and Zarqa.

September 1970 came to be known as Black September and is sometimes referred to as the "era of regrettable events." It was a month when the 34-year-old monarch successfully quashed attempts to overthrow his monarchy. The violence resulted in the killing of 7,000 to 8,000 from both sides. Armed conflict lasted until July 1971 with the expulsion of the PLO and thousands of Palestinians to Lebanon.

As a result, though Hussein remained popular in his home country, the Arab world largely isolated him throughout the remainder of the decade. In 1974 Arab leaders declared the PLO "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," taking away Hussein's role as spokesman for the West Bank's Palestinians.

The 1978 Camp David Accords between U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin excluded Jordan's Hussein. The following year, Hussein denounced the accords in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. This position helped re-establish the friendship he and his country needed with other Arab leaders.

Hussein was never successful in reconciling with PLO leader Yassir Arafat, and finally renounced Jordan's claim to administrative and legal control of the West Bank in 1988.

Madrid Peace Conference

In 1991 Hussein played a pivotal role in convening the Madrid Peace Conference, providing an "umbrella" for Palestinians to negotiate their future as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Peace with Israel

While working towards Arab-Israeli peace, Hussein also worked to resolve disputes between individual Arab states.

Hussein was forced into a position of balance between his Middle Eastern neighbors and the Western powers. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said: "He's between Israel on one side, Iraq and Syria on the other. He knows that the Palestinians have tried to overthrow him on a number of occasions, so he has to navigate with extraordinary delicacy." [4]

Jordan defied the West by refusing to side against Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War—allegedly done for internal political reasons after the Ma'an uprising in 1988 that threatened the throne of the King—which therefore alienated Hussein from most of the Arab world.

In July 1994, Hussein signed an agreement with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, ending hostilities between the two countries. Less than two years later he traveled to Jerusalem to bury his new friend, shot down by a right wing activist who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords. Hussein offered powerful words in the funeral of Rabin:

My sister, Mrs. Leah Rabin, my friends, I had never thought that the moment would come like this when I would grieve the loss of a brother, a colleague and a friend - a man, a soldier who met us on the opposite side of a divide whom we respected as he respected us. A man I came to know because I realized, as he did, that we have to cross over the divide, establish a dialogue, get to know each other and strive to leave for those who follow us a legacy that is worthy of them. And so we did. And so we became brethren and friends.

The 1994 treaty between Jordan and Israel was a major step toward achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Vision of Progress

King Hussein began changing the face of Jordan's government. Long an opponent of communism, in 1993 he authorized multi-party elections and allowed political opposition and religious conservatism for the first time in years.

Following his first bout with cancer at the age of 57, Hussein took active steps to establish institutions - pluralism, democracy, and most importantly, respect for human life - that would allow his nation to survive beyond the eventual passing of the only monarch most of the Jordanian population had ever known.

The numbers speak for Hussein’s achievements. While in 1950, water, sanitation and electricity were available to only 10 percent of Jordanians, today these reach 99 percent of the population. In 1960 only 33 percent of Jordanians were literate; by 1996, this number had climbed to 85.5 percent.[5]


Despite the king's tremendous responsibilities, he found time to remain active, enjoying such things as motorcycle riding, tennis, skiing, and flying airplanes.

A heavy smoker, this habit is believed to have caused a number of the health problems he endured throughout the 1990s. He suffered from kidney cancer in 1992 and underwent two operations in 1997 to treat prostate and lymph gland problems. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1998, he spent six months in the United States, undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He returned to Jordan on January 19, 1999, piloting his own plane, and was welcomed with jubilation by those who took this as a sign he had been cured. He died of complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma the following month, on February 7, 1999, at the age of 63 years.

The king was the target of as many as twelve assassination attempts during his reign. Army officers attempted to overthrow him in 1957 due to what they considered his overly sympathetic relationship with the West. In 1958 Syrian jets intercepted his plane and attempted to force it down. He called this incident "the narrowest escape from death I have ever had." Palace officials working for Syria attempted to poison him in 1960. Hussein survived these, and more attempts, allowing him to take his place in history, becoming a respected voice for peace in the Middle East.

The day after the king's death, his body left his home, which he had named the Door of Peace Palace after the peace he forged with Israel. All five of his sons were in close attendance. An honor guard composed of Bedouin troops accompanied the casket on a 90-minute procession through the streets of Amman. An estimated 800,000 Jordanians braved icy winds to bid farewell to their leader. Hussein's widow, Queen Noor, in deference to Muslim tradition, did not participate in the formal funeral devotions, but instead observed from a doorway, supported by other royal women.

Attending the king's funeral were more than 40 kings, presidents, prime ministers, and other world leaders, and an even larger group of former leaders and other dignitaries. This was the largest gathering of royal and political leaders since the funeral of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. As Hussein had worked for throughout his reign, leaders of radical Arab states stood side by side with officials from western democracies.

Reflecting the king's longtime relationship with the United States, President Bill Clinton and three former Presidents Bush, Carter, and Ford were in attendance. The funeral also brought bitter enemies together from the Middle Eastern countries of Syria, Palestine, and Libya. The Czech and Russian presidents were also in attendance.

Two weeks before Hussein's death he had changed his will and the Jordanian Constitution in order to appoint as his successor his eldest son, the 37-year-old Abdullah. Accompanying him as he received the visiting dignitaries was his father's brother, Hassan, who had been the heir apparent since 1965.

His Legacy

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is recognized internationally as having the best human rights record in the Middle East. Due to Hussein's commitment to democracy, civil liberties and human rights, it is considered a model state for the region. Hussein appointed a royal commission in 1990 which represented the entire spectrum of the nation's political thought, in order to draft a national charter. This National Charter, along with the Jordanian Constitution, serves as a guideline for democratic institutionalization and political pluralism in the country. The nation's 1989, 1993 and 1997 parliamentary elections were determined to be among the freest and fairest ever held in the Middle East.

Hussein bin Talal will forever be remembered as more than a king, but a philosopher and peacemaker. Taking reign when barely more than a youth, he grew with his country, and helped secure peace in a region dominated by war.

Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had this to say of Hussein:

It's one thing to be committed to peace as a strategic option. It's another thing to infuse that peace with the humanity, with the warmth, with the notion of cooperation and normally sayings that the king did. That was unique. No one else in the Arab world has done that.[6]


The life of Hussein has been the subject of numerous books. The King himself was the author of three books:

  • Uneasy Lies the Head (1962), about his childhood and early years as king
  • My War With Israel (1969)
  • Mon Métier de Roi


  1. Cable News Network. February 7, 1999. Jordan's peacemaker king walked a narrow line in the Mideast Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  2. The Hashemites. Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  3. Cable News Network. February 7, 1999. Jordan's peacemaker king walked a narrow line in the Mideast Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  4. Cable News Network. February 7, 1999. Jordan's peacemaker king walked a narrow line in the Mideast Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  5. King Hussein I. Biography Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  6. PBS Online. February 5, 1991. King Hussein


External links

All links retrieved January 20, 2018.


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