King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan (1935-1999)

Having suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma since 1992, King Hussein of Jordan lost his fight against it in the morning of Sunday February 7, 1999, at the King Hussein Medical Centre in Amman. After having gone through therapies for months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA, hope faded away when symptoms came back not even two weeks ago, just after he had appointed his son Abdallah as his heir. Donations of blood and bone marrow by family members couldn’t help anymore. During his lifetime he had survived dozens of murder attempts. He was the longest reigning head of state in the Middle East.

King Hussein was born in Amman, Jordan, on November 11, 1935. He belonged to the Hashemite dynasty, originally from Mecca, which descends from Hashem, the great- grandfather of the prophet Mohammed. King Hussein’s own great-grandfather Hussein bin Ali (1853-1931) was great-sharif and emir of Mecca, but lost Mecca to the Saud- dynasty, which reigns Saudi-Arabia now. Hussein bin Ali was an Arab Prince from 1917 to 1924. His third son Faisal (1883-1933) became king of Iraq in 1921. The second son Abdallah bin Hussein (1882-1951) became emir of Trans-Jordan in 1921 and King of Jordan on March 22, 1946. King Abdallah was killed on July 20, 1951 in the El Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. He was accompanied by his grandson Hussein, who survived the attack because a bullet was turned down by the medal he wore on his chest. Abdallah’s son Talal bin Abdallah (1909-1972), also Hussein’s father, was deposed as a King by the Jordanian parliament because of mental weakness (schizophrenia).

On August 11, 1952, Hussein bin Talal became Jordan’s new King, only 16 years old. He had been educated in Great Britain at Harrow, and had almost finished his education on the military academy of Sandhurst. First three persons acted as his regents until King Hussein had become an adult according to the Arab calendar. This was the case on May 2, 1953. Hussein inherited a big, but poor and infertile country, which has been developed a lot during his reign. King Hussein went on with the politic of his grandfather. He fought for peace and unification in the Middle East. He also had to deal with the internal tensions between the Palestinians and the Bedouins, and foreign tensions. He made an attempt to become the leader of the Palestinians, but the Arab world chose Yasser Arafat. In 1967 Jordan, together with Syria and Egypt, attacked Israel. In this war Jordan lost the Westbank and East-Jerusalem with its holy Islamic places, which had been a part of Jordan since 1950. Many Palestinians left the Westbank for Jordan. In 1970 King Hussein kicked the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Yasser Arafat out of his country, which resulted in ‘Black September’.

King Hussein chose a pro-western policy, about which the Arab world wasn’t always too happy. Hussein always tried to be friends with all parties, but that didn’t always work out. As the country needed a good army to defend itself, military expenses were and are high. The country depended on financial support mainly from the USA. In the Gulf War of 1991 Hussein choose the side of Iraq. This was for all a political move, as it was the best for Jordan as it wanted to stay friends with the Arab world. He was soon forgiven and in the next few years he became well known for his diplomatic talents, which he used to help with the negotiations between Palestinians and Israel. He was present at the Why-agreements last October. In 1994 he was the first Arab leader to sign a peace-treaty with Israel. In 1995 he received the Freedom Award for his good work. The King turned his own country into a peaceful, stable and relatively prosperous country.

King Hussein, whose hobbies were flying his own airplane, motorcycling, water-skiing and collecting motorbikes, married four times. He separated from his first wife Dina Abdulhamid, with whom he had one daughter, Alia. He also divorced his second wife, the English Tony Avril Gardiner. They got four children: Abdallah, Faisal, and the twins Zein and Aisha. His third wife, the Palestinian Alia Toukan, was killed when her helicopter crashed during a thunderstorm between Tafila and Amman. She left two children, Haya and Ali, and one adopted child, Abir, who was the only survivor of an air-disaster near Amman in 1974, when she was only six months old. From his fourth and last marriage with Arab-American Lisa Halaby, later Queen Noor el-Hussein, King Hussein has four children: Hamzah, Hashim, Iman and Raiyah.

‘And as I stand here, I am obliged to you, to my people in Jordan and to the world, to keep on doing the utmost to guarantee that we leave behind a similar inheritance. And when my time comes, I hope that it will be like that of my grandfather and that of Yitzhak Rabin’ (Speech of King Hussein at the funeral of the Israelian leader Rabin, Jerusalem, November 6, 1995).

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