Hussein of Jordan

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Hussein of Jordan 1997.jpg
King of Jordan
Reign 11 August 1952 – 7 February 1999
Predecessor Talal
Successor Abdullah II
Born (1935-11-14)14 November 1935
Amman, Transjordan
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Amman, Jordan
Burial Raghadan Palace
Spouse Dina bint 'Abdu'l-Hamid
(m. 1955; div. 1957)
Antoinette Avril Gardiner
(m. 1961; div. 1972)
Alia Baha ed din Touqan
(m. 1972–77; her death)
Lisa Halaby
(m. 1978–99; his death)
Details and adopted children
with Dina bint 'Abdu'l-Hamid:
Princess Alia
with Antoinette Avril Gardiner:
Abdullah II
Prince Faisal
Princess Aisha
Princess Zein
with Alia al-Hussein:
Princess Haya
Prince Ali
with Lisa Najeeb Halaby:
Prince Hamzah
Prince Hashim
Princess Iman
Princess Raiyah
House Hashemite
Father King Talal
Mother Zein al-Sharaf Talal
Religion Sunni Islam

Hussein bin Talal (Arabic: حسين بن طلال‎‎, Ḥusayn bin Ṭalāl; 14 November 1935 – 7 February 1999) was King[1] of Jordan from the abdication of his father, King Talal, in 1952, until his death. Hussein's rule extended through the Cold War and four decades of Arab–Israeli conflict.[2] He recognized Israel in 1994, becoming the second Arab head of state to do so (after Anwar Sadat in 1978/1979).

Hussein claimed to be a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his belonging to the ancient Hashemite family.[2]

Early life

King Hussein was born in Amman on 14 November 1935 to King Talal bin Abdullah and Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil. After completing his elementary education in Amman, he was educated at Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt. He proceeded to Harrow School in England, where he befriended his second cousin Faisal II of Iraq. He pursued further study at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Hussein bin Talal (1950)

On 20 July 1951, Prince Hussein traveled to Jerusalem to perform Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque with his grandfather, King Abdullah I, where a Palestinian assassin opened fire on Abdullah and his grandson. Abdullah was killed, but the 15-year-old Hussein survived the assassination attempt, and according to witnesses, pursued the gunman. Witnesses reported that the gunman turned his weapon on the young prince, who was saved when the bullet was deflected by a medal on his uniform which had been given to him by his grandfather.[2]

Hussein was appointed Crown Prince of Jordan on 9 September 1951. Abdullah's eldest son, Talal, became King of Jordan, but thirteen months later was forced to abdicate owing to his mental state (European and Arab doctors diagnosed schizophrenia).[3] King Talal's son, Crown Prince Hussein, was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on 11 August 1952, succeeding at the age of 16. A Regency Council was appointed until he came of age. He was enthroned on 2 May 1953.[2]


King Hussein on a Royal Air Force base in 1955.

In March 1956, Hussein asserted Jordanian independence by dismissing Glubb Pasha as the commander of the Jordanian Army, and replacing all the British officers with Jordanians. This now mainly Bedouin army was fiercely loyal to him, due to tribal connections.

Hussein's rule was marked by repeated efforts to secure peace in the region. Meetings between King Hussein and Israeli foreign ministers Abba Eban and Golda Meir began on or before 1963. Jordan, sharing Israel's longest contiguous border, was interested in maintaining a peaceful coexistence with Israel. Avi Shlaim claims that Hussein's intentions "...throughout the 1960s was to see if there was any way to resolve the dispute with Israel peacefully."

King Hussein (right) and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser at the 1964 Arab League Summit in Alexandria, Egypt

King Hussein sought to understand Israel's position and preferred dialogue to the futility of war. Much of this desire grows out of the threat from other Arab states, specifically the Ba'athist regimes in Iraq and Syria and Nasser's ideology of Arab nationalism which had heavily influenced the Army. The first secret meeting took place on 24 September 1963 between King Hussein and Yaacov Herzog, a diplomat with wide experience and special emissary of prime minister Levi Eshkol.[4] Among other things such as discussions regarding water rights, the purpose of the meetings were to plan and support Israeli and Jordanian initiatives in combating Fatah guerrillas. He would later state "I told them I could not absorb a serious retaliatory raid, and they accepted the logic of this and promised there would never be one".[5]

On 13 November 1966, Israeli military conducted a major incursion into Jordanian territory, violating their secret agreement with King Hussein, in what became known as the Samu Incident. Two days later, in response to the incident, in a memo to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, his Special Assistant Walt Rostow wrote: "retaliation is not the point in this case. This 3,000-man raid with tanks and planes was out of all proportion to the provocation and was aimed at the wrong target," and went on to describe the damage done to U.S. and Israeli interests:

They've wrecked a good system of tacit cooperation between Hussein and the Israelis. ... They've undercut Hussein. We've spent $500 million to shore him up as a stabilizing factor on Israel's longest border and vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq. Israel's attack increases the pressure on him to counterattack not only from the more radical Arab governments and from the Palestinians in Jordan but also from the Army, which is his main source of support and may now press for a chance to recoup its Sunday losses. ... They've set back progress toward a long term accommodation with the Arabs. ... They may have persuaded the Syrians that Israel didn't dare attack Soviet-protected Syria but could attack US-backed Jordan with impunity.[6]

Iraqi stamp about the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), founded by King Hussein, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Saleh of (North) Yemen and Saddam Hussein of Iraq

Perception of King Hussein's efforts to come to peaceful terms with Israel led to great dissatisfaction among some Arab leaders. President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt often referred to Hussein as an, "imperialist lackey".[7] Army Commander-in-Chief General Sharif Zaid Ben Shaker warned in a press conference that "If Jordan does not join the war a civil war will erupt in Jordan".[8] In order to maintain credibility in the Arab world and maintain stability at home, on 30 May 1967, King Hussein signed a mutual defense treaty with Egypt.

Improving the lives of Jordanians

Early on, King Hussein concentrated on building an economic and industrial infrastructure that would improve the quality of life of Jordanians. During the 1960s, Jordan's main industries – including phosphate, potash and cement – were developed, and a network of highways was built throughout the kingdom.

Social indicators reflect King Hussein's successes. While in 1950, water, sanitation and electricity were available to only 10% of Jordanians, today these reach 99% of the population. In 1960 only 33% of Jordanians were literate, while by 1996, this number had climbed to 85.5%. In 1961, the average Jordanian received a daily intake of 2198 calories, and by 1992, this figure had increased by 37.5% to reach 3022 calories. UNICEF statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, Jordan achieved the world's fastest annual rate of decline in infant mortality – from 70 deaths per 1000 births in 1981 to 37 per 1000 in 1991, a fall of over 47%.

Six-Day War

King Hussein after checking an abandoned Israeli tank in the aftermath of the Battle of Karameh in 1968

In June 1967, as a result of what later became known as the Six-Day War, Jordan lost control of the West Bank and saw its military shattered. In addition the country was, for a second time, overrun with many Palestinian refugees. As a result, Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 and 1967 wars outnumbered Jordan's natural citizens. Most refugees were provided citizenship by the Jordanian government. Due to their sheer numbers, Palestinian factions in Jordan were able to exercise considerable authority, essentially governing some areas of Jordan, leading to many considering them a state within a state, eroding Hussein's central authority and disturbing the geopolitical stability of the Middle East.[9]

Black September

In September 1970, Hussein ordered the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization by the Jordanian military. The attacks on Palestinian fighters lasted until July 1971, when thousands of Palestinians were expelled, mostly fleeing to Lebanon.[10]

Yom Kippur War

After the 1967 War and the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Gunnar Jarring was appointed by the UN as a special envoy for the Middle East peace process, leading the Jarring Mission. Both Egypt and Israel responded to Jarring's proposals with support for a peace process, but the process did not move forward.[11] Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Syrian president Hafez al-Assad met King Hussein in 1973 to discuss the possibility of war. Hussein, fearing another loss of territory to Israel, declined. Furthermore, Hussein was suspicious of Sadat's promise to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians in the event of a victory, as he considered the West Bank to be Jordanian territory. On the night of 25 September, Hussein secretly flew to Tel Aviv by helicopter to warn Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of an impending Syrian attack.[12] "Are (the Syrians) going to war without the Egyptians, asked Mrs. Meir. The king said he didn't think so. 'I think they [Egypt] would cooperate'".[13]

King Hussein meeting Jimmy Carter and being interviewed in 1980

On 6 October 1973, Syria and Egypt attacked Israel without the aid of Jordan. A ceasefire was declared on 23 October, but fighting continued until January 1974. The Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on 17 September 1978, after 14 months of diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Israel, and the United States.

Peace with Israel

In 1994, Hussein concluded negotiations to end the official state of war with Israel resulting in the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace which he had begun negotiating in secret with the Israelis in the 1960s. Between 1963 and 1994 he had held at least 55 secret meetings with leading Israelis including at least seven prime and foreign ministers.[14]

Due to the close relationship forged with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the negotiations of the treaty, Hussein was invited to give a speech during Rabin's funeral.

Yizhak Rabin and King Hussein greet each other prior to the signing of the peace treaty between their countries, 24 October 1994

Summit of the Peacemakers

On 13 March 1996, the "Summit of the Peacemakers" was held at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In addition to King Hussein, Turkish President Süleyman Demirel, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin were present at the summit. The summit was convened with the expressed aim of putting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track after a period of increased tension and hostility.

Hebron Agreement

Hussein was often involved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. His 11th-hour intervention in January 1997 is said to have brought Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to an agreement on the long-awaited withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of the West Bank town of Hebron.

Khaled Mashal assassination attempt

On 27 September 1997, the treaty was thrown into jeopardy when two Mossad agents attempted to poison Khaled Mashal, who was at the time living in Jordan. Condemning the attack as a violation of Jordanian sovereignty, King Hussein threatened to void the treaty if Mashal died. Jordanian doctors determined and administered the proper antidote in time, just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to international pressure and ordered Mossad to hand it over. Mashal recovered, and relations between Jordan and Israel thawed.[15]

Wye River Memorandum

In October 1998 U.S. President Bill Clinton invited Hussein, who was in the US undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, to attend the Wye Plantation talks. Hussein received a standing ovation at the ceremony and praise from Clinton.[citation needed]


At the end of July 1998, it was made public that Hussein was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer by doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Hussein's lymphoma was of a type that responded to chemotherapy, which the King had already begun and his physicians were optimistic he could be cured. Speaking on Jordanian television via satellite, Hussein reassured the Jordanian people that the cancer was curable. Nevertheless, he looked fragile and pale. It was the 62-year-old monarch's second bout with cancer; he lost a kidney to the disease in 1992.[16]

On his way back to Jordan in January 1999, Hussein stopped in London.[17] Doctors advised him to rest and stay in England for a few weeks, as he was still too fragile to travel. According to Jordanian government sources, Hussein stated that:

"I need very much to feel the warmth of my people around me, there is work to be done and I will get the strength from my people to finish the business."[18]

Upon returning to Jordan Hussein was greeted by family members, ministers, parliament members, foreign dignitaries and crowds of Jordanian citizens, estimated by Jordanian government officials of 3 million.[9]


Just before his death, Hussein made a change to his will revising the law of succession, which earlier had designated his brother Hassan successor, in favour of his eldest son Abdullah. He abruptly returned to the U.S. clinic on 25 January 1999 for further treatment undergoing a failed bone marrow transplant after which he returned to Jordan.

On 7 February 1999, King Hussein died of complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was, at the time of his death, one of the longest-serving leaders in international politics.[2] He had been the King of Jordan for over 46 years, during which he was an important actor in various Middle East conflicts. Just prior to his death, during an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Hussein expressed his opinion that a peaceful resolution would eventually be reached in the Arab–Israeli conflict.[19]

King Hussein's funeral was held on 8 February 1999 in the presence of all five of his sons, foreign dignitaries and statesmen, and an estimated 800,000 Jordanians.[20][21] The UN General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session in "Tribute to the Memory of His Majesty the King of Jordan" on the same day.[22]

King Hussein was succeeded as king by his eldest son Abdullah II of Jordan.


  • "He won the respect and admiration of the entire world and so did his beloved Jordan. He is a man who believed that we are all God's children, bound to live together in mutual respect and tolerance." (U.S. President Bill Clinton)[23]
  • "He was an extraordinary and immensely charismatic persuader for peace. At the peace talks in America when he was extremely ill, he was there, talking to both sides, urging them forward, telling them nothing must stand in the way of peace." (UK Prime Minister Tony Blair)[23]
  • "President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian people and leadership have received with great sorrow and pain the news," it said in a statement. (The Palestinian Authority)
  • "He was a generous brother and a dear friend," said a statement. (Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.)
  • South African President Nelson Mandela believed the death would be "deeply mourned by all peace-loving people."
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan paid tribute to the late king, praising him for his "lifelong struggle to bring peace".

Personal life

Hussein was an enthusiastic ham radio operator and an Honorary Member of The Radio Society of Harrow and a life member of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL)[24] [25] (callsign JY1). Hussein was popular in the amateur radio community and insisted that fellow operators refer to him without his title.

Hussein was a trained pilot, flying both airplanes and helicopters as a hobby. In a 1999 interview Henry Kissinger described being flown by Hussein, saying that "...he was a daring pilot, and he would be zooming along at treetop level, and my wife, in order to be politely insistent would say, "You know I didn't know helicopters could fly so low" "Oh!" said the king, "They can fly lower!" and went below tree top level just skimming along on the ground. That really aged me rapidly."[26]

Hussein was also a collector of motorcycles.[26] The cover of the paperback version of Queen Noor's book Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life features a photo of the King and Queen riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.


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Hussein with his mother Zein al Sharaf Talal in 1941

King Hussein married four times:

King Hussein of Jordan (1980)
Family of Hussein of Jordan
16. Ali Bey, Sharif of Mecca (= 20,24)
8. Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca
17. Shaikha Salha bint Gharam al-Shahar
4. Abdullah I of Jordan
18. Abdullah Kamil Pasha, Grand Sharif of Mecca
9. Abdiya bint Abdullah
19. Bazmi Jahan
2. Talal of Jordan
20. Ali Bey, Sharif of Mecca (= 16,24)
10. Amir Nasser bin Ali Pasha, Sharif of Mecca
5. Musbah bint Nasser
11. Dilber Khanum
1. Hussein of Jordan
24. Ali Bey, Sharif of Mecca (= 16,20)
12. Amir Nasser bin Ali Pasha, Sharif of Mecca (= 10)
6. Jamal 'Ali bin Nasser, Sharif of Mecca, Governor of Hauran
13. Dilber Khanum (= 11)
3. Zein al-Sharaf
14. Shakir Pasha, Governor of Cyprus
7. Wijdan Khanum


National honours
Foreign honours

Streets, squares, parks

  • Russia Park Hussein Bin Talal in Grozny (Russia)
  • France Avenue Roi Hussein 1er de Jordanie in the 16th arrondissement of Paris (France)


  • Uneasy Lies the Head. London: William Heinemann Ltd. (1962)
  • My "War" with Israel. London: Peter Owen. (1969) ISBN 0-7206-0310-2
  • Mon Métier de Roi. Paris: R. Laffont (1975)


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  4. Shlaim 2007, p. 194–203 (Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace).
  5. Bowen 2003, p. 26 (citing Amman Cables 1456, 1457, 11 December 1966, National Security Files (Country File: Middle East), LBJ Library (Austin, Texas), Box 146).
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  7. BBC on this Day, Egypt and Jordan unite against Israel. Retrieved 8 October 2005.
  8. quoted in Mutawi 2002, p. 102.
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  11. "The Jarring initiative and the response," Israel's Foreign Relations, Selected Documents, vols. 1–2, 1947–1974 . Retrieved 9 June 2005.
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  13. Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War, Schocken Books, 2004. Page 50
  14. The Economist, 24 November 2007, p.88
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  18.; 8 February 1999
  19. CNN/Time "Newsstand" Interviewer: Christiane Amanpour. 24 January 2000
  20. PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 1999 Online NewsHour
  21. at the Wayback Machine (archived October 21, 2009)[dead link]
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  26. 26.0 26.1 Nightline: Hussein of Jordan, ABC Evening News for Friday, Feb 05, 1999
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  30. List of orders, decorations and medals of the Republic of China
  31. Chih-Ping Chen
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External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by Hashemite King of Jordan
Succeeded by
Abdullah II
Preceded by Ronald Reagan Freedom Award
Succeeded by
Bob Hope