Nobody knew that Hussein bin Talal would live to be not only a king but also long serving executive head of state in the world. His life would have ended at a tender age but he survived a bullet and lived on to be a great man in history. His family was as complicated as was his general life. His tragic death in 1999 was an immense drawback to the efforts to create a semblance of peace in the Middle East. But who was Hussein bin Talal and how did he manage to be a peace broker in a region that is characterized by seemingly interminable anarchy? Hussein bin Talal’s birth took place on November 14, 1935 in Jordan’s capital city, Amman.
During that time, the present day Jordan was a newly founded state called Transjordan (“suite101. com”; Europa Publications staff, 2003). Hussein’s family was a royal family and at his birth, his grandfather, Abdullah bin Al-Hussein was the emir of Transjordan. Hussein’s father, the son of Abdullah bin Al-Hussein, was called Prince Talal bin Abdullah while his mother was Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil. Hussein had two younger brothers- Hassan and Muhammad, and a sister, Basma (Europa Publications staff, 2003; King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006).
When Hussein bin Talal a ten-year-old youngster, the Great Britain withdrew it operations in Transjordan as a colonial master and declared it an independent state. Thus, Transjordan became a kingdom in accordance with the Jordanian leadership system and was referred to as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Hussein’s grandfather was the first king of this new kingdom (Europa Publications staff, 2003; King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006). Hussein was very close to his grandfather and perhaps it is from this relationship that he acquired excellent leadership skills (Europa Publications staff, 2003).
Abdullah bin Al-Hussein did his best to train his grandson in readiness for future responsibilities in spite of the fact that they usually had very little time together (King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006). But whenever a chance arose for the two to be together, they would attend mosque prayers and have general chats, to name but a few of the common activities they did together (Europa Publications staff, 2003; King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006; “suite101. com”).
In spite of their close ties, Hussein bin Talal and his grandfather were sadly separated by a gunman’s bullet while attending one of their favorite activities. At the age of about fifteen, on July 20, 1951, Hussein and his grandfather were attending prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque located in Jerusalem (“suite101. com”). At the doorsteps of the mosque, a Palestinian who had a grudge with king for political reasons fired a shot and killed him instantly (“suite101. com”). The second bullet to kill the young Hussein luckily hit and bounced off a medal that the king had given to his grandson and insisted that he wear (“suite101.
com”). This was indeed a strange twist of fate. Hussein’s rise to the throne Hussein’s father, Talal rose to the throne formerly occupied by his father on September 6, 1951, but later abdicated his duties due to medical reasons (Europa Publications staff, 2003). Consequently, the young Hussein was accessioned to the throne on August 11, 1952 (King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006). By then he was still under the formal age of eighteen so he did not assume constitutional powers.
But one year later, on May 2, 1953 he had attained the required age according to the Islam calendar and therefore assumed full constitutional powers (“suite101. com”). This was after he had attended a college in Egypt and had enrolled in the Harrow School in England (Europa Publications staff, 2003; suite101. com”). Hussein’s ascension to power was the beginning of the quest to bring peace in the Middle East. Perhaps King Hussein was cognizant of the fact that as a young boy, he has the escaped an assassin’s bullet by fate.
Therefore, at his death, King Hussein was hailed as the world’s longest serving head of state with executive powers. Of more significance to the Muslim world was the fact that King Hussein bin Talal came forty-second in the direct genealogy from Prophet Muhammad (Europa Publications staff, 2003; King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006). Many people but not everyone loved King Hussein. This is evident given that as a king he survived many attempts to assassinate him (suite101. com”). The king’s family life King Hussein’s life a family man was convoluted if the how he engaged different spouses is anything to go by.
Although the Muslim beliefs allow a man to be polygamous, the king never did this. He married four wives but one at a time, such that at no one time did he have more than one wife. King Hussein first married a distant cousin, Dina bint Abedelhamid, with whom they had a daughter named Princess Alia in the year 1956. They divorced after the birth of their daughter. Later, Hussein married Antoinette Gadner daughter of an officer in the British army. She was renamed Princess Muna to suit the Muslim religion principles.
With this wife, King Hussein got two sons, Prince Feisal and Prince Abdullah, and two daughters Princess Aisha and Princess Zein (Rhodes, 1999). They filed for divorce in 1972 but their eldest son, Abdullah, would eventually rise to the throne when his father died in 1999 (King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006). In the same year King Hussein divorced Princess Muna, he married Alia Toukan as the third wife. The couple had a daughter named Princess Haya and a son called Prince Ali, together with a daughter they adopted, Abeer Muhaisin (Europa Publications staff, 2003).
The third wife however died in 1977 in a plane crash in Amman. It is from the death that Jordan International Airport got a new name, Queen Alia International Airport (Europa Publications staff, 2003; “suite101. com”). After the death Queen Alia, King Hussein married his fourth wife in 1978 (Raatma, 2006). She was of an American descent by the name Lisa Halaby (Raatma, 2006; Europa Publications staff, 2003). Surprisingly, she discarded the Western lifestyle and converted her religion to Muslim (Raatma, 2006; Europa Publications staff, 2003; King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, 2006).
This undoubtedly came as a surprise given the bad blood that existed and still exists between the United States and the Muslim world. It could as well be an indication that King Hussein was a leader keen on uniting the world and different religions. After the conversion, Lisa Haley became Queen Noor al-Hussein (Raatma, 2006), and they had two sons- Princes Hamzah and Hashim; as well as two daughters, Princesses Iman and Raiyah (Europa Publications staff, 2003). The mixed race relationship lasted until King Hussein’s death more than two decades after marriage (Europa Publications staff, 2003).
How King Hussein bin Talal built his country King Hussein bin Talal’s name will in books of history for his struggle to bring peace in his country Jordan as well as regionally in the countries of the Middle East. Hussein is revered in Jordan for his insistence on creating a semblance of openness and compassion among the Jordanians (Europa Publications staff, 2003). He believed that the two virtues were the platform for a strong Jordan and that these virtues would be inculcated even regionally (? aigh, 1978). He guided Jordan through tumultuous time that was characterized by wars and civil unrest.
Most notably, he grew up in a difficult situation, having survived a bullet the same day a gunman killed his grandfather. Such was the situation in Jordan. The country had been crippled by resentments and occurrence of various groups that were seemingly opposed to the leadership of Jordan (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). It is beyond doubt that containing such groups or bringing them to a discussion table was a Herculean task (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). Unrest in the Middle East and Jordan King Hussein’s rise to power came only about five years after Israel had been declared a state in 1948 (Orr, 1994).
At that time there was unrest in the neighboring Arab countries, Jordan included, over the creation the Israeli state (Orr, 1994). The war that brought an independent Israel was considered one of the costliest in the 1940s and it involved a combination of some Arab states against Israel. During the war, it was reported that 6,000 Israelis and more than 10,000 Arabs perished (Orr, 1994). There is no doubt therefore that King Hussein had a lot to do to bring peace in the region. Apart from the chaos outside Jordan, there were internal conflicts that the leader had to deal with (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”).
According to Orr (1994), the 1950s saw more upheavals from the Arab nations over the creation of Israel as a state and the perceived loss of Palestine during the 1948-49 period. Among the Arab leaders opposed to the creation of Israel was the Egyptian president Nasser Gamal Abdel. Nasser supported pan-Arabism and was popular among many people as a leader that would lead an affront against Israel. This was the situation in the Middle East: constant fears of a war and general unrest (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”).
Within Jordan, there was an equal lack of calm as it was within the Middle East region. As one writer, John Newhouse reported in the New Yorker, Jordan and its king (King Hussein bin Talal) were alike (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). He noted that the two were young, poor, inexperienced, and uncompromising. True, King Hussein was very young when he took constitutional powers, and three years earlier he had lost his grandfather, the first King of Jordan to a bullet. He survived the scene. Therefore, there were questions over his capability to lead a nation that was seemingly divided (Orr, 1994).
In addition, there were questions on the ability of the king to handle the growing crisis in the Middle East region (Europa Publications staff, 2003). The young king inherited a country that was characterized by extreme levels of poverty and generally experiencing an influx of refugees from the war in the Middle East (Europa Publications staff, 2003). Provision of basic amenities such as electricity, water and sanitation facilities was possible to only ten percent of the population, and there was a high level of illiteracy among the Jordanians (Europa Publications staff, 2003).
Add to this the fact that there were high rates of infant mortality and prevalence of disease related to malnutrition (Europa Publications staff, 2003). Additionally, Jordan was not an island of peace in the simmering zone. These are just some of the issues that the king had to face (Rhodes, 1999). King Hussein encouraged investment in sectors that would ensure quick recovery of the Jordanian economy, this involved investment in projects involving nutrition, public health, medicine, and improved access to clean and safe water, proper sanitation, general health services and so on (Bloom et al, 2001).
Jordan under king Hussein was seemingly a friend of many countries such as the United States hence it was able to get funds to support its development projects. It is therefore since the 1950s Jordan has outpaced its neighbors in terms of economic status (Bloom et al, 2001). According to Bloom et al (2001), there was significant improvement in various sectors of the Jordanian economy such as nutrition and health during the reign of King Hussein.
For instance, life expectancy improved from 42. 2 years to 68. 9 years among men and from 44. 3 years to 71. 5 years among women in the period between 1950 an 1995 (Bloom et al, 2001). In the same period, fertility decline were also noted to go down were also noted decline as did mortality declines (Bloom et al, 2001). The trend implies that the same period saw an increase in population due to better health services in Jordan as well as the influx o refugees fleeing neighboring war zones (Rhodes, 1999). The efforts to build a strong Jordan proved to be difficult for King Hussein particularly given that Jordan was considered to be a pawn of the Western countries.
In addition, the war against Israel had impacts in threefold. To begin with, the controversial West Bank region of the Jordan River was part of the area under the jurisdiction of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (Rhodes, 1999), implying that Jordan inevitably had to be involved in the war. Secondly, as earlier mentioned, Jordan had to encounter and help refugees fleeing fighting from Palestine and the surrounding region since Jordan was considered as being relatively safe.
Thirdly, the state of Israel was created from the western side of Jordan (Rhodes, 1999), implying that Jordan had the dilemma of supporting the Arab world in opposing the move , or alternatively supporting the creation of Israel in order to attract more Western support. In view of the above factors, King Hussein was faced with many challenges in the attempt to revive and build Jordan. There were more groups of disgruntled citizens, dissatisfied Arab states (due to the perceived leaning of Jordan towards the Western alignment), and interference from the neighboring states such as the warring Israel.
In spite of the conflicts, King Hussein got substantial support from the army, which he recruited from the local tribe of Jordan as well as from collaboration with political leaders who were loyal to him. The army protected Jordan’s boundaries and ensured that external aggression was minimized to sustain national development (Rhodes, 1999). This was successful such by the end of the 1950s Hussein and his allies were in a position to consolidate control of Jordan albeit with periodic challenges (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”).
King Hussein’s regime made significant steps in ensuring that each year was a year of positive change for Jordan. Hence, Jordan was able to build a reliable social and economic infrastructure in different sectors particularly in education and health (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). Perhaps what encouraged King Hussein to soldier on in creating a better Jordan was the belief that Jordan’s people were the biggest asset of the country. In fact, throughout his regime he encouraged all people including the disabled, the less fortunate, and the orphaned to ensure that they achieve more for their own benefit and that of their country.
Most importantly, Jordan was able to uphold the success in spite the tumultuous time that occurred after the 1950s (“The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”). In Hussein’s reign as the king of Jordan, he made significant reforms including signing of a charter that provided guidelines for the parliament and government to make laws that conformed to democracy while reiterating that Jordan will continue to be ruled by a monarch (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003).
By endorsing the charter, King Hussein and his loyalists showed their commitment to introduce and maintain liberal policies in the country, which for a long time had be been characterized by disgruntled groups of citizens (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). Prior to the changes, there had been persistent called for freedom from Islamic fundamentalists, who expressed their concerns through a series of riots (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). The riots were particularly fuelled by leader outside Jordan such as President Nasser of Egypt (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003).
The reforms therefore gave Jordan a strong foundation towards peace and unity, which allowed the people to build a strong Jordan economy. How King Hussein helped to bring peace in the Middle East In the mid and late 1950s, there were many upheavals in the Middle East mainly due to the stance taken by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the pan Arab attempts to destroy Israel (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). Inside Jordan, tension arose when many Ba’thists (who were particularly supporting the pan Arab league) were elected and therefore dominated the cabinet (Rhodes, 1999).
In the same period, King Hussein dismissed the British commanders in charge of the Arab legion in a bid to avoid escalation of unrest in the region (Rhodes, 1999). He did this by further terminating the Anglo-Jordanian treaty that was signed in 1957. In the same period, there was a coup attempt to end his reign, but he skillfully thwarted the scheme (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). In the effort to bring peace in the Middle East region, King Hussein consented to form a union with Iraq, which was referred to as the Arab Federation.
Nevertheless, this federation did not last as pro-Gamal officers in Iraq overthrew the Iraqi government and left Jordan isolated (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). The situation in the Middle East was therefore characterized by the formation of several groups that demanded the demolition of Israel. This put King Hussein in a quandary situation in which he has to deal with internal conflicts while also ensuring that the region regained peaceful. At the same time, the Israeli leaders were of the opinion that a meeting between them and King Hussein would help to settle the stalemate in the Middle East (Rhodes, 1999).
Secret meeting with Israel leaders The meeting between King Hussein and leaders of Israel was inevitable in restoring calm in the Middle East region, but both parties knew very well that it was not easy to have such a meeting (Rhodes, 1999). King Hussein used to visit London several times a year to visit his Jewish physician named Doctor Herbert. Surprisingly a mother to the Israeli leaders was also a client to the same doctor (Rhodes, 1999). Thus, the Israeli used this opportunity to talk to King Hussein.
Though a convoluted process, King Hussein finally got the message and met an Israeli representative called Yaacov Herzog (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). In the meeting between King Hussein and the Israeli representative, it appeared that Israel admired the king of leadership in Jordan, describing King Hussein as a leader exhibiting personal courage, statesmanship and excellent leadership skills. It also appeared that the pro-Nasser had the support of America, a situation that had left Jordan isolated by the Arab nations of the Middle East (Avishai, 2008)
The fact that Jordan later joined a force to combat Israel after a seemingly cordial relationship is amenable to discussion. In 1967, Jordan finally gave in to pressure from the Arab nations and joined forces with Syria, Iraq, and Egypt in the famous Six-Day War with Israel (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). The decision by King Hussein to join the war is regarded many historians as the worst ever made by the great leader (Avishai, 2008). Add this to the fact that he had earlier been warned by his advisor not to allow Jordan to join the join the coalition war.
This is because the war not only showed Israel’s superiority but also increased anarchy in the Middle East (Avishai, 2008). By the end of the Six-Day War, Israel gained more control of the Middle East region including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsular, East Jerusalem and the Golan heights (“Palestine facts”). Indeed, it was a great loss to Jordan that was taken by Israel was formally Jordan’s richest agricultural region (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). In addition, Jordan lost its entire air force and over fifteen thousand troops.
In an attempt to restore calm, King Hussein again initiated struggle to end the Arab-Israel conflict. In doing so, King Hussein was part of the team that drafted the United Nations Resolution 242 (Avishai, 2008; “Palestine facts;” Avishai, 2008). The resolution was aimed at establishing a just and lifelong peace among the Arab nations of the Middle East and Israel. The resolution also emphasized on the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied regions that were characterized by conflict.
In addition, part of the resolution stipulated that there should be respect for the right of every state in the Middle East region in order to ensure that people lived within secure and internationally recognized boundaries. The main idea was creation of a peaceful land in the Arab-Israel region (Ham, Greenway & Simonis, 2003). The signing of the resolution however sparked another conflict in that the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO) perceived the move to be a threat to its existence (? aigh, 1978).
This led to more devastation as Syria engaged Jordan in war using tanks that had Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) markings (? aigh, 1978). Nevertheless, Jordan expunge drove the tanks in a quick response. In spite of the periodic wars, King Hussein did not relent in his efforts to bring peace in the Middle East. For instance, he signed a peace deal with the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, in which they agreed to put an immediate ceasefire to a ten-day battle that was witnessed between Jordan and Palestine (? aigh, 1978).
In later moves, King Hussein was provided pragmatic ideas in pushing for peace together with various presidents of United States such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. He to broker a deal between the United States and Iraq to avert the Gulf war in 1999 but failed. But that as well did not deter him as he later backed the Madrid Conference, which brought the PLO leader to the discussion table. In 1994, Hussein supported a backdoor deal between Palestine and Israel in a n attempt t create peace, and when the Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot, Hussein attended the funeral to show solidarity with Israel.
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