King Hussein of Jordan

                                 Monarch who steered his kingdom
                                 through the treacherous politics of the
                                 Middle East

                                 HIS MAJESTY KING HUSSEIN OF JORDAN, who has
                                 died aged 63, ruled his country for 46 years, surviving the
                                 upheavals of the Middle East through a combination of
                                 courage, political acumen, a sometimes shaky base of
                                 domestic loyalty, and the strategic support of foreign

                                                            From his assumption of
                                                            the throne until his
                                                            death, there were many
                                                            moments when it would
                                                            have seemed
                                                            preposterous to predict
                                                            such political longevity.
                                                            Yet through force of
                                                            character Hussein made
                                                            himself the sole
                                                            protagonist in the
                                                            post-war history of

                                 Having ascended the throne as a teenager, he was as a
                                 young king the target of numerous attempted coups and
                                 assassinations. Later, two Arab-Israeli wars and a civil
                                 war threatened the existence of his throne and the state
                                 itself. He was under threat as much from political enemies
                                 among his Arab neighbours as from a militarily superior

                                 The result of King Hussein's determination to safeguard
                                 his position is a country which enjoys a degree of
                                 openness, stability and prosperity not widely achieved by
                                 other Arab states. The King also secured the prize that had
                                 eluded his predecessors: a peace treaty with Israel.

                                 King Hussein was motivated by a strongly mystical, if
                                 sentimental, belief in his own destiny as the only
                                 remaining Hashemite king. His dynasty traced its ancestry
                                 back to the Prophet Mohammed and beyond, and had ruled
                                 Mecca for seven centuries until it was seized by Saudi
                                 forces in 1925.

                                 In 1916 King Hussein's great-grandfather, Sharif Hussein
                                 of Mecca, led the Arab Uprising against Ottoman rule,
                                 which began the Arab nationalist movement. The
                                 European settlement that followed the First World War
                                 dealt a blow to this, by carving up the region into separate
                                 countries, with the British establishing dependent
                                 Hashemite monarchies in Transjordan and Iraq.

                                 But in King Hussein's mind the ideal of a universal
                                 Hashemite monarchy persisted, taking the form of a benign
                                 authoritarianism that drew legitimacy from Islam and the
                                 traditional values of the desert Arab.

                                 Hussein ibn Talal was born on November 14 1935, in his
                                 parents' villa in Amman, in what was then the Emirate of

                                 His family's circumstances were modest. Though heir to
                                 the throne, his father, Talal ibn Abdallah, supported his
                                 family of three sons and a daughter on an allowance of
                                 £1,000 a year. Hussein received his primary education at
                                 schools in Amman and then at 13 was sent to Victoria
                                 College, Alexandria, an Egyptian boarding school on the
                                 British model. He recalled repairing his school uniform
                                 with a needle and thread to spare his parents the expense
                                 of replacing it.

                                 In 1946, Transjordan was granted independence from
                                 Britain, partly in recognition of the contribution of the
                                 country's British-led army, the Arab Legion, towards the
                                 Allied war effort. Abdallah's title was changed from Emir
                                 to King.

                                 King Abdallah was disappointed by Talal (who suffered
                                 from schizophrenia) and pinned his hopes instead on his
                                 favourite grandson. He took charge of Hussein's education
                                 and instructed him in statecraft.

                                 One of the principles that Hussein learned from his
                                 grandfather was that the state of Israel, which had come
                                 into being in 1948, was determined to survive at all costs.
                                 Rather than imagine - as did most Arab leaders - that
                                 Israel would be wiped off the map in due course, King
                                 Abdallah believed that Jordan had to come to terms with
                                 it. The same principle guided Hussein throughout his

                                 Abdallah had made a secret deal with the leaders of the
                                 incipient state of Israel, by which Jordan would take
                                 possession of the part of Palestine to be granted to the
                                 Arabs under the partition scheme when British rule in
                                 Palestine came to an end in 1948. The plan was realised
                                 after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, which followed
                                 British withdrawal from Palestine. Jordan claimed the
                                 West Bank of the River Jordan.

                                 Although the combined armies of the Arab states
                                 bordering Israel were defeated, Jordan now held both
                                 banks of the river. Accordingly, the country changed its
                                 name from Transjordan to Jordan. For the next 19 years,
                                 Israel and Jordan co-existed in a state of armed détente.

                                 Three years after annexing the West Bank, King Abdallah
                                 was assassinated as he entered al-Aqsa mosque in
                                 Jerusalem. He had aroused widespread opposition from
                                 Arab nationalists for taking the West Bank in a manoeuvre
                                 seen as being exclusively in the interests of Jordan.

                                 Hussein was standing only a few feet away when his
                                 grandfather was murdered, and saw the king's
                                 bloodstained turban roll across the floor in front of him.
                                 The 16-year-old only escaped death himself by what
                                 seemed a miracle: a bullet aimed at him struck a medal on
                                 his uniform. He was thrown backwards but otherwise
                                 unhurt; his grandfather had given him the medal only the
                                 day before.

                                 Much of the public criticism of Abdallah had come from
                                 Egypt. So Hussein continued his education in England, at
                                 Harrow, where his cousin, the future King Faisal II of
                                 Iraq, was also a pupil. In the meantime, Hussein's father,
                                 Talal, had become king, although his mental condition had

                                 But after Hussein, now Crown Prince, had been at Harrow
                                 for a year, the Jordanian establishment resolved that he
                                 should replace Talal. It was a decision in which Talal
                                 quietly acquiesced. In August 1952, while Hussein was
                                 staying with his mother at Lausanne, a page brought in a
                                 telegram addressed to "His Majesty King Hussein". "I did
                                 not need to open it to know that my days as a schoolboy
                                 were over," he wrote. He returned home to a rapturous

                                 Hussein was still only 17, so a three-man regency council
                                 ruled until he reached 18. In the meantime, he returned to
                                 England to take an accelerated military course at
                                 Sandhurst, arranged by the Commander of the Arab
                                 Legion, General John Bagot Glubb. Hussein was an
                                 enthusiastic cadet, enduring with good humour the
                                 discipline, drill, and the bellowing of drill-sergeants who
                                 called him "Mr King Hussein, sir!"

                                 At the time of his coronation, on May 2 1953, Hussein
                                 was just 18 (by the Islamic calendar). His cousin Faisal
                                 was crowned King of Iraq on the same day.

                                 King Hussein quickly showed that he would be nobody's
                                 puppet. He appointed as prime minister Fawzi al-Mulki,
                                 who had been Jordan's ambassador to London during
                                 Hussein's studies in England, and had befriended him.

                                 But al-Mulki's liberal policies had a dangerously
                                 destabilising effect. Since the war in 1948, Jordan's
                                 population had been swollen by Palestinian refugees, who
                                 now outnumbered the indigenous population of East Bank
                                 Jordanians. Palestinian guerrillas were determined to
                                 carry out raids into Israel, and these provoked heavy
                                 Israeli retaliation on Jordan.

                                 In one of these raids, led by a young Israeli officer named
                                 Ariel Sharon, 66 people were killed in the village of
                                 Qibya, which was reduced to rubble. Opposition
                                 politicians in Jordan complained that the Arab Legion, led
                                 by British officers, was unwilling to fight the Israelis.

                                 Demagogic speeches by the new Egyptian leader Jamal
                                 Abd al-Nasser called for pan-Arab independence from
                                 Western powers. Realising that al-Mulki's government
                                 was losing its grip, the King, now 19, dismissed him and
                                 appointed in his place Tawfik Abul Huda, a staunch

                                 Hussein supported Abul Huda's risky strategy of seeking
                                 to consolidate the King's power by holding elections to a
                                 new parliament in October 1954. With the country's
                                 political parties in disarray, Abul Huda's nominees won a
                                 majority of seats. The result was achieved through clumsy
                                 vote-rigging, provoking street protests. Hussein salvaged
                                 the situation temporarily by asking the prime minister to
                                 rule at the head of a coalition.

                                 For the next 12 years, the fiery Nasser posed the greatest
                                 threat to Hussein's rule. Time and again, the King tried to
                                 accommodate the powerful popular appeal of Nasser's
                                 rhetoric, but without success.

                                 In 1955, Britain put pressure on Hussein to join the
                                 Baghdad Pact, a defence coalition formed by Turkey and
                                 Hashemite Iraq, designed to counter Soviet influence in
                                 the Middle East and the might of Egypt. But Hussein
                                 hesitated to do this.

                                 Nasser's influence in Jordan was so strong that the
                                 proposal to join the Baghdad Pact caused the worst riots
                                 since the beginning of Hussein's reign. The Arab Legion
                                 was sent into the streets and a curfew was imposed to
                                 restore order. The crisis lasted for the whole of 1955;
                                 three prime ministers came and went. The King was
                                 compelled to announce new elections that December, but
                                 MPs who feared losing their seats questioned the legality
                                 of parliament's dissolution. There was still more rioting.

                                 Hussein appointed yet another prime minister, who
                                 promised that Jordan would not join the Baghdad Pact.
                                 The country pulled back from the brink, only for a new
                                 threat to present itself. In January 1956, Saudi forces
                                 massed at the border, threatening Jordan's Red Sea port at
                                 Aqaba. They only withdrew after the British envoy to
                                 Saudi Arabia warned that Britain would defend Jordan if
                                 it was attacked.

                                 It became clear to Hussein that the prevailing nationalist
                                 trend in the Arab world made his own country's obvious
                                 dependence on Britain a liability. British subsidies to
                                 Jordan - several million pounds a year - were paid
                                 directly to the Arab Legion, which had been led for three
                                 decades by General Glubb. It was said that Glubb Pasha,
                                 as he was known, ruled the Arab Legion, and that the Arab
                                 Legion ruled Jordan.

                                 In March 1956, Hussein abruptly dismissed Glubb and the
                                 Arab Legion's senior British officers. At first he gave
                                 Glubb two hours to leave the country, later relenting and
                                 allowing him until the next morning. Hussein then
                                 abrogated the Anglo-Jordanian treaty and sought
                                 replacement funds from the United States and richer Arab

                                 Glubb retired to England. When he died in 1986, King
                                 Hussein delivered a tribute to him at his memorial service
                                 in London.

                                 In 1955 Hussein made the first of his four marriages: he
                                 wed a distant Hashemite cousin, Dina Abd al-Hamid
                                 al-Awn, who was seven years his senior. Queen Dina was
                                 an urbane Egyptian intellectual, with a degree in English
                                 from Girton College, Cambridge; King Hussein preferred
                                 fast cars. When, after only 18 months of marriage, Dina
                                 travelled to Cairo to visit a cousin, Hussein wrote from
                                 Amman to tell her that the marriage was over. They had
                                 one daughter, Alia, whom Hussein kept with him in
                                 Amman. Dina was not permitted to see her until she was

                                 In early 1957, Nasser was once again stirring up trouble
                                 for King Hussein: an ambitious royal adviser, Ali Abu
                                 Nuwar, attempted a military coup d'état, with financial
                                 backing from Egypt.

                                 Hussein survived the coup because of his sheer physical
                                 courage. Intelligence reached him that army units were
                                 surrounding the capital. When a Bedouin unit in the town
                                 of Zerqa defied orders from subversive officers, a battle
                                 began between loyalist and pro-Nasser units. Abu Nuwar
                                 was in the King's office when word of the confrontation
                                 reached him. Hussein cunningly ordered Abu Nuwar to
                                 accompany him in a drive to Zerqa, where the royal
                                 presence restored order. He was mobbed by loyal
                                 soldiers, while Abu Nuwar sat cowering in the car beside

                                 Without Abu Nuwar's leadership, the coup evaporated.
                                 When Abu Nuwar pleaded for his life, the King
                                 magnanimously allowed him to leave the country. Within a
                                 few years he was permitted to return - and was appointed
                                 ambassador to France. This was not the last time Hussein
                                 disarmed his domestic political adversaries by co-opting

                                 After Abu Nuwar's coup attempt, Hussein dropped all
                                 pretence of parliamentary government and consolidated
                                 power in his hands. Hundreds of people were arrested,
                                 newspapers were closed, and political parties banned.
                                 The last restriction was never fully lifted. Thereafter,
                                 Jordanian governments were answerable only to the King.
                                 The army was put in charge of keeping public order and
                                 its intelligence arm was strengthened. These domestic
                                 controls remained in place, until controlled experiments in
                                 limited parliamentary democracy resumed in the Eighties.

                                 But even with such arrangements, Hussein was still at
                                 risk. In July 1958, the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq was
                                 overthrown in a bloody military coup. The royal family,
                                 including Hussein's friend and cousin King Faisal, were
                                 massacred. The revolt threatened to spread to Jordan.
                                 Uncertain of his army's loyalty, Hussein turned in
                                 desperation to Britain and America. Three days after the
                                 Iraqi coup, Britain sent two battalions of paratroops to

                                 By October 1958, it seemed safe to withdraw the
                                 paratroops, though a few weeks later Hussein had yet
                                 another narrow escape. He decided to take a holiday in
                                 Switzerland, and chose to fly his own aeroplane,
                                 accompanied as co-pilot by his flying teacher, Wing
                                 Commander Jock Dalgliesh, formerly head of the
                                 Jordanian air force.

                                 While flying over Syria, their aircraft was intercepted by
                                 two Syrian Mig-17 fighters, and ordered to land at
                                 Damascus. Hussein disregarded the order, and
                                 outmanoeuvred the Syrian jets, which had tried to force
                                 him down.

                                 Over the next 18 months, Hussein survived two
                                 assassination attempts and a further attempted military
                                 coup. His prime minister was killed by a bomb in his
                                 office. One assassination attempt against Hussein was
                                 foiled because the cook who was to have been carried it
                                 out unwisely tested his potion on cats in the palace
                                 grounds. Another plot involved putting powerful acid into
                                 the king's bottle of nose drops.

                                 In 1961, King Hussein was married for the second time, to
                                 Antoinette ("Toni") Gardiner, a 19-year-old English girl
                                 from a military family. Unlike Dina, Toni Gardiner was
                                 sporty and informal. "It was the Amman Go-Kart Club that
                                 really brought us together," Hussein wrote later.

                                 His new queen became a Muslim, and took the name
                                 Muna. They had two sons - the eldest of whom, Abdullah,
                                 was named heir to the throne this year - and twin girls.
                                 However, their marriage ended in 1972, when Hussein
                                 divorced her to marry Alia Toukan, a vivacious

                                 She bore a son and a daughter, and was an active and
                                 popular queen until she was killed in a helicopter crash in

                                 As Nasser, belligerent and over-confident, led his Arab
                                 allies (Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) towards the
                                 disastrous Six Day War with Israel in 1967, Hussein took
                                 the extraordinary step of agreeing to place Jordanian
                                 forces under Egyptian command. His aim was to bring
                                 Jordan back into the Arab mainstream by making a gesture
                                 of solidarity, even though he knew that the Arabs had no
                                 hope of winning the conflict with Israel.

                                 When war broke out, the decision cost Jor dan the West
                                 Bank and East Jerusalem, seized by a victorious Israel.
                                 The Arab war effort had been a military fiasco, not least
                                 because Nasser's blustery promise of air cover never

                                 "I saw all the years I had spent since 1953 trying to build
                                 up the country - all the pride, all the hopes - destroyed,"
                                 said Hussein. "I have never received a more crushing
                                 blow." He lived with the consequences for years to come.
                                 Despite numerous secret meetings with a series of Israeli
                                 prime ministers, the King failed to secure a peace
                                 agreement with Israel whereby the West Bank and the
                                 Arab sector of Jerusalem would be returned to Jordan.
                                 The Six Day War brought a new influx of about 200,000
                                 Palestinian refugees into the East Bank. By now the
                                 Palestinians had a credible political leadership in the
                                 newly-formed Palestine Liberation Organisation, led after
                                 1967 by Yasser Arafat. A relationship of enduring mutual
                                 distrust between Hussein and Arafat began at this time.

                                 Not only were Palestinian guerrillas making raids into
                                 Israel from Jordan, bringing severe Israeli reprisals, but
                                 under PLO leadership the Palestinian refugee population
                                 was becoming a state within a state, threatening Jordan's
                                 delicate political equilibrium.

                                 PLO officials disregarded Jordanian laws; armed
                                 commandos swaggered through the streets; and Palestinian
                                 factions were calling for the overthrow of the Jordanian
                                 monarchy as a first step in the liberation of Palestine.

                                 When the King went to investigate an outbreak of fighting,
                                 his Jeep was caught in intense machine-gun fire. His
                                 bodyguards threw him into a ditch, but as they then ran
                                 back to the Jeep, Hussein realised he had left his beret
                                 behind. He calmly walked back to recover it, and then
                                 advised his terrified driver that the stalled vehicle would
                                 move more quickly if he engaged the gears.

                                 By this time the royalist core of the Jordanian army, the
                                 Bedouin units, were growing impatient and were spoiling
                                 for a fight with the Palestinians. After some hesitation, the
                                 King formed a military government and on September 16
                                 1970 began the attack on the PLO bases that became
                                 infamous among Palestinians as Black September.

                                 The civil war lasted 10 days, and 3,400 people were
                                 killed. Hussein once again consolidated power around
                                 himself, and the PLO in Jordan ceased to exist.

                                 For many years thereafter, Hussein and the PLO contended
                                 for the political representation of the Palestinians living
                                 under Israeli occupation. The PLO sought an independent
                                 Palestinian state, while Hussein continued to assert
                                 Jordan's claim to the West Bank.

                                 This state of affairs persisted until Hussein renounced his
                                 claim to the West Bank after the outbreak of the intifada,
                                 the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.

                                 Stable relations with Israel remained a Jordanian priority
                                 throughout the Seventies. Jordan's participation in the
                                 Arab-Israeli war of 1973 was minimal, though Hussein
                                 made a secret visit to Golda Meir to warn her that an
                                 attack was imminent. But in 1977, the rise to power in
                                 Israel of the Likud Party, led by Menachem Begin,
                                 dramatically reduced Hussein's chances of achieving a
                                 settlement with Israel.

                                 When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, the President of
                                 Egypt, signed the Camp David Agreement in 1978 -
                                 Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab state - King
                                 Hussein was furious to have been excluded.

                                 As a Western-oriented monarch without the security of oil
                                 wealth, and with a large Palestinian population whose
                                 views had always to be taken seriously, Hussein was in a
                                 weak position whenever an Arab leader called for
                                 defiance of the West. Having for years been troubled by
                                 the influence of Nasser, Hussein had then to weather the
                                 Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

                                 There was a side of Hussein that admired these populist
                                 Arab strongmen, though it was an attraction which always
                                 proved disastrous for Jordan. The King's reluctance to
                                 condemn Saddam Hussein's seizure of Kuwait in 1990
                                 brought heavy retribution from the Arab states of the Gulf,
                                 which ended their subsidies to Jordan. Furthermore,
                                 Kuwait expelled its large Palestinian population, many of
                                 whom came to Jordan, adding to the strains on its

                                 The United States then submitted a political invoice.
                                 Seizing the moment, the American Secretary of State,
                                 James Baker, demanded that Hussein send a joint
                                 Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to a peace conference
                                 with Israel. It was a debt that Hussein was more than
                                 willing to pay, and it began the elaborate process that led
                                 to the Israel-PLO peace agreement of September 1993.
                                 This was followed the next year by the first formal treaty
                                 between Israel and Jordan.

                                 King Hussein signed the treaty with Yitzhak Rabin. Early
                                 on in his clandestine contacts with Israel, Hussein had
                                 marked Rabin down as a man with whom he might do
                                 business. After Rabin's assassination in 1995, Hussein
                                 delivered a eulogy at his funeral.

                                 Hussein ibn Talal lived unpretentiously for a king. He was
                                 happiest when with his family in their small but
                                 comfortable compound in Aqaba, where he could
                                 water-ski and take meals when he chose.

                                 He charmed all who met him with his courtesy, and had a
                                 disarming habit of addressing men as "Sir", regardless of
                                 their rank. He was never a man to spend more time than he
                                 had to behind a desk, and the daily routine around him
                                 followed an informal pattern.

                                 He rose late in the morning, and continued work until late
                                 into the night, often keeping visitors awake long past their
                                 usual bedtimes by screening films at midnight.

                                 He married, in 1978, as his fourth wife, Lisa Halabi.
                                 Queen Noor, as she became, was the daughter of the
                                 Arab-American president of Pan American Airways. She
                                 quickly assumed a high profile in Jordanian affairs and
                                 worked hard to gain the affection of her husband's people.
                                 They had two sons and two daughters.

                                 King Hussein's successor is Crown Prince Abdullah, who
                                 was born in 1962.