Hussein bin Talal (14 November 1935 – 7 February 1999) was King 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. 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.
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.
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.
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). 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.
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 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. 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”.
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.
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.
On his way back to Jordan in January 1999, Hussein stopped in London. 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.”
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 at 3 million.
On 24 January 1999, Hussein made a change to his will revising the law of succession, which earlier had designated his brother Hassan as heir-apparent, 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. 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.
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. 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