Hussein Ibn Talal (1935–1999)

views updated


King of Jordan from 1952 to 1999. Hussein ibn Talal al-Hashem was the son of King Talal and grandson of King Abdullah I, of the al-Hashim dynasty, which claims descent from Ali Hashim, great-grandfather of the prophet Muhammad. Hussein was educated at Victoria College in Alexandria, at Harrow in Britain, and at the British military academy Sandhurst. On 20 July 1951 he was at his grandfather's side in Jerusalem when the latter was assassinated by a Palestinian. On 11 August of the following year, he became King of Jordan, replacing his father Talal, who was removed because of mental illness. A regency council exercised power until Hussein reached eighteen and formally acceded to the throne in May 1953. At the same time, another British-supported Hashimite monarch, Hussein's cousin Faysal II, was beginning his reign in Iraq.

Hussein inherited a kingdom that was supported financially by Britain. Jordan's army (then called the Arab Legion) was paid for by Britain and commanded and partly staffed by British officers, and its security arrangements were governed by a Jordanian-British treaty signed in 1948. The political situation at the time Hussein came to power was shaped by resentment of Britain; anti-Hashimite sentiment and Nasserist-Arab nationalism (the Egyptian revolution had overthrown a British-associated monarchy in 1952); the presence of Palestinians in the kingdom (half to two-thirds of the population was Palestinian, including more than 800,000 refugees from the 1948 War); and the continuing Palestine crisis, including frequent Israeli incursions into the West Bank. In 1954 major public unrest occurred when general elections were rigged by the Hashimite government. In 1955, under public pressure, the king could not sign on to the Baghdad Pact, initiated by Britain and the United States, and in March 1956 he dismissed the British commander of the Arab Legion and changed its name. This resulted in strained relations with Britain, but British aid did not stop. In October 1956, shortly before the Suez War, Hussein allowed honest elections to take place, which resulted in the installation of a left-leaning nationalist government.

British collaboration with Israel in the attack on Egypt inspired the end of Jordan's subordinate relationship with Britain. In January 1957 Jordan entered the Arab Solidarity Agreement with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, which provided for military cooperation as well as financial assistance to Jordan. In March the government canceled its 1948 treaty with Britain and negotiated a new one, under which Britain ended its subsidies, turned over its bases, and withdrew its troops. All this was done with Hussein's acquiescence and the support of public opinion. Believing that his Nasserist government was planning to abolish the monarchy, however, Hussein dismissed it in April 1957. After a coup d'état by the Nasserist army commander was squelched, the newly appointed conservative government dissolved parliament and banned political parties.

From this time on Hussein took the lead in governing the country himself. The Arab Solidarity Pact having fallen apart almost immediately, the king, claiming to be menaced by communism, requested and received aid from the United States. In return for this aid he allowed American and British intelligence agencies to operate freely in Jordan, and they in turn helped him against his domestic and foreign opposition. In February 1958, as a conservative counterweight to the United Arab Republic created by Egypt and Syria, he and his cousin Faysal II decided to unite their two countries. Five months later this federation, the Arab Union, failed when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown and Faysal assassinated. Fearing similar events in Jordan, Hussein's government declared martial law, the United States began supplying Jordan with oil, and Britain sent in troops. On 10 November 1958, while flying to Switzerland, Hussein escaped an assassination attempt when a Syrian plane tried to force his down. In August 1960 Hussein's prime minister was assassinated in his office; the plot was traced to Syria.

On 25 May 1961, having divorced his first wife, Hussein married Antonia Avril Gardiner (renamed Princess Muna), daughter of a British officer, with whom he had his first son, Prince Abdullah. In 1965, to avoid a long regency in the event of his death while Abdullah was still a child, Hussein designated his brother Hassan crown prince.

In 1967, with regional tension rising, Jordan joined Egypt and Syria in a mutual defense pact. As a result of the June 1967 War, Hussein found himself confronted by the loss of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and by a second massive influx of Palestinian refugees. On 16 February 1968, following new reprisals by the Israeli army in Jordanian territory, he condemned armed actions by the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian-Jordanian tensions increased, with much fighting between the Jordanian army and Palestinian organizations, which were trying to bring down the Hashimite regime. The situation culminated in what has come to be known as Black September 1970, when Hussein installed a military government and the army launched a massive attack on the Palestinian fighters, killing some 4,000 of them in ten days and defeating a Syrian force that had been sent to help them, until a truce was negotiated by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser at the behest of the Arab League. After renewed fighting in July 1971 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other groups were expelled to Lebanon and all the Palestinian civil organizations that had made up the Palestinian state-within-a-state were shut down.

In November 1971 Hussein's prime minister, Wasfi al-Tal, who was visiting Cairo, was assassinated by the Palestinian group Black September. On 15 March 1972 King Hussein announced a plan for a Jordanian-Palestinian federation with the West Bank, to be called the United Arab Kingdom. This was rejected the next month by the Palestine National Council (PNC). During the following November, Jordanian security services uncovered a conspiracy organized by Jordanian officers to overthrow the king. During the October 1973 War, under the influence of the United States, Jordan did not open a third front to assist the Egyptian and Syrian armies in the struggle against Israel, although it did send two armored brigades to fight with the Syrians. On 26 October 1974 King Hussein opposed the decision of the Arab League summit, meeting in Rabat, recognizing the PLO as "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and supporting an independent Palestinian state in liberated territory. Hussein accepted the decision, however, and dissolved parliament, half of whose constituencies were in the West Bank. He also maintained Jordanian civil and administrative ties to the West Bank.

In February 1977 Hussein met with a delegation from the PLO and the next month, in Cairo, he reconciled with the head of the PLO, Yasir Arafat. On 8 June of the following year, just before his fourth marriage to the Arab-American Lisa Halaby (renamed Queen Noor), he named his son Ali, whose mother, Hussein's third wife Alia Tuqan, had died in a helicopter accident in 1977, as second crown prince. In 1978 he declined to participate in the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt or to endorse the 1979 peace treaty. From 1980 to 1988 he supported Baghdad in the Iran-Iraq War, which allowed his kingdom to benefit from trade with Iraq. In 1981 he negotiated an arms deal with the Soviet Union. In 1984 Hussein allowed parliament to reopen and began dealing with Egypt again, despite the Arab League ban that had been imposed after the 1979 treaty.

In 1985 Hussein allowed the PNC to meet in Amman. He came to an agreement with the PLO regarding a coordinated approach to a Palestinian-Israeli settlement but differences developed, partly over the loyalties of expatriate Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, and it was abandoned by 1987. In December 1987 the Intifada began in the occupied territories and in July 1988, fearing the violence would spill across the Jordan River, Hussein renounced all legal and administrative claims and responsibilities in the West Bank, canceling the Jordanian citizenship of all West Bank Palestinians. This gave the PLO complete responsibility for Palestinian interests, enhancing its international status.

During the Gulf Crisis of 1990 to 1991, Hussein did not support the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait but refused to join the anti-Iraq coalition. At the Arab League on 3 August 1990, Jordan abstained from voting on the resolution condemning Iraq, but Hussein did support the League's position that the crisis should be resolved by negotiation under Arab auspices rather than by foreign intervention. When the Arab League modified this position a week later, approving the Gulf states' right to self-defense and implicitly approving the use of outside forces, Jordan voted in favor but expressed "reservations"—in effect remaining neutral. In October 1991, when the end of the Gulf War led to the organization of the Madrid Conference on Middle East peace, Hussein agreed to the PLO's inclusion in the Jordanian delegation since the Israelis refused to deal with it directly. On 26 October 1994, a year after the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles in Washington, King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel that was opposed by some Jordanians, ending forty-six years of belligerence between the two countries.

In February 1996 his previously friendly relations with Iraq changed when he authorized an Iraqi opposition group to open an office of in the Jordanian capital. On 5 June 1996, after a Likud government that opposed the Oslo Accords came to power in Israel, he organized, with Yasir Arafat and Husni Mubarak, a mini-summit to reaffirm his support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On 3 August he resumed Syrian-Jordanian relations, which had been interrupted by the Israeli-Jordanian peace accord. On 6 August he met with the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confirming his own role in Israeli-Arab negotiations. Five days later he was in Saudi Arabia for the resumption of Jordanian-Saudi relations, interrupted since the Gulf War. On 15 October he met Arafat in Jericho to show his support in the stalemated negotiations with Israel. On 12 January 1997 he helped break the stalemate when he obtained an accord on the redeployment of Israeli troops in Hebron. In August 1998, his health worsening, Hussein delegated most of his power to his brother Hassan and left for medical treatment in the United States. Returning to Amman in January 1999, he stripped his brother of the title of crown prince and gave it to his son Abdullah, to whom he also accorded the regency. He died the next month.

SEE ALSO Abdullah I ibn Hussein;Arab-Israel War (1967);Arab-Israel War (1973);Arafat, Yasir;Baghdad Pact;Black September 1970;Black September Organization;Camp David Accords;Gulf War (1991);Hashim, al-;Hassan of Jordan;Hebron;Intifada (1987–1993);Iran-Iraq War;League of Arab States;Madrid Conference;Mubarak, Husni;Muhammad;Nasser, Gamal Abdel;Netanyahu, Benjamin;Occupied Territories;Oslo Accords;Oslo Accords II;Palestine Liberation Organization;Palestine National Council;Suez Crisis;Talal ibn Abdullah;West Bank.