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On July 20, 1951, King Abdullah I traveled to Jerusalem to perform his Friday prayers with his young grandson, Prince Hussein. He was assassinated by a lone gunman on the steps of one of the holiest shrines of Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Hussein is said to have been saved from a bullet by a medal his grandfather had recently awarded him and insisted he wear.
Abdullah's eldest son, King Talal was crowned, but within a year was forced to resign because of a mental illness. His son Prince Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952 and was enthroned May 2, 1953.
Hussein survived numerous assassination attempts, but on February 7, 1999, he lost his long fight with cancer. The King had been suffering from the disease for many years and had visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, United States on a fairly regular basis for treatment. Just before his death, he changed his will and declared his son, instead of his brother, to be his successor. The King was at the time of his death the longest serving leader in international politics and the most respected. This showed at his funeral.
In a show of unusual political diversity, leaders of radical Arab states were side by side with officials from western democracies. President Clinton and former Presidents Bush, Carter and Ford represented the United States, a longtime ally of Jordan's. Their presence reflected Hussein's long and usually warm relationship with the United States going back to the Eisenhower era. Visitors paid their respects in the throne room of the king's Hashemite Dynasty.
Britain sent Prime Minister Tony Blair and Charles, Prince of Wales. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also came. The funeral brought bitter enemies together. Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad had never attended an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, once Hussein's foe, came to Amman to mourn the loss of his recent partner in peace. Neighboring Iraq was represented by its vice president. Libyan Leader Moammar Qadaffi sent his eldest son. Czech president Vaclav Havel and Russian president Boris Yeltsin, themselves both seriously ill, also came—Yeltsin against the advice of his doctors. According to Jordanian officials, Yeltsin returned home earlier than expected for medical reasons.
At a service in England, Prince Charles gave a eulogy to the King:
- As it says in the Koran, “whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth right—surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.”
- King Hussein was a man of faith who recognised in his turn the faith of others in a life beyond the illusory nature of this physical existence.
- As a man who had the lively hope which also unites our two faiths, a lively hope in the reality of the life to come, he would have understood what Saint Paul says, that “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day”
- How wonderful it would be if our great sense of loss for a man of such tolerance and understanding could serve to remind us all that prior to modern times, despite many cases of strife among followers of various religions, there were also many instances of remarkable accord and harmony as each religious community realised in its heart the religious nature of the life of the other.
- It is sometimes difficult for us to appreciate this in an age when secularism has, on the one hand, weakened religions and, on the other, hardened them in the face of external threat, and turned many of their followers away from the inner and spiritual dimensions of their own religions—where alone real peace and accord reside.
- The King was a wonderful combination of a bedouin Arab and an English gentleman and it was my country’s fortune and privilege to have had him as such a close friend, and I am proud and grateful to have known a man whose qualities always reminded me of those words at the end of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; “His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, ‘This was a man’.”
On the human level, the numbers speak for King Hussein’s achievements. 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, in 1996, this number 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%. King Hussein has always believed that Jordan’s people are its biggest asset, and he continues to encourage all—including the less fortunate, the disabled and the orphaned—to achieve more for themselves and their country.
King Hussein’s commitment to democracy, civil liberties and human rights has helped pave the way in making Jordan a model state for the region. The kingdom is internationally recognized as having the most exemplary human rights record in the Middle East, while recent reforms have allowed Jordan to resume its irreversible drive to democratization. In 1990, King Hussein appointed a royal commission representing the entire spectrum of Jordanian political thought to draft a national charter. Today the National Charter, along with the Jordanian Constitution, serves as a guideline for democratic institutionalization and political pluralism in the country. In 1989, 1993 and 1997, Jordan held parliamentary elections which were accredited internationally as among the freest and fairest ever held in the Middle East.
Hussein was an accomplished aviator, motorcyclist and race-car driver. He enjoyed water sports, skiing, tennis, ham radio, and surfing the Internet. King Hussein read extensively on political affairs, history, international law, military science and aviation. In addition to being an avid reader, the King was the subject of numerous books and wrote three of his own: Uneasy Lies the Head (1962), about his childhood and early years as king, My War With Israel (1969), and Mon Métier de Roi.
He was married to:
- Sharifa Dina bint 'Abdu'l-Hamid, an Egyptian-born third cousin of King Hussein's father, King Talal, on April 19, 1955. A graduate of Cambridge University and a former lecturer in English literature at Cairo University, the bride was 26 to the groom's 19. They separated in 1956 and were divorced in 1957, at which time Queen Dina became known as Princess Dina. She became an Egyptian citizen in 1963, and in October 1970, Princess Dina of Jordan married Asad Sulayman Abd al-Qadir, alias Salah Taamari, a Palestinian guerilla commando who became a high-ranking official in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
- Daughter: Alia (born 1956).
- Antoinette (Toni) Avril Gardiner (born Chelmondiston, England, 1941, renamed Muna al-Hussein on conversion to Islam), on May 25, 1961. An award-winning field hockey player, former typist, and daughter of a British army officer turned innkeeper, Lt. Col. Walter Percy Gardiner, she was given the title Princess Muna al Hussein on January 30, 1962, divorced 1972.
- Children: Abdullah (born 1962), Faisal (born 1963), Aisha (born 1968), Zein (born 1968)
- Alia Baha ed Din Toukan, on December 24, 1972. A daughter of Bahauddin Toukan, former Jordanian ambassador to the Court of St. James's, she was titled Queen Alia al Hussein. She was born in Cairo, Egypt, on December 25, 1948, and died in a helicopter crash in Amman, Jordan, on February 9, 1977.
- Elisabeth (Lisa) Najeeb Halaby (renamed Nur (Noor) al-Hussein on her conversion to Islam), on June 15, 1978, titled Queen Nur al Hussein.
|Kings of Jordan||Succeeded by:
King Abdullah II