AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 7 -- 'Being a king in the Middle East is no easy trade,' Jordan's King Hussein once said. Yet he held power for almost 47 years -- longer than any Middle East leader, royal or otherwise. For Hussein, the ruler of a poor desert kingdom surrounded by powerful enemies, every year of his tenacious hold on power was a triumph over doubters -- friends and foes alike -- who never thought he could keep his crown. The conservative monarch survived at least eight assassination attempts, a half-dozen attempted coups, a crushing defeat by Israel, a bloody civil war with Palestinian guerrillas and waves of enmity from leftist Arab states. Later in life, while fighting various medical problems, he maintained his authority in Jordan, even while being treated for lymphoma in the United States for months at a time in 1998. Hussein died in Amman today at the age of 63, just two days after returning home from an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Once patronized by his British advisers as a 'plucky little king,' Hussein won the grudging admiration of even his enemies and preserved his place in the short front rank of key Middle East statesmen. His comment about ruling being 'no easy trade' was perhaps no truer than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In a Feb. 6 speech, he strongly criticized the war against Iraq, a conflict in which many Arab nations sided with Western allies in driving the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.
Less than a month later -- after the war's end -- Hussein indicated in a televised speech to Jordanians that he wanted to repair Jordan's strained ties with the Arab and Western members of the international coalition against Iraq. The king told his countrymen that 'Jordan did not bear a grudge' after the war. He added that 'gloating and apportioning blame are not Arab traits....Forgiving and burying the past lead to healing the wounds and closing the ranks of the (Arab) nation once again.' Hussein, going against the wishes of some in the Arab world and in his own kingdom, also looked to normalize relations with Israel. In the summer of 1994, he and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed peace accords ending the two nations' 46-year state of war. Then came a full peace treaty in the fall. 'This is our gift to our peoples and the generation to come,' he said on the day he signed the treaty. 'It will be real as we open our hearts and minds to each other, as we discover a human face to everything that has happened and to each other -- for all of us have suffered for far too long.' Hussein, in a move perhaps unthinkable a decade earlier, spoke at Rabin's funeral after the Israeli statesman was assassinated in 1995. As is common in the Middle East, the peace with Israel created tensions elsewhere. The treaty didn't sit well with the Palestinians, but in 1995 Hussein and the PLO signed a cooperation pact, proving that Hussein was committed to pleasing all his neighbors. Still, he refused to consider the 'Jordanian option' of repatriating Palestinians under West Bank Jordanian sovereignty. The road to improved Mideast relations had a long history of being rough, and Hussein often carved out his own policy in the Arab world without earning a reputation as a maverick. For instance, in 1977, Hussein supported Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace initiative with Israel but eventually came to see the Camp David accords as a dead end. Hussein's was the most outspoken Arab regime in open support of Iraq in its war with Iran during the 1980s. But later, Iraqi-Jordanian relations would deteriorate as Hussein grew less tolerant of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Hussein ibn Talal al Hashemiyeh was born Nov. 14, 1935, a grandson of Abdallah, the Hashemite sheikh who created the kingdom of Jordan and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He was groomed for power from the start and was sent to England's famed Harrow school, where Winston Churchill had studied. He was allowed to listen in on his grandfather's conversations with Lt. Gen. Sir John Bagot Glubb, the legendary British officer who forged Abdallah's Bedouin Warriors into the 'Arab Legion,' reputed to be the finest military force in the Arab world. The early training came in handy. Abdallah, who had doubled the size of his kingdom by annexing the West Bank of Palestine after the first Arab-Israeli War, was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951. Hussein was at his side; a second bullet glanced off a medal on the young prince's chest. Hussein's father, Talal, succeeded Abdallah but suffered from a degenerative mental disease and abdicated after eight months. In 1952, at the age of 16, Hussein was thrust into power as king of Jordan. When Hussein took the throne, the Arab world was already caught up in its first great wave of new nationalism inspired by Egypt's Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser -- a wave that quickly toppled King Farouk of Egypt and King Feisal of Iraq, a cousin of the Jordanian Hashemites. Jordan, after the absorption of more than a million embittered Palestinians, was a hotbed of rebellious Nasserism. The Palestinians owed no allegiance to Hussein, and they outnumbered the 'East Bank' desert Jordanians two to one. Most Middle East experts thought Hussein -- an untested, 5-foot 4-inch boy-king ruling an artificially created country -- would be the next royal head to fall. But the young king had learned from his canny grandfather's lessons. He based his power on British -- and later, American -- aid and, most important, the unswerving loyalty of the Arab Legion. He returned that loyalty by giving the army a major voice in policy and pouring most of his budget into the armed forces. Hussein grappled almost constantly with leftist, Nasserite and pro- Palestinian forces -- making a concession one month, ferreting out an anti-Hashemite conspiracy the next. His relations with radical Egypt, Syria and Iraq veered from merely cool to bitterly conflicting. His first steps were unsure, sometimes almost capricious. Slowly, however, Hussein won respect -- first from the soldiers of the Arab Legion, then from the people of the East Bank, and finally from the Palestinians and his Arab adversaries. He was, after all, an unlikely king: short, almost unimpressive, undistinguished in school. He was haunted by tragedy -- from his grandfather's murder and his father's illness -- and sometimes told friends he found little joy in ruling, mainly unhappiness and fatigue. His personal life was as checkered as his political fortunes. Hussein married a Hashemite cousin, Dina, when he was only 19. It was a royal marriage that lasted only two years. In 1961, he married Antoinette 'Toni' Gardiner, the daughter of a British officer stationed in Amman. The wedding was greeted with consternation by many Jordanians. Hussein wanted to choose his first half-English son, Abdallah, as heir to the throne but was persuaded to name his brother Hassan instead. This marriage, too, slowly deteriorated, and Hussein separated from his second wife in 1972. His third wife, Alia, an American-educated Palestinian, appeared the perfect queen, but tragically, she died in a helicopter crash in 1977. His fourth wife was Elizabeth Halabi, an upper-crust, Lebanese-born American who took the name Noor. They had four children. Hussein had eight other children, including one who was adopted. He published three books, 'Uneasy Lies the Head' in 1962, 'My War With Israel' in 1968 and 'Mon Metier de Roi' in 1975. Later in life, he became an Internet buff, and Jordan created a lavish World Wide Web site about him and his life. What pleasure Hussein found in life was in action. During his younger years, he could occasionally be seen driving his own cars around Amman. He was an avid pilot and water-skier, and he drove fast cars with abandon. (More)
x x x with abandon. Hussein's personal courage was unquestionable. During a 1957 coup attempt, the young king drove into the midst of gunfighting troops and rallied loyalists from the hood of his car. When in 1967 he decided impetuously to join his enemy Nasser in a war against Israel, Hussein was the only Arab leader who went to the battlefront with his troops. For Jordan and Hussein, Israel's victory in 1967 was a disaster. The conquered West Bank was the most prosperous part of the kingdom, containing nearly a third of the farmland and the tourist attractions of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Arab defeat also spawned a new problem that would haunt Hussein for the rest of his reign: the Palestinian guerrillas. Yasser Arafat had founded his al Fatah group in 1964. After 1967, Palestinian refugees, convinced that the Arab states were more concerned with their own interests than the cause of Palestine, flocked to Arafat's banner. The country the Palestinians chose for a base was the one where they were strongest, and the central government weakest -- Jordan. The guerrillas considered Hussein too moderate -- too willing to compromise with Israel for a return of the West Bank -- which the Palestinians considered theirs, not Jordan's. Hussein sympathized with their cause -- 'We are all fedayeen (commandos),' he once said -- but was more committed to preserving his hold on his country. The Palestinians roamed the streets of Amman with heavy arms, treated their camps as sovereign territoryand provoked Israeli raids on Jordanian territory. By the beginning of 1970, the conflict was explosive. Militant Palestinians called openly for the overthrow of Hussein. Clashes between the guerrillas and the army increased. Twice, guerrillas ambushed Hussein's motorcade, and the king joined his bodyguards in fighting them off. In September, leftist Palestinians hijacked three Western jetliners to an abandoned Jordanian airfield in one of the most spectacular terrorist incidents ever. The country was out of Hussein's control. Arafat, presiding over a badly split guerrilla movement, could not restrain his own extremists. The Arab Legion demanded a chance to restore order. On Sept. 16, Hussein appointed a military government. The Palestinians saw it as a declaration of war, took to the streets and declared a general strike 'until the fascist government is overthrown.' The 'Black September' civil war was on. 'It was us or the commandos,' Hussein later recalled. The war lasted 10 days, destroyed large parts of Amman and ended in a standoff. It took Hussein's army another six months to wear down the guerrillas and expel them from the country -- most to Lebanon, where they lived to fight another civil war. The 'plucky little king' had warded off another threat to his throne. In the process, Hussein was ostracized by the other Arab regimes and gained the undying hatred of most of the Palestinian militants. Their view of Hussein as a pro-Western traitor strengthened when he stayed out of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, except to send two armored brigades to the Syrian front. In 1974, the Arabs even stripped him of his claim to the West Bank by recognizing the Palestinians. Adversity made Hussein deeply pessimistic and confirmed his commitment to a practical compromise settlement with Israel rather than the radicals' dreams of 'liberating' Palestine. 'Time is fast running out,' he told United Press International in a 1974 interview. 'If we keep on going the way we have, then I see a fresher disaster.' By 1976, Egypt and Syria had come to agree. Hussein's longstanding proposal of a 'United Arab Kingdom,' a federation of the Palestinian West Bank and the Jordanian East Bank, was suddenly respectable. Partly because he had little choice, Hussein concluded a pact of association with his longtime bad neighbor, Syria. Jordan -- the east bank -- was prosperous. The army and the intelligence service stamped out any sign of disloyalty to the king. Even the revelation in 1977 that the king's American connection included millions of dollars in secret CIA payments failed to dent his armor. More