Prior to his death at age 63 on February 7, 1999, Jordan’s King Hussein bin Talal was the longest serving executive head of state in the world. Of great significance to Muslims throughout the world, King Hussein I was also the forty-second generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He was born in Amman on November 14, 1935, to Prince Talal bin Abdullah and Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil. King Hussein has two brothers, Prince Muhammad and Crown Prince El Hassan, and one sister, Princess Basma.
After completing his elementary education in Amman, Hussein attended Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt, and Harrow School in England. He later received his military education at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England.
Early in young Hussein’s life, and on July 20, 1951, his grandfather King Abdullah was assassinated at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Hussein was there, with his grandfather, as they went regularly to perform Friday prayers. A medal his grandfather had recently given the young Prince Hussein, and which he wore after his grandfather’s insistence, saved Hussein from the assassin’s bullet.
On September 6, 1951, King Abdullah’s eldest son, King Talal assumed the throne. When he was determined to be mentally incapacitated, Talal was quickly replaed by his eldest son, Hussein, who was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952. A Regency Council was appointed until King Hussein’s formal accession to the throne on May 2, 1953, when he assumed his constitutional powers after reaching the age of eighteen, according to the Islamic calendar.
Throughout his long and eventful reign, King Hussein worked hard at building his country and raising the living standard of each and every Jordanian. Early on, King Hussein concentrated on building an economic and industrial infrastructure that would compliment and enhance the advances he wanted to achieve in the quality of life of his people. During the 1960s, Jordan’s main industries -including phosphate, potash and cement- were developed, and a network of highways was built throughout the kingdom.
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 also struggled throughout his 45 year reign to promote peace in the Middle East. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he was instrumental in drafting UN Security Council Resolution 242 which calls on Israel to withdraw from Arab lands it occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for peace. This resolution has served as the benchmark for all subsequent peace negotiations. In 1991, King Hussein played a pivotal role in convening the Madrid Peace Conference, and providing an "umbrella" for Palestinians to negotiate their future as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. The 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel is a major step toward achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.
While working towards Arab-Israeli peace, King Hussein has also worked to resolve disputes between Arab states. During the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, he exerted vigorous efforts to peacefully effect an Iraqi withdrawal and restore the sovereignty of Kuwait.
King Hussein has persevered in his pursuit of genuine Arab reconciliation, wherever a conflict may arise between neighbors or within a country, such as his recent mediation in the Yemeni civil war. Furthermore, and in almost every speech or forum, Hussein called for international humanitarian aid to relieve the people and children of Iraq from their daily suffering.
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. 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.
King Hussein married Queen Noor on June 15, 1978. They have four children: Hamzah, Hashem, Iman and Raiyah. Hussein also had eight children — Alia, Abdullah, Faisal, Zein, Aisha, Haya, Ali and Abeer — from three previous marriages
HRH Prince Muhammad, the Personal Representative of His Majesty, has two sons: Talal and Ghazi. HRH Crown Prince El Hassan has four children: Rahma, Sumayya, Badiya, Rashid and three grandchildren. HRH Princess Basma has four children: Farah, Ghazi, Sa’ad, and Zein.
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. He wrote three books: Uneasy Lies the Head (1962), about his childhood and early years as king, My War With Israel (1969), and Mon Métier de Roi.
Hussein’s later years were plagued by health problems. He had surgery for a cancerous kidney in 1992, and had six months of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the Mayo Clinic in 1998. In October 1998, Hussein left his hospital bed to help mediate the Wye River peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, winning accolades from all sides for his deft diplomacy.
At the end of January 1999, Hussein returned to Amman in between cancer treatments in the United States to announce that his oldest son, Abdullah, would succeed him on the throne.
Sources: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Associated Press, and other news reports.