Remembering King Hussein of Jordan

King Hussein bin Talal, who died 20 years ago, built a real state out of nothing and in extremely complex and difficult circumstances.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Jordanian King Abdullah II visits the tomb of King Hussein in Amman on the 20th anniversary of his passing, February 7. (AFP)
Paying homage. Jordanian King Abdullah II visits the tomb of King Hussein in Amman on the 20th anniversary of his passing, February 7. (AFP)

Twenty years ago, King Hussein bin Talal passed away. It is difficult to let this anniversary pass without remembering this great man who not only laid the foundations for the institutions of the Jordanian state but also believed in the principles of modernity and development.

He was a rare breed in our Arab world, which was ruled only by lust for power at any price. Until the end of his days, King Hussein remained true to his ambition of creating a modern Jordanian state. At the end of the king’s life, power was transferred smoothly to Hussein’s eldest son, King Abdullah II, highlighting the solidity of Jordanian institutions.

We can only bow in respect to a man who built a modern state without resorting to repressive practices that characterised most rulers in the Arab Mashriq countries from the 1950s until today. Hussein bin Talal saved Jordan from many disasters and saved the Palestinians from themselves.

He saved them at a certain stage when the option of an alternative homeland for the Palestinians was being promoted. Israel tried hard to push that option but King Hussein squashed it. King Abdullah II has continued his father’s project and led the Hashemite kingdom to safer waters despite the new challenges and risks facing his kingdom today.

The Middle East and the Arab world did not do justice to King Hussein when he was alive but the late king was vindicated after his death. His good memory is on everybody’s mind.

King Hussein lived for his country and in the service of his country and the service of what, until recently, was known as the Arabs’ first cause — the Palestinian cause. While other Arab leaders had only bombastic speeches to offer the Palestinian cause, King Hussein gave his country and his people to the Palestinians. Despite it all, the West Bank and Jerusalem were lost to the Israeli occupiers.

King Hussein’s biography concentrates the tragedy of the Arab Orient, which is paying the price of not listening to him almost half a century ago. It is enough honours for the late king that Jordan became, during his rule, a haven for every Arab who needed a place to live because of either Israeli aggression or demographic pressure inside the Palestinian territories.

Hussein bin Talal became king of Jordan at the age of 17 in 1952 and served until his death February 7, 1999. He shouldered a heavy load of responsibilities and vicissitudes, too heavy for a normal human being to bear.

As king, Hussein did his best to uphold the principles of humanity in all his actions. He tried to connect Jordanians and the Arabs in general with their future. King Hussein was certainly not happy when, in 1970, he had to expel armed Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan to save his throne and his country and avoid providing a free service to Israel. The Palestinian guerrillas had gone beyond the limits of decency and tried to touch all the kingdom’s state institutions.

King Hussein was not just an exceptional king by his humane qualities. He was a bold and brave man. He was a real leader. On the two occasions when he followed the popular demands expressed on the streets of Amman, Jordan paid a heavy price.

The first time was when the kingdom was forced to get involved in the 1967 war and the second was when Jordan avoided taking a clear stand against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990. The late Jordanian monarch had his own considerations in the absence of public awareness of the consequences of starting a war with Israel or of avoiding condemning the crimes of the Iraqi regime in Kuwait.

Putting these two major events aside, King Hussein was always farsighted. He was able at some point to surpass the crimes of a gang of ignorant Iraqi Army officers when they staged a coup on July 14, 1958, and killed members of the Hashemite family in Iraq. He surpassed the 1970 clashes with the Palestinians, even though the latter had assassinated Wasfi Tal, one of the most prominent Jordanian figures.

King Hussein was also a man of the street. Had he not been a real leader, he wouldn’t have taken the decision to disengage from the West Bank in 1988 and thus draw the borders of an independent Palestinian state.

King Hussein was a realist. He played the most prominent role in bringing Egypt back to the Arab League when he restored relations with it in 1985. Most other Arab countries waited for the 1987 Amman summit to take the same path.

King Hussein created a role for Jordan in the region. That role is alive today and will soon be evidenced and tested by events in the region, especially in Syria.

King Hussein restored parliamentary life in Jordan at a time when the Cold War was ending. In 1994, he signed a peace agreement with Israel and established the definitive borders of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Before that, he strongly supported Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Iran. The late king realised early the threat of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran to Arabs in general and to the Arab social fabric in particular.

There are certainly many more achievements by the late King Hussein of Jordan than what writers could mention on this 20th anniversary of his early departure. Quite obviously, it is impossible to ignore the role of this man in making the history of the Arab Levant. A comparison between Jordan today and the sorry end of Syria is enough to conclude that Hussein bin Talal built a real state out of nothing and in extremely complex and difficult circumstances.