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King Hussein of Jordan

King Hussein of Jordan: A Political Life

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
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    King Hussein of Jordan
    Book Description:

    A towering figure in the history of Jordan, King Hussein reigned for nearly half a century, from his grandfather's assassination in 1953 to his own death in 1999. In this fascinating biography, Nigel Ashton recounts the eventful life of the king who not only survived but flourished amidst crisis after crisis as ruler of a poor desert nation surrounded by powerful and hostile neighbors. Hussein skillfully navigated complicated relationships with the British, his fellow Arab leaders, the new bordering state of Israel, masses of dispossessed Palestinians within his kingdom, every U.S. president from Eisenhower to Clinton, and every British prime minister from Churchill to Blair. This book illuminates the private man, his key relationships, and his achievements and disappointments as a central player in the tough world of Middle Eastern politics.

    Ashton has had unique access to King Hussein's private papers, including his secret correspondence with U.S., British, and Israeli leaders, and he has also conducted numerous interviews with members of Hussein's circle and immediate family. The resulting book brings new depth to our understanding of the popular and canny king while also providing new information about the wars of 1967 and 1973, President Reagan's role in the Iran-Contra affair, the evolution of the Middle East peace process, and much more.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14251-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. [MAPS]
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: A Contested Destiny
    (pp. 1-12)

    It was a funeral procession like no other. First came the outpouring of grief and emotion from the ordinary Jordanians who lined the route of the King’s cortège, struggling to catch a final glimpse of his coffin as it made its last journey through the streets of Amman on 8 February 1999. Then came the remarkable stream of dignitaries: not just Jordanians, or Arabs, or even Muslims, but a cosmopolitan gathering of leaders of all faiths from all around the world. Kings, queens and presidents – some fifty heads of state in all – were accompanied by princes, dignitaries and ministers too...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Tragedy of King Talal
    (pp. 13-36)

    Tragedy ended the reigns of both Hussein’s grandfather Abdullah and his father Talal, but they were tragedies of very different kinds. Abdullah’s was that of the political martyr, felled at the door of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by an assassin’s bullet. Talal’s tragedy was personal. He was the reluctant king, who had to bear the burden not only of the crown, but – far worse – of his father’s disapproval. The fates of Abdullah and Talal made a deep impression on Hussein, and he carried their burdens with him for the rest of his life.

    How the Hashemite kings came to...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Breaking the British Connection, 1953–6
    (pp. 37-53)

    Hussein’s first few months on the throne of Jordan during the summer of 1953 were deceptively calm. The young King faced no immediate challenge to his authority either from any Arab opponent or from Israel. But this period of calm could not last. The Arab–Israeli conflict was only in temporary abeyance while the new state of Israel consolidated itself domestically and the Arab states recovered from the shock of defeat in the 1948–9 war. Similarly, the struggle for leadership in the Arab world, in which Hussein’s grandfather had played such a central role, was bound to resume, albeit...

  9. CHAPTER 3 To Hold a Throne, 1956–7
    (pp. 54-67)

    In the aftermath of Glubb’s dismissal, internal politics in Jordan entered a period of confusion. On the one hand, the King did what he could to repair relations with Britain and to maintain the British subsidy for the Arab Legion. On 17 March 1956, Hussein wrote to King Saud of Saudi Arabia, President al-Quwatly of Syria and Egyptian President Nasser stressing that while he welcomed their ‘brotherly’ offer of aid to replace the British subsidy for the Arab Legion, this was only one aspect of the defence treaty between the two countries. While that treaty remained in force, Hussein argued,...

  10. CHAPTER 4 A Dynasty Under Threat, 1957–61
    (pp. 68-88)

    Hussein may have come of age politically during the April crisis, but many still believed that his days as king were numbered. Determined to prove them wrong, Hussein undertook a series of measures intended to strengthen his position. The April coup plotters were put on trial before a special military court. But, although the prosecutor asked for the death sentence for twenty-one out of the twenty-two accused, when the court delivered its verdict on 25 September 1957 five men were acquitted, while the remaining seventeen received prison sentences ranging from ten to fifteen years. There can be little doubt that...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Arab Cold War and Détente, 1962–6
    (pp. 89-104)

    For Hussein, 1962 began on a joyous note. On 30 January, his first son, Abdullah, was born to his wife, Muna. The popular reaction to the birth was enthusiastic; according to one Western observer, downtown Amman was seized by a ‘holiday spirit’.¹ The King moved quickly to name his newborn son Crown Prince, and to confer on his wife Muna the title of Princess. The birth of a direct heir to the throne after a decade of uncertainty was a clear cause of celebration for both Hussein and the kingdom.

    The stability promised by the birth of a male heir...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The Path to Disaster, 1966–7
    (pp. 105-120)

    Hussein may have negotiated one crisis after another during his first years on the throne, but all of these events paled in significance next to the existential clash he was to face in 1967. During the early months of 1966, pressure began to build throughout the region. With the progressive breakdown of the brief phase of détente in the Arab world, Hussein’s concerns about relations between Jordan and the PLO grew rapidly. Both the PLO leader Shuqayri and the King were trying to avoid a complete break in their relations at the same time as presenting their respective positions in...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Lost in a Sandstorm: HUSSEIN AND THE PEACE PROCESS, 1967–8
    (pp. 121-135)

    For King Hussein, the disaster of the June war was complete. Haunted by his decision to commit Jordan to battle, the King’s physical and emotional condition in the wake of the conflict was fragile.¹ The loss of Jerusalem, the decimation of the Jordanian armed forces, the plight of the refugees and the general economic dislocation within the East Bank all affected him badly. Not only that, but he felt betrayed by all sides. It was not just that his Arab allies had let him down; a degree of unreliability from that quarter was only to be expected in the light...

  14. CHAPTER 8 ‘Seven Questions of Israel’: THE SEPTEMBER 1970 CRISIS
    (pp. 136-157)

    In parallel with the faltering peace process during 1967–8, Hussein struggled to rebuild his kingdom and his shattered armed forces. He also seriously considered a major reorientation of his international position. In view of the pro-Israeli bias demonstrated by the United States during and after the 1967 conflict, should he turn instead to Moscow for the military equipment his armed forces needed? Of course, the ramifications of such a decision would be wide-ranging. Hussein would in effect be changing camps in the Arab world and jettisoning one of the main ideological pillars of his rule: the notion that Hashemite...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The October War
    (pp. 158-178)

    With the final expulsion of the fedayeen from Jordan in the summer of 1971, King Hussein had restored his personal authority, but at the price of badly damaging his relations with the rest of the Arab world. In a halffacetious remark, Crown Prince Hassan described Jordan’s foreign policy during this period as one of ‘deliberate isolation’; the Jordanian regime had no intention of pleading for its readmission to the Arab fold uninvited or on unacceptable terms.¹ Now that Jordan had emerged from the turmoil which had characterised its internal affairs since the 1967 war, it seems appropriate to step back...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Disengagement and Disillusionment, 1973–7
    (pp. 179-192)

    Despite Dean Brown’s empathy, and Henry Kissinger’s ‘formal assurance’ that he would defend Jordan’s interests in the peace process, Hussein’s hopes for a settlement after the October 1973 war were soon dashed. The step-by-step diplomacy promoted by Kissinger as the best method to edge the belligerents away from their intransigent post-war positions amounted, from the Jordanian perspective, to side-step diplomacy. Aware of the obstacles to any settlement over the West Bank, the US secretary of state focused instead on securing disengagement agreements first on the Egyptian and then on the Syrian front. Although Kissinger remains sensitive to the charge that...

  17. CHAPTER 11 The Camp David Disaster, 1977–9
    (pp. 193-209)

    The year 1977 was not only one of private tragedy and public controversy for Hussein; it was also one of political upheaval in the region. In May, the opposition Likud Party won an Israeli election for the first time, and the following month the right-wing revisionist Menachem Begin formed a government. Begin saw the occupied West Bank as part of the biblical land of Israel, and he was ideologically opposed to giving up sovereignty over any part of it, least of all occupied East Jerusalem. His own earlier background as a terrorist in the days of the British mandate in...

  18. CHAPTER 12 The Iran–Iraq War, 1980–88
    (pp. 210-229)

    ‘I am proud of the brotherhood that exists between us,’ proclaimed King Hussein, speaking of his closest Arab ally, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in March 1981. ‘He is a noble and gallant Arab, a wise leader and a man who works for the future. That’s what is common between us. We live to do what we can for the good and welfare of the future Arab generations.’¹

    From the perspective of the early twenty-first century, with Saddam having been executed for crimes against humanity, and Iraq enduring virtual civil war while still under foreign military occupation, King Hussein’s description of...

  19. CHAPTER 13 Fishing in the Dead Sea: KING HUSSEIN AND THE PEACE PROCESS, 1980–89
    (pp. 230-257)

    In terms of the Middle East peace process, the 1980s for Hussein would be a period of frustrated hopes and failed diplomacy. At the beginning of the decade, the King entertained some expectations of progress with the aid of a new US administration. He was certainly pleased to see the back of President Carter, whose Camp David initiative had to Hussein’s mind simply served the Israeli purpose of dividing Arab ranks. His description in a letter to Vice President-elect George Bush of the moment he heard of the outcome of the 1980 presidential election on Voice of America illustrates his...

  20. CHAPTER 14 Between Iraq and a Hard Place: KING HUSSEIN AND THE GULF CRISIS, 1990–91
    (pp. 258-283)

    Great international crises are about much more than the relationships between individual leaders. But, for King Hussein, the Gulf crisis was as much about his relations with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and US President George Bush as it was about oil, the preservation of the international order or the defence of Arab nationalism. Much has already been said about the King’s friendship with Saddam, and his belief that the Iraqi president could provide the leadership needed to restore pride and dignity to the Arab world. These were views which Hussein repeated time and again in private conversation, even with his...

  21. CHAPTER 15 From Madrid to Oslo KING HUSSEIN AND THE PEACE PROCESS, 1991–3
    (pp. 284-299)

    In the spring of 1991, King Hussein stood alone, more isolated internationally than he had ever been in his forty-year reign. In previous decades, he had always been able to count on at least one powerful foreign friend, but after the Gulf crisis there was no one. The United States was alienated as a result of what it saw as his backing for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The Gulf States in general, but particularly the Saudis and Kuwaitis, had turned from friends to foes in the space of six months. The depth of hostility between King Hussein and King Fahd...

    (pp. 300-316)

    News about the secret deal in Oslo between PLO and Israeli representatives broke on 29 August 1993, with the agreement put to the Israeli cabinet for approval the following day. Although the agreement was preliminary, representing more of an agenda for negotiations than a fullblown peace treaty, it did commit the Israeli government to hand over Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian jurisdiction as part of several interim confidence-building measures. The thornier issues concerning the final status of the occupied territories, however, were left for subsequent negotiations.

    King Hussein’s first response to the agreement, as Abu...

  23. CHAPTER 17 The Bitter Aftertaste of Peace
    (pp. 317-335)

    It was a eulogy like no other. ‘I never thought that the moment would come like this,’ Hussein began, ‘when I would grieve the loss of a brother, a colleague and a friend, a man, a soldier who met us on the opposite side of a divide, who we respected as he respected us. A man I came to know because I realized, as he did, that we had to cross over the divide.’ Speaking from the heart, almost as though he still felt the physical presence of the murdered Yitzhak Rabin by his side, the King held the mourners...

  24. CHAPTER 18 The Liberation of Iraq, 1995–7
    (pp. 336-347)

    In addition to the serious difficulties in the peace process, the King’s policy towards another critical regional problem, the fate of Iraq, underwent a number of significant shifts during the final years of his life. Iraq, it will be recollected, had always been close to Hussein’s heart. In the immediate aftermath of the 1958 revolution, Hussein had wanted to send Jordanian troops into Baghdad to restore the Hashemite monarchy. Thereafter, in a further attempt to destabilise the post-revolutionary regime of Abd al-Karim Qasim, he had backed his ambassador to Iraq Wasfi Tall’s manoeuvres in establishing links with the Iraqi opposition....

  25. CHAPTER 19 A Destiny Fulfilled?
    (pp. 348-370)

    During the final year of King Hussein’s life, the broader political picture in the Middle East did not change significantly. The same issues continued to dominate Jordan’s foreign policy, even after Prince Hassan assumed the regency. Domestically, as the severity of the King’s illness became apparent, the political manoeuvring over the succession to the throne gathered pace. Those who wanted to undercut Hassan used or created political incidents during his regency in a bid to show that he was unsuited to rule the country. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince and his supporters tried to make use of their partial grip on...

    (pp. 371-378)
  27. NOTES
    (pp. 379-420)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 421-431)