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King Hussein of Jordan

King Hussein

Hussein Ibn Talal Ibn Abdullah Ibn Hussein was born in Amman, Transjordan (now Jordan), on November 14, 1935, the first son of Prince Talal bin Abdullah and Princess Zein al-Sharaf bint Jamil. He received his elementary education in Amman, and his secondary education at Victoria College in Alexandria, Egypt. He was further educated at the Harrow School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, both in England.

The favorite grandchild of King Abdullah, Hussein was with his grandfather when the monarch was assassinated in Jerusalem on July 20, 1951. (A bullet was also fired at Hussein, but he was saved by a medal previously given to him by his grandfather.) Abdullah's eldest son, Talal, assumed the throne on September 6, 1951, but he was determined to be mentally incapacitated by schizophrenia and removed by the Jordanian Parliament. Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952. A Regency Council was appointed to run the country until Hussein reached his majority, and he formally ascended to the throne on May 2, 1953.

Known to his countrymen as Al-Malik Al-Insan ("The Humane King"), Hussein worked hard to improve the lives of Jordanians. Under his leadership most of Jordan's main industries -- phosphate, potash, and cement -- were developed, and a network of highways was built throughout the kingdom. When Hussein assumed the throne, only 10% of the country's population had running water, working sewers and electricity; today, that number is 99%. In 1960, only 33% of Jordanians could read and write; by 1966 that number had risen to 85.5%. And, between 1981 and 1991, the infant mortality rate in Jordan dropped from 70 deaths per 1,000 births to 37 per 1,000, the fastest annual rate of decline in the world for that period.

King Hussein reviews a day-long demonstration of his army's loyalty, in 1958
King Hussein in 1958

King Hussein with troops of the Arab Legion (Jordan's Army).
King Hussein with the Arab Legion

King Hussein was extremely popular within Jordan, but was frequently at odds with more radical Arab leaders, who took exception to his pro-Western policies. After the Six-Day War with Israel in 1967, Arab guerrilla organizations demanding a Palestinian homeland gained strength in Jordan. Hussein oppposed them, and civil war erupted in 1970. Hussein's army was victorious and forced the guerrillas out of the country, but his position within the Arab community was seriously strained. The Palestinian question continued to dominate Jordanian politics throughout the 1970s and 80s; in July 1988, after months of demonstrations by Palestinians in the Israeli-held West Bank, Hussein ceded to the Palestine Liberation Organization all Jordanian claims to the territory. His support of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) allowed Hussein to retain popular support within Jordan, but strained relations with the United States and some of his former Arab allies. His relations with other Arab nations were further strained in 1994, when he signed a peace treaty with Israel.

King Hussein addresses his nation after the defeat of his army in the Six-Day War.
King Hussein after the Six-Day War

The later years of King Hussein's reign were marked by numerous bouts with cancer. He had a cancerous kidney removed in 1992, after which he initially appeared to make a complete recovery. In 1997, however, he underwent two operations to treat prostate and lymph gland cancer. In 1998, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and endured six months of chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant. Neither the chemotheraphy nor the transplant were successful, however, and he passed away on February 7, 1999; he was succeeded by his eldest son, Abdullah.

Hussein was married four times. His first wife was Dina bint Abedelhamid, a distant cousin. Married in 1955, the couple divorced soon after the birth of their daughter, Alia. In 1961, he married Antoinette Gardner, the daughter of a British army officer; she converted to Islam and took the name Princess Muna. To this union were born two sons -- Abdullah and Faisal -- and two daughters -- Zein and Aisha. This marriage also ended in divorce, in 1972. That same year, Hussein married Alia Toukan, with whom he had one daughter, Haya, and one son, Ali; the couple also adopted a daughter, Abeer Muhaisin. Alia was killed in a helicopter crash in 1977. On June 15, 1978, Hussein married American-born Lisa Halaby, who converted to Islam and took the name Queen Noor al-Hussein ("Light of Hussein"). She bore him two sons -- Hamzah and Hashem -- and two daughters -- Iman and Raiyah.

Princess Muna and King Hussein shortly after their wedding ceremony.
Queen Muna and King Hussein

King Hussein holds Crown Prince Abdullah during a name-giving ceremony.
King Hussein with Crown Prince Abdullah

Queen Noor and King Hussein shortly after their wedding ceremony
King Faisal and Queen Noor

Hussein was the author of Uneasy Lies the Head (1962), about his childhood and early years as king, and My War With Israel (1969).

Site of Interest

A Living Tribute to the Legacy of King Hussein

See Also

United States

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The Robinson Library >> Jordan

This page was last updated on 02/10/2019.