King Hussein bin Talal (1935-1999)
His Majesty King Hussein bin Talal successfully guided Jordan and its people through nearly half a century of tumultuous change in the Middle East, by consistently prioritizing human development and strong state institutions anchored in Arab-Islamic values of peace, compassion, service, and tolerance. In a region wracked by local and global conflicts, his public and private lives were a never-ending quest for peace and stability, for Jordanians and all the people in the region. Jordanians today remember him as Al-Malik Al-Insan ("The Humane King"), because each decision he made aimed to allow every Jordanian man, woman and child the opportunity to reach their full potential. He wanted all Jordanians to be able to live a decent life and to serve their family, their country, and the world. He tried in his own life to provide the example of how to do that.
At the end of his life on February 7, 1999, His Majesty was the longest serving executive head of state in the world, whose experience was frequently sought out by young leaders in public or private life in many countries. Muslims worldwide also valued him as the fortieth generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Early in young Hussein’s life, on July 20, 1951, his grandfather King Abdullah was assassinated at al-Aqsa mosque in al-Quds (Jerusalem). Hussein was there, with his grandfather, as they went regularly to perform Friday prayers. King Abdullah had recently given the young Prince Hussein a medal and insisted he wear it that day. The assassin’s bullet grazed off the medal, and saved Hussein’s life. A defining moment in his life, this tragedy gave him an understanding of the fragility of life and the importance of taking advantage of every day, with clarity and courage, to achieve as much as possible for the peace and security of (the most vulnerable) people in the region no matter the obstacles.
From the first days he assumed his constitutional duties in 1952, the young King Hussein quickly grasped Jordan’s state-building challenges. He realized that a small, vulnerable, resource-poor country in a volatile region at the vortex of big power rivalries could survive and thrive by developing its human resources at home, while maintaining friendly relations with all countries. To raise the living standards of all Jordanians, he focused maximum available resources on education, health care, and essential infrastructure like water and communications, aiming to reach every community across the land. This drive was boosted in the 1950s and 60s with the discovery and development of phosphate, potash and cement deposits, which in turn anchored wider industrial expansions that provided thousands of new jobs.
King Hussein felt the greatest satisfaction from seeing families in every corner of the country enjoy access to basic education and health services, along with a steadily expanding network of roads, airports, and telecommunications. He saw these as human rights that he and his governments were duty-bound to provide, and the numbers speak for themselves. While water, sanitation and electricity were available to only 10% of Jordanians in 1950, these reach 99% of the population today. Literacy among Jordanians in that same period increased from 30% to over 90%. UNICEF statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, Jordan achieved the world’s fastest annual rate of decline in infant mortality – nearly halving it from 70 to 37 deaths per 1000 live births. In this sustained developmental drive, King Hussein always looked out for the most vulnerable and needy – the poor, disabled, orphaned and others – so that they also could give back to their country, just as they had benefited from it.
National development during the King’s reign was always vulnerable to regional conflicts and rivalries, which he sought to mitigate by pursuing every possible opportunity for honorable, just, and lasting peace among rivals. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he participated in drafting UNSC Resolution 242, which for over half a century has remained the touchstone for a peace that calls on Israel’s withdrawal from all the Arab lands it occupied in 1967 in exchange for full peace. He played a pivotal role in convening the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference by 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 was a major step toward achieving a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in the Middle East.
King Hussein simultaneously mediated to resolve disputes between Arab states, such as the 1990-91 crisis when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and during the Yemen civil war. He also used his influence with world leaders to remind them of the need for international humanitarian aid to relieve the constant suffering of the people of Iraq, Palestine, and other Arab lands, in order to minimize hopelessness and radicalization, and enhance prospects for permanent peace and stability. He believed deeply in transnational cooperation, for example by always making room in Jordanian universities and training centers for students from other Arab and Islamic countries. He frequently sent Jordanian experts to participate in peace-keeping and technical development missions abroad, whether through UN efforts or on a bilateral basis, and encouraged Jordanian skilled workers, like teachers and engineers, to participate in the economies of the oil-rich states during their development boom after the 1970s. This in turn aided Jordan’s development by providing new experiences for its workers, sending remittances back home that fueled education, health care, housing and other human development fields, and often resulted in lasting partnerships across Arab lands.
King Hussein’s commitment to democracy, civil liberties, and human rights started from his first years as monarch with his insistence on always sounding out citizens across the land before embarking on major new initiatives. When conditions allowed in the 1980s, he re-established participatory mechanisms such as the National Consultative Council, and then launched full parliamentary elections in 1989. He understood that all citizens needed, and had the right, to be heard, to contribute to national decision-making, and to enjoy fundamental human and civic rights. The kingdom in his years was a leader in the Arab region in developing laws and institutions to promote internationally recognized human rights standards, while moving ahead towards participatory and accountable parliamentary governance. In 1989, 1993 and 1997, Jordan held parliamentary elections which were accredited internationally as among the freest and fairest ever held in the region. The 1990 National Charter, drafted by a royal commission King Hussein appointed from the entire spectrum of Jordanian political thought, and the Jordanian Constitution together guide the country’s continued drive for democratic and political pluralism.
King Hussein married Queen Noor ( founder and Chair of the King Hussein Foundation) on June 15, 1978. They had two sons -TRH Princes Hamzah and Hashim- and two daughters -TRH Princesses Iman and Raiyah. His Majesty is also survived by three sons - His Majesty King Abdullah II, TRH Princes Faisal and Ali- and five daughters -TRH Princesses Alia, Zein, Aisha, and Haya and Ms Abir Muhaisen- from his former marriages.
His Majesty authored 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. He has been the subject of numerous others including Her Majesty Queen Noor’s Hussein of Jordan and Leap of Faith.