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News > Notable RMAS Alumni > King Hussein

King Hussein

“I did what you asked - but Her Majesty told me, Monarch-to-Monarch – King Hussein, you look tired – go to bed for the afternoon!”

The grandson of King Abdullah 1, the founder of modern Jordan, Hussein bin Talal was born in Amman, on 14th November 1935 and schooled in Egypt and at Harrow. On 20th July 1951 he accompanied his grandfather to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem when the King was assassinated by a Palestinian gunman. Hussein’s life was saved when a medal on his uniform deflected a bullet. He was named heir apparent in 1951 but, only a year later, his father was forced to abdicate and the sixteen-year-old became king. During a period of regency, he was sent to Sandhurst on Intake 12, arriving in September 1952. Tales of the young King in training are many, but perhaps the best is the aftermath of a mistake on the drill square. The Sergeant Major told him to “run down to the statue of Queen Victoria, tell her how idle you are then run back and give me her reply.” Instead of complying with this obviously ludicrous direction, Hussein disappeared. Found asleep on his bed an hour later he told the same Warrant Officer; “I did what you asked - but Her Majesty told me, Monarch-to-Monarch – King Hussein, you look tired – go to bed for the afternoon!”

Inheriting the throne of not just Jordan, but the West Bank, which was captured during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, the young King ruled a country in the middle of one of the most volatile regions on earth. After early reliance on British assistance, he dismissed his advisors and rode the wave of Arab Nationalism, receiving a surge in popularity after the failed Anglo-French Suez invasion in 1956. After a brief experiment with a democratically elected Government and a failed coup, Hussein asserted his authority and imposed a period of martial law. Over the next ten years Hussein avoided threats from Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Syria as well as the assassination of his cousin the King of Iraq. On 10th November 1958, the aircraft he was piloting was attacked by two Syrian MiGs. His skilful evasion of the assassination attempt added to his popularity in Jordan. On 29th August 1960, a bomb killed the Prime Minister and the secondary device, intended for the King as he rushed to the scene, only failed by a few minutes. Another involved replacing the King’s nasal drops with acid and a cook was arrested for killing cats while trying the best poison to dispose of the monarch.

In the mid-1960s, Hussein juggled a growing Palestinian population and Israeli reprisals for their raids as well as opposition from pro-Russian Eqypt and Syria. This led to an ill-advised pact with Egypt on 30 May 1967 which included handing over command of the army to the Egyptian General Riad and accepting Iraqi troops in the country. On 5th June, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike destroying the Egyptian air force but Rial, misinformed by his superiors that it was the opposite, launched an attack on Israel. Hussein survived another assassination attempt when Israeli planes attacked his palace until diplomatic pressure from the USA curtailed these direct threats. The Six-Day War was a disaster for Jordan. The West Bank (which accounted for 40% of the country’s GDP) was lost and 200,000 more refugees flooded into the country.

The growth of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its increasing attacks on Israel, combined with a further two assassination attempts and the hijack and destruction of three airliners at a remote Jordanian airstrip, galvanised Hussein into action. Coordinated attacks on PLO camps and a heavy defeat of a Syrian intervention force won the day. The Israeli air force harassed the Syrians with dummy attack runs, showing support for Jordan in neutralising a mutual threat. The PLO fighters were allowed to retreat to Lebanon where they were later the root cause of the subsequent Civil War. On 6th October 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in what became known as the Yom Kippur War. Jordan joined the Arab side in the latter stages supporting Syria on the Golan Heights but did not lose any further territory. After the rise of Saddam Hussein in 1979, Jordan became a close ally, supporting Iraq in its war with Iran and receiving subsidised oil in return. This unfortunately led to the marginalisation of Jordan by the international community especially after Saddam invaded Kuwait. However, in 1994 King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel.

In May 1998 Hussein was diagnosed with cancer and undertook extensive treatment in the USA. After a short return to Jordan, his condition worsened in early 1999 and he returned for further treatment. On 4th February, knowing the end was near, Hussein was flown back to Jordan with fighter jets from numerous countries, including the UK, escorting the aircraft across their air space. Three days later the King died and an estimated 10% of the population of Jordan lined the funeral procession route. Hussein was succeeded by his eldest son, Abdullah, himself an alumnus of Sandhurst. King Hussein held his country together for 46 years, in fact it was calculated that 90% of all Jordanians had been born during his reign. With minimal natural resources, in the middle of a conflict zone and home to hundreds of thousands of refugees his leadership steered the country through crisis after crisis, surviving numerous assassination attempts along the way. In 1980 an Israeli intelligence report described him as: “a man trapped on a bridge burning at both ends, with crocodiles in the river beneath him.”

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