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Hussein of Jordan
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Hussein of Jordan

Hussein bin Talal (Arabic: حسين بن طلال) (November 14, 1935 - February 7, 1999) was the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from (1952-1999).

On July 20, 1951, King Abdullah I traveled to Jerusalem to perform his Friday prayers with his young grandson, Prince Hussein. He was assassinated by a gunman at the instigation of Colonel Abdullah Tell, ex-Military Governor of Jerusalem, and Dr Musa Abdullah Husseini, on the steps of one of the holiest shrines of Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Hussein grappled with the assailant, until he was wounded himself; he is said to have been saved from a bullet by a medal his grandfather had recently awarded him and insisted he wear.

Abdullah's eldest son, King Talal was crowned as King, but within a year was forced to resign because of mental illness. His son Prince Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952 and was enthroned on May 2, 1953.

Hussein survived numerous assassination attempts, but on February 7, 1999, he lost his long fight with cancer. The King had been suffering from the disease for many years and had visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, United States on a fairly regular basis for treatment. Just before his death, he changed his will and declared his son, instead of his brother, to be his successor. The King was at the time of his death the longest serving leader in international politics and the most respected. This showed at his funeral, which, along with the funerals of Tito and Charles De Gaulle, will probably go down in history as being one of the most widely attended.

In a show of unusual political diversity, leaders of radical Arab states were side by side with officials from western democracies. President Clinton and former Presidents Bush, Carter and Ford represented the United States, a longtime ally of Jordan's. Their presence reflected Hussein's long and usually warm relationship with the United States going back to the Eisenhower era. Visitors paid their respects in the throne room of the king's Hashemite Dynasty.

Britain sent Prime Minister Tony Blair and Charles, Prince of Wales. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also came. The funeral brought bitter enemies together, including both sides of the Middle East wars. Syrian President and Hafez Al-Assad and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attended alongside their lontime rival Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who himself was once Hussein's foe but came to Amman to mourn the loss of his recent partner in peace. Neighboring Iraq was represented by its vice president. Libyan Leader Moammar Qadaffi sent his eldest son. Czech president Václav Havel and Russian president Boris Yeltsin, themselves both seriously ill, also came—Yeltsin against the advice of his doctors. According to Jordanian officials, Yeltsin returned home earlier than expected for medical reasons.

On the human level, the numbers speak for King Hussein's achievements. While in 1950, water, sanitation, and electricity were available to only 10% of Jordanians, today these reach 99% of the population. In 1960 only 33% of Jordanians were literate, in 1996, this number climbed to 85.5%. In 1961, the average Jordanian received a daily intake of 2198 calories, and by 1992, this figure had increased by 37.5% to reach 3022 calories. UNICEF statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, Jordan achieved the world's fastest annual rate of decline in infant mortality—from 70 deaths per 1000 births in 1981 to 37 per 1000 in 1991, a fall of over 47%. King Hussein always believed that Jordan's people are its biggest asset, and he continued to encourage all—including the less fortunate, the disabled and the orphaned—to achieve more for themselves and their country.

King Hussein's commitment to democracy, civil liberties and human rights has helped pave the way in making Jordan a model state for the region. The kingdom is internationally recognized as having the most exemplary human rights record in the Middle East, while recent reforms have allowed Jordan to resume its irreversible drive to democratization. In 1990, King Hussein appointed a royal commission representing the entire spectrum of Jordanian political thought to draft a national charter. Today the National Charter, along with the Jordanian Constitution, serves as a guideline for democratic institutionalization and political pluralism in the country. In 1989, 1993 and 1997, Jordan held parliamentary elections which were accredited internationally as among the freest and fairest ever held in the Middle East.

Hussein was an accomplished aviator, motorcyclist, and race-car driver. He enjoyed water sports, skiing, tennis, amateur radio, and surfing the Internet. King Hussein read extensively on political affairs, history, international law, military science, and aviation. In addition to being an avid reader, the King was the subject of numerous books and wrote three of his own: Uneasy Lies the Head (1962), about his childhood and early years as king, My War With Israel (1969), and Mon Métier de Roi.

He was married four times, probably a record for any Head of State of his time. His four wives were:

King Hussein was succeeded as king by his eldest son Abdullah II of Jordan.

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Preceded by:
Hashemite King of Jordan Succeeded by:
Abdullah II