Hussein's Death: THE END OF AN EPOCH
8 February 1999

By Adel Darwish

Like in his eventful life, the crowded days bracketing the foretold death of King Hussein of Jordan had all the ingredient of a Shakespearean Drama:  jealousy ridden court wives plotting to further the interest of husbands and sons on the road to succession; uncles and nephews torn between loyalty to the dying king and self-interest; a king making the ultimate sacrifice and fatally endangering his health- by riding in the rain while his immune system was down- to replace the excepted heir in order to grantee the unity of his kingdom; army officers whose loyalty is the stuff of legend, and one of century's most impressive funeral that mirrored the kings life in bridging wide gaps between enemies bringing them under the same roof.

Much was reported about the plotting of Princess Savenath, the unpopular Pakistani wife of Prince Hassan bin Tallal, King Hussein's younger brother, who was the crown prince for 33 years. She and Queen Noor, the King's American born last wife, disliked each other. Not only did she generate rumours against Rania, the sweet Palestinian wife of the Kings eldest son who is now King Abdallah II, she also invited the decorators into the palace in the new year to give the impression that the King was dying. They were spotted by the army chief of staff, who was alarmed by prince Hassan's moves to promote officers loyal to him and retire officers appointed by the King. 

The Chief of staff informed the then Prince Abdallah who was the commander of special units. The Prince, accompanied by the intelligence chief flew, in a private Jet, to Minnesota to inform king Hussein.

On his way to Jordan in January, King Hussein stopped in London. Doctors advised him to rest and stay in England for a few weeks as he was still too fragile to travel. '' No,'' said the King according to sources present, '' I need very much to feel the warmth of my people around me, there is work to be done and I will get the strength from my people to finish the business.''

The King, piloting his own aircraft as he did hundreds of times and like his return in 1992 winning an earlier first battle against cancer, he touch down in Amman, prayed on the tarmac and insisting, again against doctors advice, on riding in an open white limousine. It was a long journey in the pouring rain, and the king stood bravely getting the positive vibes he wanted as an estimated 2 million of his 4.6 million subjects braved the elements and came out to great their beloved monarch. 

The king knew, that any decision he makes will be accepted by the nation, '' even if he had appointed his driver not his son as a crown prince, people would support him,'' said one Amman businessman. The king, appointed Abdallah- who was as surprised as any one else- and let the open letter to his brother Hassan read on state television indicating that the changes in the army was behind his decision. The army, and the Bedouin tribes are the two pillar on which the Hashemite kingdom stood for nearly eight decade. 

The initial plan was for Hassan to succeed the king, naming prince Hamza the son of his American wife as a crown prince, while Abdallah becomes the head of the armed forces, a role he loved and was prepared for since he followed his father's footsteps in attending in Sandhurst in Britain. 

The Britishness of Jordan has always been a source of strength. The Army, which is the best trained in the Middle East, was the British lead Arab legion. When Major Lawrence was sent to Arabia, the choice was the Hashemite Prince Faisal- the King's great uncle and the Bedouin tribes, now making Jordan, to defeat the Turks and enter Damascus three days before general Alenby's well equipped British army reached it. 

In fact it was during the filming of Lawrence of Arabia in the Jordanian desert in 1961 that King Hussein met Toni Gardiner - later princess Muna al-Hussein- who was working as a secretary on the set. The King had given permission to a brigade from the Arab Legion to be the soldiers in the film, and he used to go there every other day to make sure that his men were well looked after, and treated with respect. 

It was King Hussein's British style military uniform that saved his life as a 16 years old in 1951. He wanted to wear a Bedouin uniform When he accompanied his grandfather King Abdallah in his fateful trip to Jerusalem, but the old man insisted that his grandson should wear a military uniform. When the terrorist fired the bullets that killed his grandfather and every one ducked for cover, the 16 years old prince Hussein chased the assassin and cornered him. The terrorist turned round and fired his last bullet point blank at Hussein, but the bullet bounced off one of the brass medals on his uniform.

All these colourful scenes, were remembered by the old guard who still live the dramatic events of the romantic era of the British empire. At the same time the Jordan turned into a river of tears, running among the emotions of the majority of  millions of Jordanians, Palestinians and Bedouin, Muslims and Christians mourning the death of the father of the nation. 

Abdallah II's Britishness was visible in the hard and tense days. In this harsh macho- culture when men do not cry, Jordanian men, from the speaker of the upper house Zaid el-Rifaai to the street sweeper, were weeping, but Abdallah II - who a fortnight earlier had no idea he would become a Crown Prince, let alone try to fit King Hussein's giant shoes, inherited, from his mother, the British stiff upper lip, kept cool, showed no emotion and behaved like a king, an extension of his father, he said. 

Tears were also flowing across the Jordan - Israelis were the second saddest people at the news of King Hussein's death, worried about the challenges that could face the new King Abdallah II from within and from without in one of the world's roughest neihbourhoods. 

Three days earlier, The Israeli government offered prayers as the Jewish state awaited official word of the death of its closest Arab friend and the most popular Arab leaders among Israelis. King Hussein has become in the last few years more popular in Israel than most Israeli politicians. A spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu said the prime minister, the Israeli government and all of the Israeli people are praying for King Hussein. 
Israeli leaders- past and present and of all parties- formed the largest foreign delegation to the funeral, repaying the compliments that King Hussein had bestowed on them at the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. 

The Israelis, western diplomats in Jerusalem say, were disappointed by King Hussein's decision to remove his brother Prince Hassan as crown prince. Prince Hassan was seen by the Israelis as their best ally once King Hussein died. He was a frequent visitor to Israel, held many negotiations with them and they trusted him as a crown prince and, until a few weeks ago, the future king. A strong Jordanian monarch is always seen by Israel as an important ally in the diplomatic and political confrontation with Iraq and Syria, the two dictatorships that are still at war with Israel and would like to see the destruction of the Jewish state. 

Not only has King Hussein played a crucial role in Used efforts to resolve the Israeli Arab conflict,- his intervention last year to help shore up the Israeli Palestinian Wye River agreement at the eleventh hour was a case in point - but he acted as a buffer zone between Israel on one side, and hostile Syria and Iraq on the other, as well as Saudi Arabia, which leads Sunni Islamic rejection of the Jewish state. 

Iraqi intelligence agents, who number hundreds and possibly thousands in Jordan, according to western diplomats, were behind rumours undermining Prince Hassan when he was in charge during the king's six months of cancer treatment in the US. The Iraqis disliked Prince Hassan because of his contacts with Israel and because he did not condemn britches military attacks on Iraq and did not speak out for lifting the sanctions on Baghdad.

The Iraqi daily Babel, edited by Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday, then published a vicious attack on Prince Hassan, calling him a Zionist agent and an American stooge. The same paper also welcomed the appointment of Prince Abdallah to succeed his father, saying he would put the record straight and balance the interests of the Arab nation. The Iraqi reaction was a factor in the Israelis' calculations. 

Relations with Iraq is one of the most complicated aspects of Jordanian diplomacy. When Iraq was created by the British in 1922, Faisal who was King Hussein's great uncle became the first king, and his cousin young king Faisal was killed in a bloody military coup in 1958 lead by the communist supported General Abdel-Karim Quasim's military coup. Both General Quasim left-wing provost alliance, and the nationalist Baath regime - backed by Colonel Nasser of Egypt - that came to power in 1963 were hostile to Jordan, leading to border provocation and threats. Relations only improved during the Iran-Iraq war, when Jordanian economy received a major boost as Iraqi armour and goods were imported via the Jordanian port of Aqaba. 

At the end of the war, Jordan joined Egypt and Iraq in forming the Arab economic council. This was a factor in King Hussein's rejection of the United States' lead military alliance to evict Iraq from Kuwait in 1990. King Hussein preferred a negotiated Arab solution, but was wrongly interpreted by the conservative rulers in the Gulf as supporting Saddam Hussein. As a result, Jordan lost valuable economic aid and business from the Gulf; but the King had little choice but to respect the wishes of the majority of his subjects especially the Palestinians comprising 60% of the population who supported Iraq and rejected the idea of the use of force. 

However, Iraq remains a serious threat to Jordan and many Jordanians fear that the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might try to test the novice king Abdallah II, regarded by Arab nationalists as much weaker and less experienced than his father who mastered the act of balancing the interests and challenges of all his neighbours friends and foes. 

One factor in this complicated equation is the American attempts to use Jordan as a launch pad for Iraqi opposition's operation to topple President Saddam Hussein. This is likely to present the coming King Abdallah II with one of his early serious challenges. Majority of Jordanians are against the idea. And the 37 years old Abdallah has shown that he is very much like his father in being in touch with his subjects and respecting their wishes.

Perhaps this was one factor in Saudi Arabia's calculation when announcing it would resume selling petrol to Jordan at preferential prices, which was stopped in 1990 to punish King Hussein. The United Arab Emirates too announced that it will deposit large sums of money at the Jordan Central bank to help boost the economy.

Although President Assad of Syria attended the funeral and gave King Abdallah a warm embrace, it is till early days. Still Syria represents the main threat to Jordan's stability and its regional diplomacy and perhaps to its very existence, according to Israeli, US and British intelligence assessments as well as that of  Jordanian intelligence's. Syria, which too have hundreds of agents in Jordan would do its best to drive a wedge between Jordan and Israel and wreck the peace moves or at least freeze it. 

If the new king doesn't come round to president Assad's way of thinking, he might try to destablise Jordan. Like Iraq, Syria sees Jordan as a colonial creation that should not exist, and Syria in particular remained a bitter enemy of King Hussein. 

In 1970, when Yasser Arafat's Palestinian fighters challenged King Hussein's rule and threatened to take over the kingdom, Syria backed the Palestinians. During what is known as Black September, when the Jordanian army brutally suppressed Palestinians in refugee camps - which many Palestinians now say it was a good thing as it kept the struggle for real Palestine going- , Syria then sent an armoured brigade into Jordan. Its commander's brief was to topple the Hashemite regime: only the Israeli military's direct threats and a show of strength by its superior air force deterred the Syrians after Hafez Assad- then chief of the Syrian Airforce- decided to save his aircraft the humiliating destruction in the hands of Israeli Airforce. 

When Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, ending their decades long formal state of war, Syria became even more hostile and renewed its accusation that King Hussein was dividing the Arabs. Although king Hussein waited until the Palestinians signed their own peace accord with Israel- contradicting Henry Kissinger's prediction that Jordan will be the party that follows Egypt in formalising a peace with the Jewish state. 

The paranoia of the president Assad increased when Israel signed military co-operation treaties in 1997 and 1998 with Turkey, another powerful neighbour that has a continuing dispute with Syria over sharing the waters of the Euphrates and Syria's support for the Kurds. Mr Assad sees this as a Zionist western plot against him. 

While he tried to rally Arab support against the treaties, Jordan was invited to participate in naval exercises in the Mediterranean with the two nations, generating more hostilities in Damascus and Baghdad. Shortly before King Hussein returned from his failed treatment in the US, Israeli reports warned that hundreds of Syrian intelligence agents in the Jordanian capital were trying to exploit the weakness created King Hussein's ailment and sabotage the Jordanian Israeli peace. 

Another serious challenge to King Abdallah II comes from within is presented by the complexity of the Palestinian factor. A large numbers of Jordanians, especially those among the more than two million Palestinian refugees living there for over 30 years, have never warmed to the idea of peace with the Jewish state, but they all trusted King Hussein and accepted his wisdom. Now that King Hussein is gone, fears are growing that Iraq and Syria will try to exploit the sentiment of Palestinians in Jordan and other traditionally anti peace groups such as Arab nationalists and Islamists. 

Western diplomats agree that the outcome of the Israeli election in May will be a major factor. A return of a right-wing Likud government led by Mr Netanyahu could cause unrest among Palestinians and Islamists in Jordan, and there will be no King Hussein to deal with the situation. Some even predict a return to guerrilla attacks on the Jewish state if Mr Netanyahu returns to power and the Middle East peace process remains frozen. 

A lot depends on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who could also play a crucial rule in aggravating or decreasing the Palestinian threat to Jordan. If Mr Arafat goes ahead with his threat to declare an independent Palestinian State in May, as a reply to Israel's delays in implementing the later phases of the Wye agreement to pull back out of 13 per cent of the West Bank, Israel might react by reoccupying key areas of the West Bank, leading to an open war with the Palestinians. 

Palestinians in Jordan would almost certainly get involved, presenting the young King Abdallah with a serious challenge. If the new king lacks his father's political cunning and charm, the situation could lead to a civil war on the same scale as that of 1970. That in turn could dust off the ambitious plans of the Israeli right wing, including what is known as the "Sharon Option" of 1982, which is to push Palestinians into the East Bank of the Jordan river, as they regard Jordan to be Palestine. 

When Jordan was created as Transjordania in 1921, ultra-right Jewish organisations like Herut party - which are the roots of the current Likud party - protested in London outside the Foreign Office and called the move a betrayal by the British who reneged on the Balfour Declaration. They always regarded Israel as extending from the Litani River in South Lebanon to the Gulf of Aqaba, including most of Jordan. 

Israel regards Jordan as the only Middle Eastern nation with a true peace and normal relations; Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt is still valid, but was never translated into normalisation of relations. In contrast, King Hussein's personal commitment to peace, pushed forward with normalisation of relation in accordance with his known phrase '' peace treaties remain documents on paper but real peace is forged between ordinary people.'' 

All these challenges and dangers were flashing before Prince Abdallah's eyes, as he took over from his father, against a backdrop of neighbouring unstable, undemocratic countries. Many of them are run by ageing and ailing autocratic leaders whose demise could present further threats of destabilisation. 

Mr Assad has a history of heart trouble and his health is deteriorating, he looked frail and Shaky during the Funeral. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia is not expected to last long, while Mr Arafat is suffering from Parkinson's disease and might not last long either. Neither President Assad nor Mr Arafat has a named successor, nor a democratic mechanism to change power, and power struggles following a leader's death could have a serious effects on neighbouring Jordan.
Also se: A spot on Jordan's new Queen.

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