The passing of King Hussein: Life-long balancing act of a popular autocrat

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The Independent Online
HUSSEIN BIN TALAL, the third king of Jordan, was born in 1935 into the Hashemite dynasty - installed by Britain to rule the land east of the Jordan river at the end of the First World War, writes Patrick Cockburn from Amman.

Partly educated in Britain, he stood beside his grandfather when the ruler was shot dead in Jerusalem in 1951. Two years later, he became king after his father, a schizophrenic, was removed from the throne. He was at first reliant on British support, but soon removed Glubb Pasha, his military adviser. He tried to conciliate Arab nationalists but without losing the backing of the Great Powers, above all the US.

In 1967, King Hussein joined Egypt and Syria in fighting Israel and lost east Jerusalem and the West Bank. In a radicalised Middle East he was lucky to retain his throne. In 1970 he crushed the rising power of the Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan in what Palestinians later called Black September. Three years later he warned Israel of impending attack by Egypt and Syria.

In the 1970s and 1980s Jordan - a poor state with few natural resources - benefited from the oil boom in the rest of the Middle East. But the economy remained vulnerable.

The king married four times and had 11 children, but his crown prince and effective deputy after 1965 was his brother Hassan. As a ruler he was a benevolent autocrat. One of his opponents said recently: "You could try to overthrow him and he would still forgive you." He also had an intense desire to strengthen his own family and the Hashemite dynasty.

In the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, he supported Iraq and in 1991 offended most of his former allies by remaining friends with Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. He paid a heavy price for this after the Iraqi defeat. Arab Gulf rulers never forgave him. In 1995 he broke with Saddamn.

A year earlier he signed a peace treaty with Israel. It produced few benefits. He remained popular in Jordan, but at the time of his final illness was under serious pressure. He had regained his position as a close US ally, but was more than ever squeezed between Israel and Baghdad.