Hussein bin Talal was the King of Jordan from the abdication of his father, King Talal, in 1952, until his death. Hussein guided his country in the context of the Cold War, and through four decades of Arab-Israeli conflict, balancing the pressures of Arab nationalism, the burdens of sheltering a large Palestinian refugee population, and the allure of Western-style development against the stark reality of Jordan's geographic location.
Hussein's family claims a line of descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad. "We are the family of the prophet and we are the oldest tribe in the Arab world", the king once said of his Hashemite ancestry.
Hussein was educated at Victoria College in Alexandria. He proceeded to Harrow School in England, where he befriended his cousin Faisal II of Iraq. He pursued further study at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
In 1952, Hussein bin Talal was named King of JordanOn July 20, 1951, Prince Hussein traveled to Jerusalem to perform Friday prayers with his grandfather, King Abdullah I. A Palestinian extremist, fearing the king might negotiate a peace with the newly-created state of Israel, opened fire on Abdullah and his grandson. Abdullah was killed, but the 15-year-old Hussein survived, and turned to pursue the gunman. The assailant turned his weapon on the young prince, who was saved when the bullet was deflected by a medal on his uniform given to him by his grandfather.
He was appointed Crown Prince of Jordan on September 9, 1951. Abdullah's eldest son, King Talal, was crowned King of Jordan, but within a year was forced to abdicate owing to his mental state (European and Arab doctors diagnosed schizophrenia). King Talal's son, Crown Prince Hussein, was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on August 11, 1952, succeeding at the age of 16; because this was under the legal age, he was enthroned a year later, on May 2, 1953.
In mid-1967, Jordan joined Egypt and Syria to fight Israel in the Six Day War. Jordan lost control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem and saw its military shattered, but Hussein shored up his support among the country's growing Palestinian population.
In September 1970, the king ordered the forcible expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he considered to be attempting to foment a civil war, from the country.
The country also defied the West and the other allied leaders by refusing to side against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War — allegedly done for internal political reasons after the Ma'an uprising in 1988 that threatened the throne of the King — which alienated the kingdom from most of the Arab world.
In 1994 King Hussein concluded negotiations to end the official state of war with Israel resulting in the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace which he had begun negotiating in secret with the Israelis in the 1970s. King Hussein developed strong ties of friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with whom he had negotiated the peace treaty. King Hussein gave a powerful speech at the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin:
The king wrote 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 died of complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on February 7, 1999. The King had been suffering from the disease for many years and had been treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, United States on a fairly regular basis.