A West Coast Perspective
Jordan Mourns King as Leaders Gather at Funeral
By TRACY WILKINSON AND REBECCA TROUNSON
FEB. 8, 1999 12 AM PT
TIMES STAFF WRITERS
AMMAN, Jordan — Amid an extraordinary outpouring of international sorrow, Jordanians today mourned the death of King Hussein, the only ruler most of them have ever known and a nation-builder who came to embody their very identity.
Sobbing openly, swooning from grief and lifting their eyes skyward in prayer, people from all walks of life, from the Bedouin desert to urban offices and modern schools, marked the end of an era and the passing of a man most saw as a father and legend, and whom the world saw as a unique peacemaker.
Hours after the 63-year-old Hussein succumbed to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphona on Sunday, his eldest son, Abdullah, 37, placed his hand on the Koran, took a one-sentence oath and was sworn in to become the fourth monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
And hours after that, King Abdullah II named his 18-year-old half brother, Hamzeh, as his heir, fulfilling what a royal decree said were the dying wishes of Hussein. Hamzeh was the late king’s favored first son by Queen Noor, the American-born wife who was at his side when he died.
In testament to the esteem in which Hussein was held, heads of state and government from all over the world were attending today’s funeral, including President Clinton and all living former U.S. presidents except Ronald Reagan. And countries as adversarial as Israel and Syria went into formal mourning.
A saddened Clinton, speaking in Washington before departing for Jordan, praised Hussein’s “rare kind of courage,” which earned him the “respect and admiration of the entire world.”
“King Hussein lived his life on a higher plane,” Clinton said.
Hussein’s death robs the world of one of the few Middle East figures who could mediate between the Arab world and the Israelis, as his impasse-breaking participation in last fall’s Wye Plantation peace negotiations in Maryland showed.
His demise also leaves this small and weak country in a precarious position, vulnerable to predatory neighbors while its new ruler finds his way. Instability here could have a domino effect that might eventually pose a threat to Israel. Abdullah will be faced with daunting economic and strategic issues before he has had a chance to sharpen his own political skills.
Jordanians learned of their king’s death when television and radio began broadcasting verses from the Koran on Sunday. At schools, Koranic readings were piped into classrooms over loudspeaker systems.
Abdullah finally went on national television to relay the news to his subjects. He appealed for calm and pledged to preserve his father’s course.
“Hussein’s soul will remain with us and among us,” he said, speaking in a slow Arabic tainted with the accent of his British and American schooling. “King Hussein was a father to every one of you, as he was my father. Today, you are my brothers and sisters, and you are dear to me.”
Mourners Brave Rain to Pay Respects
As the death of Hussein, who claimed to be the 42nd generation direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad, was being revealed, torrents of rain and fog enshrouded the land.
Outside the King Hussein Medical Center, where the king died, crowds who had kept vigil for 48 hours erupted in frenzied grief when the news spread by word of mouth.
Under a larger-than-life portrait of the smiling king, students, professionals, police and farmers chanted “God is great,” called out the dead monarch’s name and waved their arms in despair and disbelief. They hung from trees and waved Jordanian flags. At times, the crowd surged dangerously, and several people fainted.
“We had hoped for a miracle,” 25-year-old lawyer Dani Murad said as she wept underneath an umbrella. “All of us want to stand here, hand in hand, to go through this together. All of us are proud to be Jordanian. He made us proud Jordanians.”
Hundreds of people trudged in the cold rain for miles to reach the hospital. Throughout this capital, photographs of Hussein that adorn seemingly every other building were draped in black ribbon. Bouquets of flowers piled up beneath some posters at major intersections. Black flags were hung from windows and car antennas. Shops shuttered their doors and windows to close for the start of a 40-day mourning period.
On the southern outskirts of Amman, Sheik Mahmoud Irshed al Tayyeb, 75, the leader of a Bedouin clan of 4,000, lifted his hands toward heaven as tears filled his reddened eyes.
“His spirit has risen,” he said. “God wanted him too much.”
Al Tayyeb, who once worked as an aide to Hussein’s grandfather, the first King Abdullah, and also knew his father, King Talal, met Hussein when he was young and had seen him frequently in the years since at tribal meetings.
“He was a man when he was still a child,” Al Tayyeb said, his voice filled with sorrow. “And now he has died so young.”
On Sunday evening, Hussein’s body was transported from the hospital to his Bab al Salam Palace. There, according to Muslim ritual, the body was to be cleansed early today before being carried in a procession to the Raghadan Palace, where officials and guests were to pay respects. The burial ceremony at the Royal Cemetery was timed to follow afternoon prayers.
Under Muslim tradition, women are not allowed to attend funerals. Consequently, Queen Noor would not be present at her husband’s burial or the final prayer ceremony, a spokesman on royal protocol and her press spokeswoman said. Foreign dignitaries who are women, such as the president of Ireland, would also be excluded, a Royal Court spokesman said.
The funeral brings together Middle Eastern enemies, much as King Hussein attempted to do in his lifetime. An estimated 50 heads of state, kings, presidents and other government leaders were expected to attend, including a large delegation from Israel led by that nation’s prime minister and president. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were among the dignitaries who began landing in Amman on Sunday night.
In his 47-year reign, Hussein transformed Jordan from a backward patch of desert into a modern state. Ever fond of the theatrical gesture, such as piloting his own jets, motorcycling through downtown Amman and giving away a palace, he skillfully retained the loyalty of the military, Bedouin tribes, elites and the masses through a combination of benevolence and repression, patronage and progress.
Still, he was the rare leader who enjoyed genuine popularity and was regarded affectionately by the majority of his people, in part through his generosity and the personal attention he gave loyal subjects.
New King Takes Steps to Assure His Country
It will be a hard act for Abdullah to follow. In one of his last official moves, Hussein abruptly dumped his long-standing heir, his brother Hassan, and put Abdullah in his place barely two weeks ago. An army major general who commanded the Jordanian special forces, Abdullah had not been considered crown prince material.
In recent days, Abdullah has taken pains to assure the public and foreign officials that he is his father’s son, able to fulfill diplomatic and political duties while repairing rifts within the royal family.
A few hours after Hussein’s death was announced, Abdullah went before a hastily called session of the National Assembly. Wearing a traditional red-and-white-checked kaffiyeh, a stoic Abdullah strode into the chamber to subdued applause from senators and congressmen, some of whom wept.
His father’s two siblings, Hassan and ailing older brother Mohammed, preceded Abdullah. The heir stood ramrod straight in front of a portrait of Hussein, hands tightly clenched at his sides in an at-attention salute that drew more applause.
He then recited the same oath his father took nearly five decades earlier. “I swear by Almighty God to uphold the constitution and be faithful to the nation,” said the new king.
Zaid al Rifai, speaker of the House of Notables, or senate, opened the session with a fatha, a prayer for the dead.
His voice cracked with emotion as he led the recitation. “God save his majesty,” Rifai said of the new monarch. “God give him advice and take care of him.”
Among those in attendance was Mohammed Rasoul Kilane, a senator and former intelligence chief who had worked with Hussein since the mid-1950s and witnessed Hussein’s own coronation.
“Jordan was a small country at that time,” Kilane said. “He built it. We had four secondary schools; now we have universities. We had to borrow doctors from Lebanon; now we export doctors to all over the world. We imported scientists; now our scientists are in NASA.”
Sheik Abdel Baki Jammo, a 72-year-old imam and senator who knew Hussein before he was king, also took note of the shift from one generation to another.
“He [Hussein] could make this poor country without resources an example for the world,” he said. “I wish the same for the son.”
The new king will have little opportunity to gain his footing before he must begin to tackle daunting economic and political problems.
Analysts predict that within the first week or so, Abdullah must decide whether to keep the existing Cabinet, appointed by his now-ousted uncle during the king’s lengthy hospital stay last year; to change the Cabinet; or to dissolve the entire government and call for parliamentary elections.
Many Jordanians believe that Abdullah, at the least, will elect to change the Cabinet, in an effort to show the public that he is now in control of the country. “I would expect this within the first week,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi. Others, however, predicted that the king will move more gradually, allowing the existing leadership to remain in place for now.
But before long, he must begin to cope with challenges that include Jordan’s severely troubled economy, high unemployment and anger over endemic corruption. Many Jordanians also remain uneasy, or resentful, over Hussein’s internationally praised but internally unpopular 1994 peace treaty with Israel, which has not yielded the economic benefits that many expected.
The economic crisis is the most urgent issue, Kamhawi and many others believe, with sweeping reforms and foreign investment desperately needed. A desert kingdom lacking oil or any other significant resource, Jordan has long relied on the largess of powerful allies, including the wealthy Persian Gulf nations and, lately, the U.S.
That support is likely to be even more critical in the months to come. Several nations, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates, already have promised new aid to ease the transition.
REACTION IN SOUTHLAND: Death stirs emotion among many in area--home to 50,000 Jordanian Americans. B1
* A DIPLOMATIC VOID: The king’s passing leaves a huge gap in American foreign policy. A17
Tracy Wilkinson covers foreign affairs from the Los Angeles Times’ Washington, D.C., bureau.
SUBSCRIBERS ARE READING