Born in Mecca
, Ottoman Empire
, Abdullah was the second of four sons of Hussein bin Ali
, Sharif of Mecca
, and his first wife, Abdiyya bint Abdullah. He was educated in Istanbul
and Hejaz. From 1909 to 1914, Abdullah sat in the Ottoman legislature, as deputy for Mecca
, but allied with Britain during World War I. Between 1916 and 1918, he played a key role as architect and planner of the Great Arab Revolt
against Ottoman rule that was led by his father Sharif Hussein. Abdullah personally led guerrilla raids on garrisons.
Abdullah became emir of Transjordan in April 1921, which he established by his own initiative. He became king after Transjordan was granted independence in 1946 (the country's name became simply Jordan in 1949). Abdullah ruled until 1951 when he was assassinated in Jerusalem while attending Friday prayers at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa mosque
by a Palestinian who feared that the King was going to make peace with Israel.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Talal
Early political career
In their Revolt and their Awakening, Arabs never incited sedition or acted out of greed, but called for justice, liberty and national sovereignty.
In 1910, Abdullah persuaded his father to stand, successfully, for Grand Sharif of Mecca
, a post for which Hussein acquired British support. In the following year, he became deputy for Mecca in the parliament established by the Young Turks
, acting as an intermediary between his father and the Ottoman government.
In 1914, Abdullah paid a clandestine visit to Cairo to meet Lord Kitchener
to seek British support for his father's ambitions in Arabia.
Abdullah maintained contact with the British
throughout the First World War and in 1915 encouraged his father to enter into correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon
, British high commissioner in Egypt, about Arab independence from Turkish rule. (see McMahon-Hussein Correspondence
This correspondence in turn led to the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans
During the Arab Revolt
of 1916–18, Abdullah commanded the Arab Eastern Army.
Abdullah began his role in the Revolt by attacking the Ottoman garrison at Ta'if
on 10 June 1916.
The garrison consisted of 3,000 men with ten 75-mm Krupp
guns. Abdullah led a force of 5,000 tribesmen but they did not have the weapons or discipline for a full attack. Instead, he laid siege to town. In July, he received reinforcements from Egypt in the form of howitzer
batteries manned by Egyptian personnel. He then joined the siege of Medina
commanding a force of 4,000 men based to the east and north-east of the town.
In early 1917, Abdullah ambushed an Ottoman convoy in the desert, and captured £20,000 worth of gold coins that were intended to bribe the Bedouin into loyalty to the Sultan.
In August 1917, Abdullah worked closely with the French Captain Muhammand Ould Ali Raho in sabotaging the Hejaz Railway
Abdullah's relations with the British Captain T. E. Lawrence
were not good, and as a result, Lawrence spent most of his time in the Hejaz serving with Abdullah's brother, Faisal
, who commanded the Arab Northern Army.
Founding of the Emirate of Transjordan
Abdullah arrives in Amman 1920
When French forces captured Damascus
at the Battle of Maysalun
and expelled his brother Faisal
, Abdullah moved his forces from Hejaz into Transjordan with a view to liberating Damascus, where his brother had been proclaimed King in 1918.
Having heard of Abdullah's plans, Winston Churchill
invited Abdullah to a famous "tea party
", where he convinced Abdullah to stay put and not attack Britain's allies, the French. Churchill told Abdullah that French forces were superior to his and that the British did not want any trouble with the French. On 8 March 1920, Abdullah was proclaimed King of Iraq
by the Iraqi Congress but he refused the position. After his refusal, his brother who had just been defeated in Syria, accepted the position. Abdullah headed to north to Transjordan and established an emirate there after being welcomed into the country by its inhabitants.
Although Abdullah established a legislative council in 1928, its role remained advisory, leaving him to rule as an autocrat.
Prime Ministers under Abdullah formed 18 governments during the 23 years of the Emirate.
Abdullah set about the task of building Transjordan with the help of a reserve force headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Peake
, who was seconded from the Palestine police in 1921.
The force, renamed the Arab Legion
in 1923, was led by John Bagot Glubb
between 1930 and 1956.
During World War II, Abdullah was a faithful British ally, maintaining strict order within Transjordan, and helping to suppress a pro-Axis uprising in Iraq.
The Arab Legion assisted in the occupation of Iraq and Syria.
Abdullah negotiated with Britain to gain independence. On 25 May 1946, the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on 26 April 1949) was proclaimed independent. On the same day, Abdullah was crowned king in Amman
King Abdullah declaring the end of the British Mandate and the independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 25 May 1946.
Abdullah, alone among the Arab leaders of his generation, was considered a moderate by the West.
It is possible that he might have been willing to sign a separate peace agreement with Israel, but for the Arab League
's militant opposition. Because of his dream for a Greater Syria
within the borders of what was then Transjordan
, and the British Mandate for Palestine
under a Hashemite dynasty with "a throne in Damascus," many Arab countries distrusted Abdullah and saw him as both "a threat to the independence of their countries and they also suspected him of being in cahoots with the enemy" and in return, Abdullah distrusted the leaders of other Arab countries.
Abdullah supported the Peel Commission
in 1937, which proposed that Palestine be split up into a small Jewish state (20 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine
) and the remaining land be annexed into Transjordan. The Arabs within Palestine and the surrounding Arab countries objected to the Peel Commission while the Jews accepted it reluctantly.
Ultimately, the Peel Commission was not adopted. In 1947, when the UN supported partition of Palestine
into one Jewish and one Arab state, Abdullah was the only Arab leader supporting the decision.
In 1946–48, Abdullah actually supported partition in order that the Arab allocated areas of the British Mandate for Palestine could be annexed into Transjordan. Abdullah went so far as to have secret meetings with the Jewish Agency
(future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir
was among the delegates to these meetings) that came to a mutually agreed upon partition plan independently of the United Nations in November 1947.
On 17 November 1947, in a secret meeting with Meir, Abdullah stated that he wished to annex all of the Arab parts as a minimum, and would prefer to annex all of Palestine.
This partition plan was supported by British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin
who preferred to see Abdullah's territory increased at the expense of the Palestinians rather than risk the creation of a Palestinian state headed by the Mufti
of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni
No people on earth have been less "anti-Semitic" than the Arabs. The persecution of the Jews has been confined almost entirely to the Christian nations of the West. Jews, themselves, will admit that never since the Great Dispersion did Jews develop so freely and reach such importance as in Spain when it was an Arab possession. With very minor exceptions, Jews have lived for many centuries in the Middle East, in complete peace and friendliness with their Arab neighbours.
The claim has, however, been strongly disputed by Israeli historian Efraim Karsh
. In an article in Middle East Quarterly
, he alleged that "extensive quotations from the reports of all three Jewish participants [at the meetings] do not support Shlaim's account...the report of Ezra Danin and Eliahu Sasson on the Golda Meir meeting (the most important Israeli participant and the person who allegedly clinched the deal with Abdullah) is conspicuously missing from Shlaim's book, despite his awareness of its existence".
According to Karsh, the meetings in question concerned "an agreement based on the imminent U.N. Partition Resolution, [in Meir's words] "to maintain law and order until the UN could establish a government in that area"; namely, a short-lived law enforcement operation to implement the UN Partition Resolution, not obstruct it".
Historian Graham Jevon discusses the Shlaim and Karsh interpretations of the critical meeting and accepts that there may not have been a "firm agreement" as posited by Shlaim while claiming it is clear that the parties openly discussed the possibility of a Hashemite-Zionist accommodation and further says it is "indisputable" that the Zionists confirmed that they were willing to accept Abdullah's intention.
On 4 May 1948, Abdullah, as a part of the effort to seize as much of Palestine as possible, sent in the Arab Legion to attack the Israeli settlements in the Etzion Bloc.
Less than a week before the outbreak of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War
, Abdullah met with Meir for one last time on 11 May 1948.
Abdullah told Meir, "Why are you in such a hurry to proclaim your state? Why don't you wait a few years? I will take over the whole country and you will be represented in my parliament. I will treat you very well and there will be no war".
Abdullah proposed to Meir the creation "of an autonomous Jewish canton
within a Hashemite kingdom," but "Meir countered back that in November, they had agreed on a partition with Jewish statehood
Depressed by the unavoidable war that would come between Jordan and the Yishuv
, one Jewish Agency
representative wrote, "[Abdullah] will not remain faithful to the 29 November [UN Partition] borders, but [he] will not attempt to conquer all of our state [either]."
Abdullah too found the coming war to be unfortunate, in part because he "preferred a Jewish state [as Transjordan's neighbour] to a Palestinian Arab state run by the mufti
The Palestinian Arabs, the neighbouring Arab states, the promise of the expansion of territory and the goal to conquer Jerusalem
finally pressured Abdullah into joining them in an "all-Arab military intervention" on 15 May 1948. He used the military intervention to restore his prestige in the Arab world, which had grown suspicious of his relatively good relationship with Western and Jewish leaders.
Abdullah was especially anxious to take Jerusalem as compensation for the loss of the guardianship of Mecca, which had traditionally been held by the Hashemites until Ibn Saud seized the Hejaz
Abdullah's role in this war became substantial. He distrusted the leaders of the other Arab nations and thought they had weak military forces; the other Arabs distrusted Abdullah in return.
He saw himself as the "supreme commander of the Arab forces" and "persuaded the Arab League
to appoint him" to this position.
His forces under their British commander Glubb Pasha
did not approach the area set aside for the Jewish state, though they clashed with the Yishuv forces around Jerusalem, intended to be an international zone. According to Abdullah el-Tell
it was the King's personal intervention that led to the Arab Legion
entering the Old City
against Glubb's wishes.
After conquering the West Bank
, including East Jerusalem
, at the end of the war, King Abdullah tried to suppress any trace of a Palestinian Arab national identity. Abdullah annexed the conquered Palestinian territory and granted the Palestinian Arab residents in Jordan Jordanian citizenship.
In 1949, Abdullah entered secret peace talks with Israel, including at least five with Moshe Dayan
, the Military Governor of West Jerusalem and other senior Israelis.
News of the negotiations provoked a strong reaction from other Arab States and Abdullah agreed to discontinue the meetings in return for Arab acceptance of the West Bank's annexation into Jordan.
King Abdullah, in white, leaving the Al-Aqsa Mosque
a few weeks before his assassination, July 1951
King Abdullah with Glubb Pasha
, the day before Abdullah's assassination, 19 July 1951.
On 16 July 1951, Riad Bey Al Solh
, a former Prime Minister of Lebanon
, had been assassinated in Amman, where rumours were circulating that Lebanon and Jordan were discussing a joint separate peace with Israel.
96 hours later, on 20 July 1951, while visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque
, Abdullah was shot dead by a Palestinian from the Husseini
who had passed through apparently heavy security. Contemporary media reports attributed the assassination to a secret order based in Jerusalem known only as "the Jihad".
Abdullah was in Jerusalem to give a eulogy at the funeral and for a prearranged meeting with Reuven Shiloah
and Moshe Sasson
He was shot while attending Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque
in the company of his grandson, Prince Hussein
. The Palestinian gunman fired three fatal bullets into the King's head and chest. Abdullah's grandson, Prince Hussein, was at his side and was hit too. A medal that had been pinned to Hussein's chest at his grandfather's insistence deflected the bullet and saved his life.
Once Hussein became king, the assassination of Abdullah was said to have influenced Hussein not to enter peace talks with Israel in the aftermath of the Six-Day War
in order to avoid a similar fate.
The assassin, who was shot dead by the king's bodyguards, was a 21-year-old tailor's apprentice named Mustafa Shukri Ashu.
According to Alec Kirkbride
, the British Resident in Amman, Ashu was a "former terrorist", recruited for the assassination by Zakariyya Ukah, a livestock dealer and butcher.
Ashu was killed; the revolver
used to kill the king was found on his body, as well as a talisman
with "Kill, thou shalt be safe" written on it in Arabic. The son of a local coffee shop owner named Abdul Qadir Farhat identified the revolver as belonging to his father. On 11 August, the Prime Minister of Jordan announced that ten men would be tried in connection with the assassination. These suspects included Colonel Abdullah at-Tell, who had been Governor of Jerusalem, and several others including Musa Ahmad al-Ayubbi, a Jerusalem vegetable merchant who had fled to Egypt in the days following the assassination. General Abdul Qadir Pasha Al Jundi of the Arab Legion
was to preside over the trial, which began on 18 August. Ayubbi and at-Tell, who had fled to Egypt, were tried and sentenced in absentia
. Three of the suspects, including Musa Abdullah Husseini
, were from the prominent Palestinian Husseini family
, leading to speculation that the assassins were part of a mandate
-era opposition group.
The Jordanian prosecutor asserted that Colonel el-Tell, who had been living in Cairo since January 1950, had given instructions that the killer, made to act alone, be slain at once thereafter, to shield the instigators of the crime. Jerusalem sources added that Col. el-Tell had been in close contact with the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
, Amin al-Husayni
, and his adherents in the Kingdom of Egypt
and in the All-Palestine protectorate in Gaza
. El-Tell and Husseini, and three co-conspirators from Jerusalem, were sentenced to death. On 6 September 1951, Musa Ali Husseini, 'Abid and Zakariyya Ukah, and Abd-el-Qadir Farhat were executed by hanging.
Abdullah is buried at the Royal Court in Amman.
He was succeeded by his son Talal
; however, since Talal was mentally ill, Talal's son Prince Hussein became the effective ruler as King Hussein
at the age of seventeen. In 1967, el-Tell received a full pardon from King Hussein.
Emir Abdullah I had two sons: future King Talal
and Prince Naif
. Talal, being the eldest son, was considered the "natural heir to the throne". However, Talal's troubled relationship with his father led Emir Abdullah to remove him from the line of succession in a secret royal decree during World War II. Subsequently, their relationship improved after the Second World War and Talal was publicly declared heir apparent by the Emir.
Tension between Emir Abdullah and then-Prince Talal continued, however, after Talal had been "compiling huge, unexplainable debts".
Both Emir Abdullah and Prime Minister Samir Al-Rifai
were in favor of Talal's removal as heir apparent and replacement with his brother Naif. However, the British resident Alec Kirkbride
warned Emir Abdullah against such a "public rebuke of the heir to the throne", a warning which Emir Abdullah reluctantly accepted and then proceeded to appoint Talal as regent when the Emir was on leave.
A major reason for the British's reluctance to allow the replacement of Talal is his well-publicized anti-British stance
which caused the majority of Jordanians to assume that Kirkbride would favor the vigorously pro-British prince Naif. Thus, Kirkbride is said to have reasoned that Naif's "accession would have been attributed by many Arabs to a Machiavellian plot on the part of the British government to exclude their enemy Talal", an assumption that would give the Arab nationalist sympathetic public an impression that Britain still actively interfered in the affairs of newly independent Jordan.
Such assumption would disturb British interests as it may lead to renewed calls to remove British forces and fully remove British influence from the country.
This assumption would be put to a test when Kirkbride sent Talal to a Beirut mental hospital, stating that Talal was suffering from severe mental illness. Many Jordanians believed that there was "nothing wrong with Talal and that the wily British fabricated the story about his madness in order to get him out of the way."
Because of widespread popular opinion of Talal, Prince Naif was not given British support to succeed the Emir.
The conflicts between his two sons led Emir Abdullah to seek a secret union with Hashemite Iraq, in which Abdullah's nephew Faysal II
would rule Jordan after Abdullah's death. This idea received some positive reception among the British, but ultimately rejected as Baghdad's domination of Jordan was viewed as unfavorable by the British Foreign Office due to fear of "Arab republicanism".
With the two other possible claimants to the throne sidelined by the British (Prince Naif and King Faysal II of Iraq), Talal was poised to rule as king of Jordan upon Emir Abdullah's assassination in 1951. However, as Talal was receiving medical treatment abroad, Prince Naif was allowed to act as regent in his brother's place. Soon enough, Prince Naif began "openly expressing his designs on the throne for himself". Upon hearing of plans to bring Talal back to Jordan, Prince Naif attempted to stage a coup d'état by having Colonel Habis Majali
, commander of the 10th Infantry Regiment (described by Avi Shlaim
as a "quasi-Praetorian Guard
), surround the palace of Queen Zein (wife of Talal)
and "the building where the government was to meet in order to force it to crown Nayef".
The coup, if it was a coup at all, failed due to lack of British support and because of the interference of Glubb Pasha
to stop it. Prince Naif left with his family to Beirut, his royal court advisor Mohammed Shureiki left his post, and the 10th Infantry Regiment was disbanded.
Finally, King Talal assumed full duties as the successor to Emir Abdullah and king when he returned to Jordan on 6 September 1951.
Marriages and children
In 1913, Abdullah married his second wife, Suzdil Khanum (d. 16 August 1968), at Istanbul, Turkey. They had two children:
In 1949, Abdullah married his third wife, Nahda bint Uman, a lady from Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
, in Amman. They had one child:
Titles and honours
Postage stamp, Transjordan, 1930.
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