Jordan - Historical Perspectives on the Hashemites
March 1999

Commentary by Rick Francona

The late King Hussein bin TalalOn February 7, 1999, an era came to an end in the Middle East. King Hussein of Jordan, one of the world's longest-reigning monarchs, died in Amman. At first glance, it appears that the transition of power to his son 'Abdullah has been smooth, and that the Jordanian population has accepted the next generation of the Hashemites to be their monarch. The presence of a monarchy whose roots are based over seven hundred miles away in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, goes back to the power vacuum created with the dismantling of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I. 

After the defeat of the Ottomans, the area of their vast empire outside what is now Turkey was placed under mandate by the League of Nations. The mandates established by the League ratified the provisions of the up-until-then secret Sykes-Picot agreement signed in 1916 by Britain, France and Russia. According to the provisions of the agreement, the British became the mandatory power over the former Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Al-Basrah, or present-day Iraq and Kuwait. The mandate over the former Ottoman province of Syria was to be divided between France and Britain. The French were given the mandate for the areas that now comprise Syria and Lebanon, and the British were given authority over what is now Jordan and Israel. 

The division of the former Ottoman province of Syria between British and French mandates was central to the creation of what would become Jordan. Although the French had been given the mandate for Syria, it had been British forces under Viscount Sir Edmund Allenby that had taken Damascus from the Turks in October 1918. The British forces were assisted by Arab irregulars led by two Hashemite brothers, 'Abdullah and Faysal (who actually led the way into Damascus), sons of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, a direct descendant of Muhammad. Hussein had declared himself King of the Hijaz and King of the Arabs after the Arab revolt against the Turks in 1916-1917, and had allied himself with the British, who, in return for the Sharif's support against the Ottoman Turks, pledged to ensure that the Hashemites retained control of Mecca. As reward for the services of Sharif Hussein's sons, the British planned to install Faysal as the King of Syria, and 'Abdullah as King of Iraq. 

By 1919, Faysal had set up a kingdom in Syria. However, the League of Nations mandates gave authority over Syria to the French, who forced Faysal from the country in 1920. When 'Abdullah, selected to be the King of Iraq by the Iraqis but still working for his father back in Mecca, heard that the French had displaced his brother, he led an Arab army from the Hijaz en route to Damascus to remedy his brother's situation. The initial British solution to Faysal's dilemma was to create a kingdom in the area that is now Jordan and put Faysal on that throne, rather than oppose the French ouster of Faysal. However, since 'Abdullah was now in Amman in force and the British wanted to prevent a war between Arab forces and the French over Syria, they offered 'Abdullah the throne of the newly-created kingdom-Transjordan. He became king in 1923. Faysal was placed on the throne in Baghdad. 

By 1926, the Hashemites' situation in the Hijaz had taken a turn for the worse. The Hashemites had been in competition, at times bloody, for years with the Al Sa'ud for dominance of the Arabian Peninsula. In 1924, the Sharif had declared himself the Muslim caliph, prompting the ultra-conservative 'Abd Al-'Aziz bin 'Abd Al-Rahman Al Sa'ud to launch a series of attacks against the Hijaz. Sharif Hussein abdicated his position in favor of his son 'Ali, but by 1926, 'Ali had been forced into exile, leaving the Hijaz to the Sa'uds. 'Abd Al-'Aziz consolidated his gains and later declared the areas of Najd and Hijaz to be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites, who had governed Mecca since the 13th century, were gone. No longer were the direct descendants of the founder of Islam in control of the religion's holiest places. 

King 'Abdullah ruled Transjordan under British mandate until independence in 1946, at which time it was renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In the summer of 1951, the king was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist while entering the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in the company of his grandson, Hussein bin Talal. The gunman also tried to shoot Hussein but missed. Talal, Hussein's father, succeeded 'Abdullah and became king, but the young Hussein was named regent in 1952 due to Talal's mental illness. Hussein was crowned King in May 1953, and ruled until his death in 1999. 

Thus the Hashemites became the royal family of Jordan. 

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