Abdullah ibn Husein

Abdullah ibn Husein (1882-1951) was an Arab nationalist and political leader who established and became king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Born in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Abdullah ibn Husein was the second son of Husein ibn Ali in the city's leading family, which claimed descent from the prophet Mohammed. In 1891 he moved to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and was raised and educated in the Ottoman capital. Following the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, the new Ottoman government appointed Husein ibn Ali the sharif of Mecca, the protector of the holy places, which was a position his family had often held. Abdullah represented the Hejaz Province of western Arabia in the reorganized Ottoman parliament and participated in Arab political movements concerned with the question of autonomy or independence for Arab areas of the multinational Ottoman Empire.

Even before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Abdullah had discreetly contacted British officials in Egypt to learn Great Britain's attitude toward Arab political aspirations in the event of Ottoman involvement in war. Consequent negotiations led in part to the Arab Revolt of June 1916, in which Abdullah and Arab troops assisted British efforts to drive the Turks out of Syria.

Following the war, Britain could not harmonize the pledges it had made to the French, the Zionists, and the Arabs—especially the Arab expectation for a separate and fully independent Arab state for the Fertile Crescent and Arabia. The Arab National Congress at Damascus in 1920 elected Abdullah king of Iraq and his brother Faisal king of Syria, but the French seizure of Damascus in July 1920 upset the plans. Abdullah moved north in 1921 with troops to support Faisal's claims, but the pragmatic Abdullah acquiesced in Britain's immediate proposal to accept the newly created emirate of Transjordan, the largely arid territory east of the Jordan River. This land became formally independent in 1946, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1949.

During the first Palestinian War of 1948-1949, Abdullah's British-trained Arab Legion held central Palestine, which Abdullah annexed in 1950 over the objections of Palestinians and the other Arab states. Because of this and the general opinion that he was a moderate and was willing to reach an accommodation with Israel, Abdullah was killed by an embittered Palestinian on July 20, 1951, in Jerusalem—the nationalist of one generation assassinating the nationalist of an earlier one.

Between World Wars I and II Abdullah had ruled as a realistic, capable desert emir, but he was not cognizant of new social and political forces emerging in the Arab world following World War II and the Palestinian conflict. Abdullah failed completely in his ambitious dream of building a greater Syrian union with himself as king, just as his father had failed before him.

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Further Reading on Abdullah ibn Husein

Two volumes by Abdullah are Memoirs of King Abdullah of Transjordan, edited by Philip P. Graves (trans. 1950), and My Memoirs Completed (trans. 1954). James Morris, The Hashemite Kings (1959), presents a popular story of Husein ibn Ali and his sons. British views of Abdullah are provided by Alec S. Kirkbride, a personal friend and adviser, in A Crackle of Thorns: Experiences in the Middle East (1956), and by John Bagot Glubb, the leader of the Arab Legion, in The Story of the Arab Legion (1948) and A Soldier with the Arabs (1957). Ann Dearden, Jordan (1958), is a good survey of the emirate. P. J. Vatikiotis, Politics and the Military in Jordan: A Study of the Arab Legion, 1921-1957 (1967), includes material on history and politics during the interwar era.

Additional Biography Sources

Abdullah, King of Jordan, My memoirs completed "Al Takmilah," London; New York: Longman, 1978.

Wilson, Mary C. (Mary Christina), King Abdullah, Britain, and the making of Jordan, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.