Talal: the sad story of the King of Jordan
Feb 21, 2006
Arab leaders assembled in Cairo in September 1970 to put an end to the bloody war raging in Jordan between King Hussein and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was opposed to Husseinís war on the Palestinians, arguing: ďWe are faced with a madman like Hussein who wants to kill his own people. We must send someone to seize him, handcuff him, stop him from doing what heís doing, and take him off to an asylum.Ē King Faysal of Saudi Arabia replied: ďI donít think you should call an Arab king a madman who should be taken to an asylum.Ē Qaddafi snapped back: ďBut he is mad! All his family are mad! Itís a matter of record.Ē Qaddafi was making reference to Husseinís father King Talal who abdicated in 1951 because he was mentally unfit to rule Jordan. The wise Faysal remarked: ďWell, perhaps all of us are mad.Ē President Gamal Abd al-Nasser intervened and said: ďSometimes when you see what is going on in the Arab World, Your Majesty, I think this may be so. I suggest we appoint a psychiatrist to examine us regularly and find one which ones are crazy.Ē Faysal laughed and remarked: ďI would like your psychiatrist to start with me, because in my view of what I see I doubt whether I shall be able to preserve my sanity.Ē
Nasser and Faysal were right when they said that Arab leaders need a psychiatrist, claiming that the burden of leadership in the Arab World were enough to make any man lose his sanity. If this was the case with strong and sober men like Nasser and Faysal, how would a weak, young, and insecure man react to the responsibilities of leadership in the Arab world? This was the sad case of King Talal of Jordan. History remembers him as the ill monarch of Arab politics; a psychologically unstable man who ruled Jordan for seven brief months and paved the way for his son to reign for forty-seven long years. Perhaps he may have lacked the in-born traits of a leader; the wisdom of his grandfather Sharif Hussein, the cunning of his father King Abdullah, or the character of his son King Hussein, but Talal should be remembered as a dedicated patriotic who was the first real democrat in modern Jordan. His life, reign, and abdication were a combination of conspiracy, instability, and unsuitability. He was by no means, a madman, during his brief reign as king of Jordan. Talal, however, was a normal man who led an abnormal life. He was a weak man who had the wrong job and was surrounded by the wrong father, the wrong wife, and the wrong associates.
I decided to conduct my research on King Talal in 1999, the year his son King Hussein died. The most controversial period in Jordanís young history was the reign of Talal. As the world mourned Hussein and world capitals from Washington DC to Tokyo praised his leadership, nobody mentioned King Talal. A quick literature review showed that unlike other heads of state in the Arab World, not one biography was devoted to Talal, neither in English, Arabic, or French. In Arabic, two kinds of books existed on Talal. One was written by supporters of King Hussein, who argued that Talal was ill and that his abdication was in the best interest of Jordan, to clear the way for Hussein. The other kind of literature was written by radical Arab nationalists who promote the conspiracy theory, claiming that Talal was perfectly healthy but removed from his job by Hussein and the British because he had been an Arab nationalist. It is common street talk in the Arab world to say that Talal was a sane man and an ardent Arab nationalist, and that he was sidelined by his family and the British to make way for Hussein to become king of Jordan, so he can ďexecute imperial ambitions in the Middle East.Ē These accusations are factually baseless, since Arabs love to explain their weaknesses through the conspiracy theory. Apart from the memoirs of King Hussein, there is not one reliable source in Arabic on King Talal. There are the memoirs of Talal himself, compiled by Mamduh Rida in 1962, but they were written after the former kingís illness increased and therefore, are unrealizable. Some wrote in the 1960s that the memoirs were not written by Talal, but no evidence proves or counters this argument. Therefore, for all practical purposes we have to accept these papers as the official memoirs of the ex-king of Jordan. Whether they were written by him or not, however, they are greatly under-covered in Arabic literature on Jordan. As for interviews, all those who knew Talal, or had served in his court, are either dead or too old to remember important details about the former King. His sons Prince Mohammad and former Crown Prince Hasan were unavailable for interviews (due to the death of King Hussein) in 1999. In English, there are books that deal with King Abdullah I and King Hussein, and all of them briefly mention King Talal. There are also the memoirs of senior foreign officials who served in Jordan in the 1940s and 1950s, like Glubb Pasha and Alec Kirkbride, who offer a very lucid and interesting description of Talal. This article tries to compile information on the former king of Jordan and create a balanced biography of Talal. It tries to challenge some of the myths surrounding the ex-King, and shed proper light on his life and career.
-Childhood and upbringing
Prince Talal was born in the Hijaz to the royal Hashemite family on February 26, 1909. One year before his birth, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II had appointed his grandfather Sharif Hussein as the Prince of Mecca and Defender of the Holy Shrines. In 1916, two years after the outbreak of World War I, Hussein declared an Arab Revolt from Mecca against the Ottoman Empire. Supported by the British Army, Hussein wanted to liberate the Arab territories from Ottoman rule and establish a hereditary kingdom for the Hashemite family in the liberated Arab territories. His two sons, Faysal and Abdullah (Talalís father), were appointed commanders of the northern and southern armies respectively.1 While his relatives were engaged in combat, the young Talal was left behind in Mecca. His father had married a slave girl of Tatar origin and brought her to live with the Hashemite family in Mecca. Living with a stepmother affected Talal's upbringing tremendously. It drew him closer to his mother, who was a Hashemite princess, and he became dependent on her for protection, care, and companionship. She was his only friend during his childhood. In 1912, Abdullah's new wife bore him a son, Prince Nayef. The new child became the center of attention in the Hashemite family and received a lot of affection from Abdullah, to the great displeasure of Talal. From the start, the two brothers proved to be exact opposites. Nayef was confident and outgoing while Talal was shy and never parted his mother's side. Talal had few friends and never felt conformable among his peers while Nayef was always surrounded with friends. Both Nayef and Talal, however, did not really know their father Abdullah. He had left Mecca when they were children (Talal was only seven when Abdullah went to battle in the Arab Revolt in 1916) and barely returned home until the war ended in October 1918. Abdullah arrived in Transjordan to establish an Emirate for himself in March 1920 and did not bring his family to Amman until matters had settled for his young Emirate in 1925. Meaning, Abdullah remained distant from his sonís upbringing for an entire decade.
Abdullah was not pleased to see that his 17-year old son had turned out to by shy and weak. Abdullah had spent his finest days in the Arabian Desert, living with his troops and enjoying the rough life of being a warrior and the pomp of leadership. He developed a dominating personality that valued strength, bravery, and chivalry, expecting his eldest son to be exactly the same. Talal on the other hand, had grown up in seclusion among women. Abdullah was loud and tough, Talal was soft-spoken and gentle. Abdullah enjoyed hunting, shooting contests, and chess while Talal preferred to stay home and read books. There was nothing in common between Abdullah and Talal. In his memoirs, King Hussein remembered the situation saying: "He (Abdullah) was living in the glory of the past. He wanted a Bedouin son, courageous and capable of continuing the legacy of the Great Arab Revolt. He could not accept a weak young man instead of what he had been dreaming of. It was the greatest disappointment of his life.2"
Instead of spending quality time with Talal to compensate for the many years he had spent away from the family, Abdullah shunned the young prince and avoided him at all times. Seeing him made Abdullah lose his temper. The young prince could not understand his fatherís attitude and drifted into further seclusion. In 1928, Abdullah finally decided that the only way to make a man out of Talal was to send him to boarding school in England. In June 1928, Talal arrived in London for an intensive English study program. He enjoyed his new life and prepared to enroll at Cambridge University to study agriculture. Abdullah interfered from Amman, however, claiming that agriculture was not a prestigious education for a Hashemite Prince, ordering him instead to enroll at the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.3 Talal objected but Abdullah turned down his request, adding further tension to the relationship. At Sandhurst, Talal became severely depressed and did not make friends with his classmates. One night while at the dormitories, the young cadets decided to play a practical joke with the Arab prince, dragging him out into the courtyard and throwing him into the campus fountain to get a good night's laugh. The ďjokeĒ added further to Talalís depression and enraged his father, who ordered him to return to Amman.
An angry Abdullah ordered Talal to stay at the Royal Palace and refrain from attending any official or even ceremonial functions in Amman. Meanwhile, all the family attention was shifting to Nayef, who had all of Talalís strengths and none of his weaknesses. By the mid-1930s, it was clear that Abdullah was trying to forget that he had a son named Talal and was beginning to groom Nayef as the next king of Jordan. So dull was Talal's life that he eventually left Jordan, this time at his own will, and took up residence with his ailing grandfather, Sharif Hussein in Cyprus. The elderly Hussein was very compassionate and greatly loved Talal. In 1925, Hussein had been toppled from his kingdom in the Hijaz and forced into exile in Cyprus. Three months after Talalís arrival, however, in July 1931, Hussein died, adding more misery to Talalís life. From Cyprus Talal wandered to Jerusalem, then back to Amman, then Cairo. He finally returned to Transjordan in 1932 and decided to leave his father's palace and set up an independent home in Amman. Abdullah warmly welcomed the idea, believing that it would help strengthen Talalís personality, giving him a monthly allowance to manage his needs since it was unthinkable for a royal prince to work for a living.4 Finally liberated from Abdullah's towering personality and constant expressions of discontent, Talal began to lead a normal life, free from royal expectations. In his memoirs Talal wrote that although he was very happy to be living alone, he was hurt that his father never called on him to inquire on his needs or health.5
-Talal as a young adult
Suddenly, Abdullah resurfaced in Talalís life, ordering him to marry, start a family, and move back to the Royal Palace. He wanted Talalís wife to bring him a grandson. Once a new prince is born, Abdullah argued, he would personally supervise his upbringing, to make up for having been absent during Talalís childhood. He would invest in a grandson to avoid the flaws that showed in Talal. The young prince accepted his fatherís request and got engaged to a young, educated Hashemite princess. Her only problem, however, was that she was the daughter of Sharif Ali Haydar, a Hashemite notable who had challenged Sharif Hussein for leadership of Mecca in 1908. Her mother, a British woman, conditioned that her daughter be free to live the life she chooses, be given a home outside the palace, and be the only wife of Talal.6 Having seen how much his mother suffered when his father married a second time, Talal accepted her condition. Abdullah, however, refused the terms and used the argument to cancel the engagement. Nobody imposes rules and conditions on the royal family of Jordan, he said. Two months later, he had Talal marry Princess Zayn, the daughter of a notable Abdullah wanted to befriend in order to consolidate his power in the Hashemite family. Like him, she was a Hashemite Princess of noble birth. Talal and Zayn were married against his will in November 1934. In his memoirs Muzakarat, Talal described his relationship with Zayn saying; "I am convinced that my marriage to Zayn is an absolute failure."
Zayn bore Talal three boys: Hussein, Hasan, and Mohammad. When Hussein was born in November 1935, so annoyed with his Abdullahís attitude was Talal that he refused to name the infant child Abdullah, as customarily done in Arab families, where the oldest child is named after his grandfather. Rather, the young Hussein was named after his great-grandfather Sharif Hussein. In 1962, Hussein named his own son Abdullah (the current king), after his own grandfather, and not after his father Talal. Today, King Abdullah IIís children are also not named after Talal. The only young Talal is the son of Prince Mohammad, the uncle of King Abdullah II. Although not named in his honor, Abdullah adored the young Prince Hussein. He turned out to be everything Talal never was. In his memoirs Uneasy Lies the Head, King Hussein recalls the relationship between himself, his father and King Abdullah saying, "I am the son he always wanted.7" Hussein was smart, shrewd, outgoing, obedient and athletic. Abdullah's affection for Hussein made one thing certain: he did not want Talal as heir to the Jordanian throne. Seeing the attributes of Hussein reminded Abdullah how seemingly worthless Talal was. In 1939, Abdullah issued a royal decree that remained secret, surpassing Talal from the post of crown prince on the grounds of being unsuitable. He made sure that the decree remain secret to avoid spreading rumors that the royal family was falling apart.
In 1939, World War II broke out, adding more tension between father and son. By this time Talal was 30 and had developed political views that greatly contradicted those of his father. Abdullah was a hard-line supporter of Great Britain and the Allies while Talal was an advocate of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. At the time, due to popular resentment to European colonization of the Middle East, most Arabs supported the enemies of Great Britain and France, believing ďthe enemy of my enemy is my friend.Ē Abdullah described himself as Jordanian nationalist who believes first and foremost in what is best for Jordan while Talal identified himself as a pan-Arabist. Abdullah was heavily reliant on Great Britain for his political existence, Talal was vehemently opposed to the British presence in Jordan. In 1940, so strained was the relationship between the two men that Abdullah placed Talal under house-arrest, with guards stationed at his doors to keep track of his visitors. Matters remained hostile between them until the war began coming to an end in 1945. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the relationship began to show signs of improvement. Talal finally decided to make peace with his father. He quit smoking, which had annoyed Abdullah tremendously, became more obedient and responsible. Meanwhile, Abdullah's second son Nayef had blackened his record by showing irresponsible behavior and according to rumors in Jordan, occupying himself with the smuggling business.8 Abdullah abandoned the idea of appointing Nayef as crown prince but knew that he still could not rely on Talal. He was convinced that the only person fit to rule Jordan from after him was his grandson Hussein. Yet being underage (still seven years old), Abdullah feared that naming him heir apparent would be foolish and dangerous. The only way to secure the monarchy for Hussein, would be to have his father reign, if only briefly, before him. Talal would be a stepping stone for Husseinís ascent to the throne. Abdullah abolished the secret decree he had issued in 1939 and bestowed upon Talal, in March 1947, the title of Crown Prince.
Talalís first duty as crown prince was to go to Damascus in March 1947 to patch up Jordanís relations with Syriaís President Shukri al-Quwatli. Abdullah had angered the Syrian leader when he announced his decision to create a Greater Syria, abolishing the republican regime in Syria and uniting it with Jordan under the Hashemite crown.9 The leaders of Syria received Talal with open arms in Damascus. In January 1950, Abdullah dispatched him to Jerusalem to meet Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was visiting British colonies in the Middle East.10 In May 1951, Abdullah went on an official visit to Turkey and appointed Talal to deputize on his behalf in Amman. This was when the Crown Prince began to show first signs of illness. Accompanied by Sir Alec Kirkbride, the British Ambassador to Jordan, Talal escorted his father to the airport and returned to the Royal Palace. Five hours later he telephoned Kirkbride and asked about the whereabouts of King Abdullah. Stunned, the Ambassador reminded him that they had seen him depart at the airport a few hours earlier. Talal responded saying; "Yes but I do believe that he has returned and is hiding from me in one of the palace chambers.11Ē As early as 1932, visiting British dignitaries in Jordan had noted that Talal was not a stable man and suffered from "minor idiosyncrasies." In 1948, Alec Kirkbride had remarked on Talal's "tendency to instability and fits of irritation." Yet having led such a demoralizing life, the observations were dismissed and considered normal erratic behavior for any man having experienced severe stress and depression during his early youth. Having lived in his demanding fatherís shadow for many years justified his sudden outburst and fits of anger. Following the 1951 incident, Kirkbride decided to let specialized doctors see the Crown Prince. After being treated by the Minister of Health Dr Jamil Tutungi for sudden and brief memory loss, it was decided that Talal had suffered a "nervous and mental breakdown" and needed rest.12 He welcomed the idea and confessed that his action had in fact been most peculiar. Obediently, the prince headed for Lebanon and checked into the American University Hospital (AUH). Dr Ford Robertson, his psychiatrist, blamed the prince's illness on his strained relationship with Abdullah and urged immediate reconciliation between the father and son. He pointed out, however, that Talal would "never be able to assume a position of responsibility.13" Robertson's report concluded saying: "The patient has no more than a 40% chance of recovery.14" On July 10, 1951, the young man went for further treatment in Europe. This time, he suddenly realized that he was not ill and did not need medical treatment. Angered at finding himself in a hospital, he headed back to Jordan, completely convinced of his sanity. One week later, he miserably returned to Switzerland, at his own will, and checked into a private sanitarium.
During his treatment in Switzerland, Talal insisted at times that he was sane, yet at others, broke into tears and pleaded his doctors for help. He seemed convinced that his father and wife were plotting against him and had transformed him into a madman. For his part, King Abdullah was back home, frantic at the turn of events. He was furious that the family reputation would be tarnished by the fact that his son was mentally unstable and undergoing therapy in Europe. Death would have been better than disgrace and embarrassment for the Jordanian King. In his memoirs Uneasy Lies the Head, King Hussein recalls; "He (Abdullah) could not understand how a person can be at some points kind and considerate and at others, severely ill. My grandfather enjoyed good health and could not comprehend the notion of illness." For his part, Talal described his father's feelings in his memoirs Muzakarat saying; "He hated me. He hated me very much." Abdullah never got a chance to visit his son while being treated in Europe. Less than one month later, on July 20, 1951, King Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem and accordingly, Prince Talal, still receiving therapy in Geneva, was appointed king at the age of 42. Upon receiving news of his father's death, Talal's response was extremely passive; "I had expected this. I am not surprised.15"
Talal, the young king of Jordan
To enable the new king's return to Amman, a medical assessment had to be made. Prime Minister Tawfiq Abu al-Huda, a cunning politician who had been close to Abdullah, dispatched the two doctors Ford Robertson from AUH and Health Minister Jamil Tutungi to Switzerland in order to advise on Talal's condition. They were told that Jordan needed Talal and that he should be declared sane to save the kingdom from chaos. In a personal letter to the acting British-Consul in Geneva, Robertson said; "There is no doubt here that His Royal Highness's presence in Jordan is needed, he is popular with all." Along with three Swiss psychiatrists, the two men examined Talal and released a medical report saying that he had ever been mentally ill. Although they admitted that he had been undergone earlier treatment in Beirut for "an extraordinary case of mental depression," they described the cause of his illness as "entirely bodily and not mental." This was a clear contradiction to Robertsonís earlier report, issued in 1951, which said that Talal had suffered from schizophrenia and advised that he lead an anxiety-free life, claiming that he had only a 40% chance of recovery. Now, Robertson declared that Talal's recovery was "very satisfactory" and that he was in a better physical and psychological condition than ever before.16 On September 6, 1951 Talal returned to Amman and was crowned king, receiving a heroís welcome from the Jordanians. They admired his gentleness, kindness, and pan-Arabist views.
Talal set out on pleasing his subjects from his first days in office. To please the Palestinians, who since 1948 had consisted a bulk of the kingdom's population, he relieved the much loathed Justice Minister Fallah Madadha, who was perceived as anti-Palestinian, and recruited a widely respected opposition leader, Abdul Halim al-Nimr, as Minister of Finance. In early October 1951, Talal released forty-six political prisoners and issued a general amnesty shortly afterwards, emptying all of Jordanís jails. Criticizing the government no longer became a criminal offense and he lifted press censorship. On January 1, 1952 Talal issued a new constitution. Its most striking feature was the statement which read that the nation, not the king, is the source of all power in Jordan. The earlier constitution, issued by Abdullah in 1946, had stated that all authority had been vested in the King of Jordan. With his new constitution, Talal confirmed that he was a constitutional leader rather than an absolute monarch. Other articles authorized political pluralism, guaranteed freedom of speech and conduct, and made ministers subject to trial and impeachment if convicted of corruption or mismanagement of governmental affairs. During Abdullah's reign, the ministers, having been hand-picked by him, had been literarily above the law. Finally, Talal's constitution empowered the executive branch with all authority independent from that of the monarch. The Jordanian Parliament, along with the judiciary systems were declared independent from the king.17
On Arab affairs, Talal began his reforms by fixing Jordan's relations with Saudi Arabia. Ever since King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud had toppled the Hashemite kingdom of Sharif Hussein in 1925, Abdullah's relations with the House of Saud had been less than cordial. Abdullah considered Abd al-Aziz to be one of his most dangerous enemies and likewise, the Saudi King lived in constant fear that the Hashemites would retaliate to regain their lost territory in the Hijaz. Talal ended the crisis once and for all by traveling to Riyadh in November 1951 and calling on Abd al-Aziz, expressing his desire to turn a new page in Jordanian-Saudi relations and let bygones be bygones. Two months later Talal ended the animosity between his father and King Farouk of Egypt, which had existed since the Palestine War of 1948, by declaring Jordan's intention to become a member of the Egyptian orchestrated Arab Collective Security Pact. To show his further good will, Talal dispatched Prime Minister Abu al-Huda to Cairo with a message of friendship for the Egyptian King.18 On the Syrian front, Talal invited President Fawzi Selu to Amman who in turn delegated Syriaís strongman and de facto ruler, General Adib al-Shishakli, to make the journey and congratulate the new king of Jordan. Shishakli and Talal became good friends and the Syrian leader invited him to Damascus. Relations between Damascus and Amman had been strained since the 1920s because Talalís father Abdullah had his eyes set on creating a throne for himself in Syria. Syriaís republicans had obstructed his plans and prevented him from intervening in Syrian affairs during the 1930s and 1940s. In a gesture of goodwill towards Talal, Shishakli opened a Jordanian Embassy in Damascus and a Syrian Embassy in Amman. When the king was deposed in 1952, Shishakli was one of his loudest supporters in the Arab World, arguing that a conspiracy had been made against the king of Jordan because he was a true Arab nationalist.19
-More troubles for Talal
The first signs of Talal's illness began to reappear in January 1952 when he and his family were spending a vacation in Europe. He grew intensely agitated for no apparent reason and verbally attacked his wife and children. From Europe he telephoned Amman and instructed Abu al-Huda to fire the Chief Justice Mohammad al-Shanqiti and the Minister of Health Dr Tutungi, both being former loyalists of Abdullah, accusing them of having conspired to destroy his sanity. Talal became increasingly paranoid, convinced that all those around him, including his wife and children, were plotting to destroy him.20 By March 1952, Talal's situation had deteriorated sharply. His attacks against his wife increased and she was forced to leave him in Paris and head back to Amman. In Europe, faced with a swarm of reporters, Talal was asked the most embarrassing questions about his health and quarrels with the Queen. He refused to respond, and eventually so annoyed was he by the Western media that he returned to Jordan. An observer remembered a meeting with him in 1952 saying; "You would be sitting with Talal in his study, enjoying a perfectly normal conversation and eliciting perfectly sensible replies, when suddenly you would feel a queer chill settle upon the room, and looking up at the King's face, you would find it frozen, impassive and silent. All the animation would have vanished, and the eyes that stared back at you, cold and rock steady, would be the fierce eyes of a madman." Yet so ordinary was Talal between his bouts of "insanity" that many refused to believe that he was ill, claiming that all talk about his mental problems were British propaganda aimed at destroying his credibility as an Arab nationalist.
In Amman, the first person to become seriously alarmed with Talal's health was Tawfiq Abu al-Huda. After reviewing Talalís medical reports from psychiatrists in Beirut and Geneva, he finally informed the cabinet of the King's situation. At first he tried to find a Jordanian doctor willing to certify Talal's illness, but no one dared make such a statement. Abu al-Huda visited the King with Interior Minister Said al-Mufti and Defense Minister Sulayman Tuquan. They tried to convince him that he was ill and needed to undergo immediate treatment in Europe. To everybodyís surprise, Talal accepted, but conditioned, to face save himself in front of his Prime Minister, that he would go to Europe for ďvacation,Ē insisting that he would not stay at a hospital.21 On May 18, 1952 Talal and his family left once again for Paris. Before his departure, the King signed a royal decree establishing a Throne Council to reign in his absence, headed by Abu al-Huda. Two hours later after the king had left Jordan, Abu al-Huda had two foreign psychiatrists sign an arranged statement attesting that Talal was severely ill and needed treatment in Europe. They based their medical report on Abu al-Huda's statements since neither of them had a chance to examine Talal. Four days later the cabinet accepted the doctors' report and decided to force Talal into medical treatment. The ministers Mufti and Tuquan journeyed to France to convince him of the governmentís decision.
Realizing their intentions, Talal refused to grant them an audience when they visited him at his hotel in Paris. Meanwhile, his violent outbursts increased and he unleashed his anger on the Queen. Eventually their relation worsened to such an extent where she left him and took refuge with the young Hussein at the British embassy in Paris. Back in Amman, Abu al-Huda announced that Prince Abdul Illah, King Talal's cousin and regent of Iraq, was to arrive in Jordan on June 3, 1952. He wanted to inquire on Talalís condition and guarantee that if the king were to abdicate, a suitable Hashemite prince would replace him since Hussein was still young and unfit for the job. The Prime Minister was greatly disturbed by Abdul Illahís visit, and did not want the Iraqi royals interfering in Jordanian affairs. Since both countries were ruled by the Hashemites, however, he was powerless to refuse Abdul Illahís advise. Abu al-Huda personally liked Talal and wanted him to remain in power as a symbol of state. He knew that the king would need a strong prime minister to rule Jordan while he underwent treatment in Amman and Europe. No man was better for the job than Tawfiq Abu al-Huda. Abdul Illah on the other hand, suspected that Abu al-Huda wanted to rule Jordan through a puppet regime headed by King Talal. Instead, he recommended that his cousin abdicate, and that Prince Zayd, the Iraqi Ambassador to Great Britain, replace him as king of Jordan. Zayd was Talalís uncle and Sharif Husseinís only living son.22" The idea was flatly rejected by Abu al-Huda.
Watching the events from Europe was the miserable Talal. Fearing for the worse he headed back to Jordan. His wife abandoned him and went to Switzerland, causing Talal to switch flights and return to Switzerland. In Amman, the Jordanian government declared that should Talal return without a clear bill of health, then he would be stripped of his title immediately. The saga of the wandering king had meanwhile made headlines in the foreign media. One reporter claimed that it was a "tragic comic opera." The show reached its climax when all of its characters met in Lausanne; King Talal, Queen Zayn, Prince Hussein, Prime Minister Abu al-Huda, and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said who came to meet Talal on the behalf of Prince Abdul Illah. Attempts on the Queen's part to convince the Swiss doctors of his insanity failed, and on June 20, 1952 the independent Swiss psychiatrists declared Talal to be in perfect condition, thereby adding more confusion to the saga. Talal surprised everybody on June 25, 1952 by declaring that he would be returning to Amman and to receive medical treatment from Jordanian doctors.
On July 3, 1952 Talal arrived in Amman to the warmest possible welcome. Despite the smiles on the face of his subjects, he was not smiling. His face was shabby, and his appearance muddled, having lost much weight during his stay in Europe. A combination of despair and fear were evident on his face. A few days after his return, Talal contacted King Farouk of Egypt and asked him to send Egyptian specialists to help treat him in Amman. The King complied, and on July 15, 1952 Egyptian doctors examined Talal twice and noted the gravity of his illness, urging that the King be moved to Cairo to receive proper medical treatment. Egyptian hospitals were more advanced than Jordanian ones. From this point, the story of Talalís rule came to a rapid and dramatic end. He accepted the Egyptian reports yet refused to leave Jordan. Queen Zayn on the other hand informed the Jordanian government that she would not return to Amman unless Talal was locked up in a mental asylum or removed from the country altogether. When Abu al-Huda refused her demand, she sparked off the situation by contacting Prince Abdul Illah once again with the aim of cornering authorities in Amman. By now she was determined to remove her husband and replace him with her son, Prince Hussein, at any cost.
Events were further muddled on July 23, 1952 when the Egyptian monarchy was toppled and a group of young officers seized power in Cairo. Abu al-Huda had no idea whether the coup's military leaders would honor Farouk's commitments to treat Talal in Egypt. On July 27, Talal stunned everybody by saying that he wanted to abdicate, return to his native Hijaz, and devote his life to prayer. He added that he would not under any circumstances undergo medical treatment either in Jordan or Egypt. King Abdul-Aziz responded promptly and welcomed Talal to Saudi Arabia saying that he would be an honored guest of the House of Saud. On August 2, Talal contacted Abu al-Huda, denying his intention to abdicate and claiming that he would return to his constitutional duties as king of Jordan. At this point, Abu al-Huda realized that he no longer could control Talalís actions or behavior. He had wanted to keep him as a puppet monarch but by now realized that it would be wiser to dispose him altogether. On August 5, Abu al-Huda instructed parliament to implement Article 28m of the Constitution (Talal's constitution), which authorized Parliament to force a king to abdicate in favor of his heir on the grounds of incompetence. On August 11, Abu al-Huda declared martial law and called for a secret parliamentary session. A special committee of six deputies was formed to review the recommendations of the Egyptian and Jordanian doctors, both of whom had not examined Talal for over six months, and call witnesses to testify on Talal's health. Among those to testify was Abu al-Huda himself. The committee declared its decision to depose Talal and name Hussein in his place as king of Jordan. Immediately, the Throne Council confirmed Talal's deposition and dissolved itself. When Talal received news of the parliamentary decision, he accepted it calmly. In the same manner that he had received his fatherís assassination in 1952 he said: "I am not surprised.23"
Talal did not put up a fight to remain in power. Apparently, he no longer wanted the position. He moved to a secluded house in the in the village of Irbid where he resided with his mother.24 Shortly afterwards, Talal received a message from Egypt's new strongman Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser stating that he would be welcome under the new regime. Talal left for Cairo on September 16, and his role as a political actor came to an abrupt end. He resided in Egypt for only seven months, during which his health deteriorated sharply. In his memoirs Talal accused everyone in Cairo of plotting against him, claiming that his doctors and assistants were all working for his destruction.25 Talal became loud, erratic, and at times described as a dangerous patient and put in a straight jacket. King Hussein objected and moved his father into a private residence with doctorís stationed near him around the clock. His presence in Cairo attracted much attention, for it was boiling with Arab nationalism and activity during the early months of the July Revolution. Despite his illness, Talal remained a host to some of the region's leading politicians. The ex-Mufti of Jerusalem Amin al-Husayni and the ex-Syrian Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey were daily visitors at his Hilwan residence. Jordanian authorities got alarmed by his meetings with political figures in Cairo and ordered his transfer from Egypt to Turkey on August 15, 1953. Hussein rented a small villa on the Bosporus and equipped it with a medical team and servants to cater to his fatherís needs. In his memoirs, Talal claimed that that all of the assistants and doctors were informers. When he asked them to let him out of the house to take a walk on his own, his servants forbid him from leaving, adding to his conviction that he was "imprisoned by Zayn.26"
In 1956 his condition slightly improved. Once again he began intervening in politics and identifying with the pan-Arabist movement, which at the time was being led by President Nasser of Egypt. He supported Nasserís nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956 and expressed greatly solidarity with the Egyptian leader when France, Great Britain, and Israel declared war on Egypt. He advised Hussein to ally himself with Nasser but the King of Jordan did not get along with the President of Egypt. Hussein ignored the advice, and so annoyed was Talal over Hussein's policies that he contacted senior officers in the Jordanian Army (who had been loyal to him during his brief reign as monarch), hoping that they would support his comeback. When that failed, Talal turned to his cousin Abdul Illah and asked him for support. Entangled in his own diplomatic war with Nasser, Abdul Illah declined. Talal then tried to convince a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman to finance his return to Jordan. The Kuwaiti businessman accepted and secured a Kuwaiti passport to facilitate Talalís escape from Jordan. At the last moment, the Kuwaiti realized the folly of his action and called off the plan.27 In despair, Talal abandoned the idea and accepted his miserable fate. He repeatedly tried contacting his son and wife in Jordan to advise them on political affairs, but nobody was willing to take him seriously. Yet for the next 19 years, Hussein did not leave him and made it a bimonthly duty to visit him in Turkey. As the years went on, Talal lost most of his senses and eventually developed Alzheimer's that kept him from recognizing anyone. He forgot that he had been the king of Jordan and did not recognize Hussein or any of his children. Talal died in Istanbul on July 8, 1972 in complete loneliness and alienation from the outside world. He was only 63 years old. The Times wrote an obituary of the King, noting: "His death closes a tragic episode in the history of the Hashemite dynasty."
Although at first glance, one can believe that Talal was in fact, a madman unfit for ruling a kingdom, yet a closer look at the man proves otherwise. He had all the prerequisites of a leader; charm, dedication, ideas, religious legitimacy, and social status. His one setback was what has been labeled ďminor idiosyncrasies.Ē Despite all the reports that were made, none of them can be taken into serious consideration since they were concluded with political rather than medical motifs. The only reports that can be true are the ones done objectively by the Swiss psychiatrists, and they are the ones that confirm Talalís sanity. Robertson, Talalís psychiatrist for nearly ten years, was a man who sailed with the prevailing wind. The fact that his first reports were negative, then came positive results that denied Talalís illness to begin with, then again negative ones, confirms the fact that his words are not to be believed. The same goes for the other doctors who treated the King on Tawfiq Abu al-Hudaís payroll.
This does not mean that Talal was an absolutely normal person. He suffered from delusions and pressure that led him to take strange actions at times. His wife was responsible for the deteriorating state that he entered, and so were his closest associates. Had Talal lived in an anxiety free life, away from the burdens of state building and decision-making, then he would have been a different person. Maybe, his situation would not have deteriorated much. What led to his downfall were a combination of events that eventually became too much to bear: having a step-mother, being on opposite ends with his brother, avoidance by his father and high expectations that he was never able to meet, bad relation with peers, death of his grandfather at a critical stage in his life, the constant travels against his will, the forced marriage to a woman he did not love, and finally, the duties of being king. Such events would have damaged the life of any person. It just so happened that they affected the life of a promising young man who could have changed much in his countryís future. Yet, the pressure was too strong, that he faltered, and Jordan was never the same without him.
Dr. Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He is the author of ďSteel & Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000Ē (Cune Press, 2005). This study appeared in al-Mashriq (vol 4, no 15, Dec 2005), a quarterly journal on Middle East Studies, published in Australia.