AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordanians bury today the king they loved like a father, the soldier they knew as a peacemaker and the statesman they remembered as a humble servant of the country.
For many in this desert kingdom, King Hussein bin Talal has been the only ruler they have ever known. His death yesterday from cancer plunged this nation of 4.6 million people into grief and generated an outpouring of sympathy from leaders across the globe.
Many of those same figures traveled here today to pay their respects to the 63-year-old king, whose body will lie in state at Raghdan Palace before being buried near his father and grandfather at the royal cemetery.
Presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens from places as far apart as Austria and Yemen came here to offer their respects to the king and condolences to his widow, the American-born Queen Noor, Jordan's new king, Abdullah, Crown Prince Hamzah, named by his brother yesterday as the kingdom's second-in-command, and the rest of the Hashemite family.
But their attendance at what will certainly be the largest funeral Jordan has ever held is more than an international show of support. It serves as a testament to the diminutive king with the deep voice who served as a source of stability and moral strength in a region beset by war and violence during his 46-year reign.
President Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Hillary, will lead the U.S. delegation that includes three former presidents and the parents of Queen Noor, former airline executive Najeeb Halaby and his wife, Doris.
"No words can convey what King Hussein meant to the people he led for nearly half a century," Clinton said yesterday. "Words cannot convey what he meant to me as a friend and inspiration. Through good times and bad, through health and illness, he showed the power of a strong will applied to a worthy cause.
"Like so many, I loved and admired him."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remembered the king as "an Arab leader who dedicated his thoughts and life to the service of his nation's causes and escorted his people through some of the most difficult crises over nearly half a century."
Many Arab nations declared official periods of mourning, some as long as Jordan's own 40 days. Syria, Jordan's troublesome neighbor to the north, also set aside three days of mourning and canceled elections. Israel, with whom Jordan was officially at war until King Hussein signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1994, will mourn King Hussein's passing today. It was an extraordinary gesture of respect for a former Arab enemy.
But it was here in Jordan, a former British protectorate that King Hussein transformed from backward desert kingdom and home of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees into a modern nation, that the death of the king was so deeply felt.
After the last attempts at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., failed to stem the king's cancer, he decided to return to Jordan to die. He arrived Friday unconscious, was admitted to the military hospital that bears his name and placed on a respirator.
Yesterday, at 11: 43 a.m., his heart stopped. Queen Noor and four of his five sons were at his side. His eldest son, Abdullah, was called to the hospital and, after his arrival, the king was removed from the respirator, said Hamdi Murad, an assistant general secretary of the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Affairs.
By noon, Koranic verses were being intoned on Jordanian television and the nation knew their king was dead.
But the news was already engulfing the rain-soaked Jordanian capital.
Loudspeakers at the al-Husseini Mosque downtown blared the words of the Koran. Shopkeepers shuttered their doors. Black flags fluttered from the antennas of taxi cabs. Ribbons of mourning draped photographs of the king that are widely displayed in the city. Jordan's flag flew at half-staff at banks and government buildings.
A nation grieves
Outside the King Hussein Medical Center, wails of grief rose up in a crowd of Jordanians who had maintained a vigil there since the king's return. Men wearing the red-and-white checkered headdresses favored by Jordanians wrapped their scarves across their faces in a sign of mourning. Then there were the chants, so often orchestrated in other Arab lands where demonstrations are ordered by the government, but clearly spontaneous and deeply felt here yesterday.
"There's no God but one God. We'll sacrifice our blood for you, King Hussein," throngs of men shouted.
As the cold, incessant rain intensified, the crowd grew. A hundred, 500, 1,500 people. Jordanians left their jobs and homes and streamed to the broad avenue outside the hospital. Barkev Shandian was driving to his office when he heard the radio announce the king's death. He turned his car around and headed for the hospital.
"I had hope until the last minute," the 26-year-old engineer said as he stood under an umbrella, one of many distributed by city workers. "He's more than a king to us. We lost our father, our king, our older brother, my role model. Today is a very sad day for all Jordanians."
Danya Murad, a 24-year-old lawyer, stood tearful in the rain.
"What you're seeing here tells you how much he is loved," she said of the king. "All Jordanians are very proud to be Jordanians. He made us very proud to be Jordanians. We just want to stand, hand in hand, together to get through this."
"I don't know what we'll do now," said a despondent Ghassan Hamarshi, a 27-year-old electrician.
As the crowd swelled, emotions intensified. Some mourners fainted. Others waved rain-soaked pictures of King Hussein in a frenzied burst of grief. A busload of schoolchildren drove by, their cries and screams rising in a haunting lament. A trio of men climbed a tree and hung two Jordanian flags from its branches.
'I feel like crying'
A cluster of Circassian men, their heads covered in traditional lambs-wool stovepipe hats, stood by silently. A minority in Jordan, the Circassians are non-Arabic Muslims who also serve as the king's ceremonial guard.
"I feel like crying. He died in front of us and we couldn't do anything to help him," said Haitham Bitar, a 24-year-old Circassian student.
Bitar's sadness was as strong as the loyalty he felt to the king's successor, the 37-year-old Prince Abdullah. "Prince Abdullah is the same as our king. We are ready to love and sacrifice for him," Bitar said.
Across town, Jordanian lawmakers were preparing to receive Abdullah, the crown prince who was named king by the Cabinet almost immediately after his father's death. A wall of fog shrouded the city as Abdullah's silver Mercedes and its motorcade made its way to the parliament building. A red carpet had been rolled out.
King Abdullah -- namesake of his great-grandfather who was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951 -- emerged wearing a dark gray suit and black tie and wearing a red-and-white kaffiyeh on his head as his father often did. His uncles, Princes Mohammed and Hassan, stood with the Cabinet and Jordan's military leaders.
The new king climbed to the dais and stopped in front of a portrait of his father, a photograph featuring a young, dark-haired King Hussein in a dashing, white military uniform. The heir, a major general in the army, stood ramrod straight in a show of respect, his fists clenched slightly behind his back.
He turned and faced the parliament, placed his right hand on the Koran, Islam's holy book, and recited the oath of office. "I swear by God to uphold the Constitution and be faithful to the nation," he said.
Earlier in the day, Abdullah appeared on national television to inform his subjects of his father's death. In a somber, steady voice, the new king addressed the public in the custom of his father, calling on "my family and my tribe" to be loyal.
"This is God's judgment and God's will," the king told his people. "God bless Hussein the father, the brother, the commander and the man."
He added: "We will preserve Hussein's legacy for the sake of a stronger Jordan. Today you are my brothers and sisters. You will be a source of consolation for me."
Pub Date: 2/08/99