11 -17 February 1999
Issue No. 416
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Farewell to 'the father'By Lola Keilani
In a testament to King Hussein's ability to forge alliances around the globe, 50 heads of states, including US president Bill Clinton leading a delegation of three former US presidents, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and Israeli President Ezer Weizman, joined hundreds of thousands of Jordanians to mourn the death of a ruler who turned a small underdeveloped country into a modern and stable kingdom.
More than a million Jordanians lined the route of the procession to bid farewell to their "beloved father" and get a last glimpse of his flag-draped coffin. Another million people attended mourning rites all over the country.
Men, women and children stood in the freezing cold waving black flags and bearing pictures of the king aloft. Bedouin and Palestinian men sobbed as freely as their wives, some of whom slapped their faces, according to the traditional rituals of mourning.
The king's five sons carried their father's coffin from his home at the Bab Al-Salam Palace on the first leg of the 20-kilometer journey. A flower-decked gun carriage, then carried the coffin through the streets of Amman to the graveyard where the king was to be laid to rest beside his grandfather King Abdullah, his father King Talal and his mother Queen Zein.
All of Jordan came down into the streets to grieve as their late monarch's funeral procession passed by, and even the king's horse was clad in black
(photos: AP, AFP and Reuters)
Along the route, crowds surged forward, breaking through police lines and forcing it to stop almost a 100 times.
In mosques around the country, imams performed the prayer of the absent. Many mourners fainted as the crowds chanted, "Allahu Akbar [God is great], Allah Yirhamak [may God have mercy on you] and "There is no God but God, Hussein is beloved by God".
Mathayyel Muhairat, whose age could only be guessed at through the deep lines on her face, had spent two days outside the hospital where King Hussein died. One tattooed Bedouin asked God, "Why did not You Almighty take my soul rather than Sayyedna (our master, as the late king was referred to in Jordan) Abu Abdullah."
Three years ago, Mathayyel's eldest son, a soldier, was sentenced to an army prison for wounding a colleague during training. Mathayyel walked to Raghdan Palace and waited for King Hussein to pass by. "As the convoy approached, the king's car stopped. He got out and after listening to me, asked his driver to take me home. Two days later I was united with my son and a word came from the royal palace that I should go there. Apparently the king had also ordered a monthly salary for my hungry family. We still receive the money," said Mathayyel, with tears running down her face.
As the funeral cortege reached Raghdan Palace, the coffin was laid in royal state in the middle of the throne room, positioned so that it was facing Mecca. Four Circassian guards, the king's traditional ceremonial guards, stood at each corner.
Setting aside their differences, world leaders entered the room to pay their respects to a world leader who, in his death brought together sworn foes, some of whom respected the august moment and shook hands.
Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), shook hands with Israeli President Ezer Weizman, but President Clinton reportedly avoided meeting the low-level Iraqi delegation.
"Who else could have put Assad and Yitzhak Shamir, Clinton and Taha Mohieddin Ma'rouf [The Iraqi vice-president], Khaled Misha'al [a member of Hamas whom Israel tried to assassinate in 1997] and [Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel] Sharon in the same place," said one political observer.
It was also the first time that Syria's Assad appeared in public inches away from Israeli leaders. Arab countries, including Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, Sudan, Yemen and some Gulf states announced an official three-day mourning in honour of the king. The United Arab Emirates, following classic Arab tradition, declared a mourning period of 40 days.
Reflecting the popularity of the king in Israel, a large delegation led by President Weizman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, attended the funeral. Ehud Barak, Labour Party leader and a contender for the premier's post in elections to be held in May, also took part in the funeral, together with former Israeli premier, Shimon Peres. Former Israeli defence minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, who is also running for premiership, hugged the former Crown Prince Hassan, while offering his condolences.
Russia's ailing President Boris Yeltsin arrived at the palace helped by two aides, but, unable to walk to the throne room, he met King Abdullah briefly before being rushed to the airport and flown home.
Europe's royal families and elected prime ministers and presidents from Africa, the Far East, Japan, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Cyprus were all represented at the ceremony to mourn a leader lauded worldwide as a man of peace.
In the simplest of white shrouds, the king's body was lowered by his sons into a grave. In keeping with Islamic tradition, Crown Prince Hamzeh jumped inside the grave with the king and uncovered his face.
Amman, which only last week was adorned with the national flag and pictures of King Hussein, is now a ghost town, draped in black banners.