Damascus: Sharif Ali Ibn Al Hussein, founder of the Iraqi Constitutional Movement, died yesterday in Amman, aged 66. A cousin of Iraq’s last monarch King Faisal II, he was also second-in-line to the long-deposed throne of Iraq - the monarchy was toppled in 1958.
His death brings back fond memories of a bygone era under the Hashemite family, which ruled Iraq from 1921 until Faisal II’s toppling and execution on July 14, 1958. It was a far cry from all the military regimes that came to power since then, famed for its relative stability, calm, and the organised system that came with British-backed rule.
Life in exile
Sharif Ali was born in Baghdad in 1956. Hailing from a long line of kings, his family, the Hashemites, earned its legitimacy for being direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
His great-grandfather, Sharif Hussein, was the Emir of Mecca who led an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. He was then proclaimed king of the Hijaz, before abdicating in favour of his son, King Ali (grandfather of Sharif Ali). Their rule in the Hijaz was quickly overrun by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, leaving the family with two thrones, one in Amman and one in Baghdad.
They were ruled by Sharif Ali’s great-uncles, Abdullah and Faisal I.
Abdullah, founded the modern kingdom of Jordan in 1921. His line of succession has been calm and steady, and he is the great-grandfather of the present monarch, King Abdullah II.
The second great-uncle, King Faisal I, was proclaimed king of Syria in March 1920. His rule in Damascus was brief, however, and he was toppled by the invading French army, only to be re-instated, with British support, as king of Iraq in 1921.
When he died in 1933, the throne went to his son, King Ghazi, who died in a car accident in 1939. King Faisal II came next, and ruled Iraq until his own death at the age of 23 in July 1958.
Faisal II was executed by angry officers, along with all royals of the Hashemite family. Sharif Ali’s uncle, Emir Abdulallah, was shot and hanged at the gates of the Ministry of Defence.
Sharif Ali spent his early childhood in the palaces of the royal family with his mother, Princess Badiaa Bint Ali.
She evaded death on July 14, 1958 by taking refuge at the Saudi embassy in Baghdad. From there she moved to Lebanon and finally to London, where Sharif Ali was raised.
He studied economics at the University of Nottingham and earned an MA from the University of Essex, launching a successful career in investment banking before venturing into politics in the early 1990s.
Sharif Ali started off by joining the Iraqi National Congress, a political movement-in-exile, working to topple Saddam Hussein.
He returned to Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, setting up the Iraqi Constitutional Movement, with the hope of restoring the Iraqi monarchy.
His efforts never picked up much momentum, especially among post-2003 Iraqi politicians, who wanted to enjoy the spoils of power, instead of handing it over to what remained of the Hashemite royals.
Sharif Ali’s death raises questions on who would be next-in-line to the Iraqi throne, if ever restored. His son, Emir Faisal, is too young and currently lives in London, making his elder cousin, Prince Raad, the next contender to the throne.
Prince Raad is the direct grandson of Sharif Hussein through his youngest child, Prince Zaid (who died in 1970).
1916 – Sharif Hussein launches the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, declaring himself King of the Hijaz.
1918 – The Hashemites establish their rule in Syria, under Emir Faisal Ibn Al Hussein.
1920 – On March 8, Faisal is crowned as king of Syria, only to be deposed by the French on July 24.
1921 – In April, Emir Abdullah establishes the Emirate of Transjordan, with its capital in Amman.
1921 – In August, Faisal I is crowned as king of Iraq.
1924 – Sharif Hussein abdicates in favour of his son, King Ali.
1925 – King Ali flees the Hijaz, ending Hashemite family rule in Arabia.
1933 – September, King Faisal I dies in Berne, Switzerland, aged 50. He is succeeded by his only son, King Ghazi (aged 21).
1939 – On 4 April, King Ghazi dies in a car accident and his succeeded by his only son, King Faisal II, aged 4.
1946 – King Abdullah announces establishment of the Kingdom of Transjordan.
1951 – On July 20, King Abdullah is assassinated in Jerusalem, and his succeeded his son, King Talal.
1952 – In August, King Talal is deposed on accounts of poor health and is succeeded by his son, King Hussein (aged 17). 1958 – On July 14, a military coup topples the Iraqi monarchy, killing King Faisal II and all members of the royal family.
1999 – On February 7, King Hussein dies from cancer in Amman, after 47 years in power. He is succeeded by his son, King Abdullah II.
“Perhaps, restoration of a constitutional monarchy might actually have been the best option for Iraq,” said Syrian historian Amr Mallah, a France-based specialist in late Ottoman and early colonial history of the Middle East. Speaking to Gulf News, he explained: “In light of their multiple affiliations, there was no better option for the people of Iraq; no option better than Qurashi Hashemi rule that units opposing currents, constantly divided along ethnic and sectarian lines.”
The late Sharif Ali, he added, was hoping to play such a role and to unite the people of Iraq around one national project. “However, rapid developments in Iraq, and the competing and opposing regional and international agendas prevented him from playing this role.”
Ali Allawi, Iraqi scholar and biographer of King Faisal I, told Gulf News: “He was a decent man who only wanted the good for Iraq. Unfortunately, he found himself in the midst of lethal power struggles with far more ruthless and determined people.”