« Beni Hashem » in Arabic, a family descended from the Prophet through Fatima, his daughter, and Ali, his son-in-law and cousin. Since the tenth century the head of this family has been Governor of Mecca, with the title of Sherif, which is given to those noted for their glory and honour. The Hashemites remained Guardians of the Holy Places of Islam until 1923, when Sherif Hussein, who, with his sons, led the Arab Revolt, lost control of Mecca which was taken by the fundamentalist Wahabites under Al-Saud, until then ruler of the Nejd and later founder of Saudi Arabia.

One of the sons of Sherif Hussein, Faysal, was elected King of Syria by the Syrian National Congress, reigned for a short while in Damascus but was chased out in July 1920 by the French who had come to take over the Mandate which they had been given by the League of Nations. The British offered him the throne of Iraq in August 1921 and his family reigned there till 1958.

Abdallah, another son of Sherif Hussein, arrived too late on the scene to help his brother against the French and was made Amir of Transjordan, an Emirate that the British carved out of their mandate on the Southern part of Greater Syria. Amir Abdallah’s grand-grandson, Abdullah II, reigns over Jordan – the modern name of Transjordan – since 1999.

Hoping to revive these rivalries between the Beni Hashem and Al-Saud, Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein addressed King Hussein of Jordan during the Gulf War as Sharif and the King of Saudi Arabia not as Guardian of the Holy Places but as King of the Nejd.