Jordan 

Spotlight on a Queen: Rania of  the Hashemites
9 February 1999

By Adel Darwish

Queen Rania Al-Abdallah, the woman they least expected to be their queen, has already found her way into the hearts of the Jordanian people. 
As the drama of succession unfolded with conflict and jealousy in the court, especially among women, entered Rania as the angel who posses the healing touch that would fill the cracks and heal the rifts.

Like her husband Abdallah, who still fighting a self-internal battle to adjust to the unexpected role, Rania was catapulted into the spotlight at a time when the world cameras focused on Amman.

At 28, Rania possess good looks and a smart head over her slim shoulders. Those who met her, and many western diplomats, agree that she is destined to become a role model for the world's women  like her step-mother in law Queen Noor. 

With her involvement in charity work, her common touch and being at ease in the presence of ordinary people, many expect her to fill the role left vacant by the demise of Diana Princess of wales.

'' She will just be the perfect choice as a dazzling royal presiding over world charitable causes,'' said the wife of a high ranking western Queen official who met Rania last month.

King Hussein's widow, Queen Noor has become increasingly involved in world charitable causes in the last couple of years; the latest of those causes was for the benefit of the victims of land mines.

In fact, Queen Rania is very close to Queen Noor, the second time in history Jordan has two Queens. The other time was four decades when the  strong willed influential Queen Zein, the mother of King Hussein was real power behind the throne when he was married to Queen Dinna whom she divorced to Marry the Ipswich born Toni Gardner . Later on, Queen Zein didn't like her English daughter in Law, Toni-Gardner - later Muna-elHussein-. 

Muna gave birth to Abdallah, in 1962, he then remained as an heir apparent for a a short period as Queen Zein was behind the 1965 decision to pass the crown-princehood to Prince Hassan , saying she wanted the Hashemite Crown to remain in pure Arab blood-line.

This time round, the two queens get on very well and respect each other, as Queen Noor's eldest son Hamzah was named Crown prince. Meanwhile  Queen Rania pleasant personality and understanding heart is expected to heal the wounds fresh and old, for the fresh ones are rifts inherited from the first period of two queens in the court. 

As a Palestinian, young Queen Rania's task is crucial in helping to unify a nation whose population is uncomfortably divided between the 60 per cent majority of Palestinian descent and the 40 per cent East Bank Arab Bedouin tribal stock.

Being close to and respected by brothers and sisters in law from King Hussein's other marriages , Queen Rania will be in a good position - and have- to mend the internal divisions in the ruling family worsened by the palace intrigues which scarred the last months of King Hussein's 47-year reign. 

''It will be the task of Rania to try to bring the relatives of the late King together and to try to heal the breaches that led to deeply damaging feuds,'' said a Jordanian Journalist. ''She will have succeeded if she can dampen the rumours about jealousy and family promotion that have become part of our life these last weeks.'' 

Born to fully of Arab Muslim well established family that originated in the West Bank town of Tulkarm and later moved, like so many enterprising Palestinian families, to Kuwait, Queen Rania is being compared to Hussein's third wife, Alia, also a beautiful Palestinian with West Bank roots, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977. The Royal Jordanian airlines were named after her.

Unlike her English born mother in law Princess Muna  and Queen Noor, previously Lisa Halaby, daughter of an American family of Lebanese descent, Queen Rania will not have the handicap of being regarded as foreign. Although Queen Noor has won the respect and admiration of the nation in the past few months devoting 24 hours of her daily time to look after King Hussein whom she genuinely loved. 

Rania al-Yassin was born on August 31, 1970, in Kuwait to a respected middle class Palestinian family.  After the 1991 Gulf War, like most of the 300,000 Palestinians then living in the oil-rich emirate,  her father doctor al-Yassin was forced to leave as Palestinians were accused of co-operating with the Iraqi occupiers. They moved to Jordan. 

Rania completed her secondary schooling in Kuwait, and went on to study management at the American University in Cairo, where she was graduated in 1991. She was introduced to Prince Abdullah by mutual acquaintances in Amman, according to a close friend.

''Rania immediately changed Abdallah's life, persuading him to abandon the fast living for which he had been previously known,'' said one Jordanian source who knew the couple from that period. 

Like his father's story with his mother's Toni, Abdallah fell in love at first sight; Rania  also fell in love deeply with him. '' At the time, she had been thinking of marrying someone else, but with the Prince it was an instant love match.'' the same source said.

Since their wedding on June 10, 1993, at a glittering ceremony presided over by Hussein, the couple have had two children, Hussein, born in 1994, and Iman, in 1996. 

''Rania is one of the most intelligent members of the Royal Family, well versed and genuinely interested in world literature - when I met her we had a long conversation about Dostoevsky,'' said Toujan Faisal, a leading member of the Opposition and, until she lost her seat in 1997, Jordan's only woman member of parliament in an interview last month with AP. '' Many Jordanians are very happy that their new Queen is a serious-minded but very pretty Arab. Noor was seen as too Westernised, too ambitious for her son Hamzah, and much too into the glitzy world of lavish spending and Western fashion for the Queen of a sober Muslim nation,'' said Ms Faisal, although she is known for disliking Queen Noor, according to Amman based diplomats. 

'' Queen Noor's dutiful and touching attention to her dying husband did much to silence her opponents,'' one respected senior diplomat told The Middle East. 

Like Princess Diana, Rania enjoys talking to people and mingle with them in common places. She has been seen with her children Prince Hussein and Princess Iman, several  times in Amman's Hard-Rock Cafes waiting to be joined by the then Prince Abdallah who was a major -General in the Army.

Adjustment to his new role may be harder for Abdallah. Having a Bedouin Arab heart inherited from the Hashemites and an English head, he has to overcome problems like not mastering Arabic language - he spent 15 of his years studying in England and the United States, while also  appears slightly foreign, thanks to his English mother. He is clean-shaven in a country where a moustache is a badge of manhood and the older generation swear oaths on their whiskers. 

However, Queen Rania's touch and support will contribute a great deal in presenting the Arab side of Abdallah. 

''She is a very intelligent young woman, kind and unaffected by the trappings of real life, as members of the al-Yassin family often are,'' said one Amman-based diplomat.

As the struggle for the succession intensified behind the scenes, Rania had to endure rumours spread by backers of her rivals like the Pakistan-born Princess Sarvath, the widely disliked wife of the deposed Crown Prince Hassan. Those rumours that King Hussein referred to in his letter of dismissal to his brother Prince Hassan. She brushed off the rumours and managed to blend her traditional background with a modern image befitting a new generation of Hashemite royals.

As well as being regarded as a good mother and a loving wife, Queen Rania has raised eyebrows and won praise from the less conservative members of Jordanian society. Like many women in the Royal family, she is known to tackle issues that are often taboo in Jordanian society. - Queen Noor for example made a passionate plea against murdering women by male family members in what is known as  ''honour killing,'' which no one has dared to speak against before. 

Soon after her marriage, the then Princess Rania, has involved herself in various activities to benefit the underprivileged. She chairs the Jordan River Foundation, which aims to promote income generation and the empowerment of women through handicraft enterprises. 

She is also keen on sport, and chairs the Jordanian Water Sports Federation. 

''She is very close to people, and has a good understanding of their problems. She is warm, likes challenges, and is tremendously knowledgeable,'' one of her colleagues at the Jordan River Foundation told AFP. 

The first poignant image of her to capture the attention of the outside world came on January 19, when King Hussein returned to Jordan after seven months of a supposedly successful cancer treatment at the controls of his plane; Rania who was at Amman's airport, was  seen on television throughout the world wiping away her tears. ''They were tears of joy,'' said one of her close friends. ''Like all of us, she thought the king had managed to beat his cancer.''

Also see: An End of an Epoch




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