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Jordan's royal rift entangles an American-born queen

Laura King and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

At age 27, she married a king. By 47, sooner than she had thought possible, she was a royal widow.

Now, more than two decades later, Jordan's Queen Noor — the American-born, Princeton-educated former Lisa Halaby — is caught up in a palace drama surrounding her eldest son, the prince she had hoped would eventually follow his charismatic father, the late King Hussein, onto the throne of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Whether lifted from Shakespeare or next up in the videostreaming queue, the story's plotline seems oddly familiar: the traumatic circumstances of a royal death reverberating down through the years, family tensions simmering quietly for a generation before bursting into full view.

Add in a succession shakeup, a onetime outsider's complicated relationship with her adopted homeland, the long memories of watchful courtiers — plus a dash of international intrigue and some convoluted Middle Eastern politics.

And at the center of it all, a love story.

"She was extremely well-educated, highly intelligent, strikingly beautiful — it's not at all surprising that King Hussein fell head over heels," said Avi Shlaim, an Oxford University professor emeritus of international relations and author of a biography of the Jordanian monarch.


For someone who spent much of her life in the public eye, Noor — elegant as ever at 69 — remains something of an enigmatic figure after a long widowhood spent largely in the United States and Britain: deliberate in her utterances, immersed in humanitarian causes, never remarrying.

She has remained largely out of view as tumultuous events unfolded in recent days: her son Prince Hamzah's rare excoriation over the weekend of what he described as high-level corruption, nepotism and misrule in Jordan, which stunned the region and culminated in a gag order Tuesday by Jordanian authorities on media coverage of the palace feud. Hamzah has now sworn fealty to his half brother King Abdullah II, an indirect target of his vociferous criticisms. King Abdullah on Wednesday released a statement that said "the sedition has been buried," and that expressed his "shock, pain, and anger" over the plot.

Noor has confined her public statements to a single carefully worded tweet. "Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander," she wrote Sunday. "God bless and keep them safe."

In 1978, Lisa Halaby was a kind of royalty in her own right, wealthy and well-schooled, American aristocracy by way of a Lebanese Syrian immigrant grandfather. Her father was appointed by President John Kennedy to lead what was then the Federal Aviation Agency, and later served as chairman of Pan American World Airways, but she has described an emotionally remote and sometimes difficult childhood home life. Her parents eventually divorced.


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