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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

Out of that, she developed a poise that could sometimes veer toward steely. She was a member of the class entering Princeton in 1969, the first to which women were admitted. Many female classmates have described a culture in which they often felt like outsiders, or weren't taken seriously — more unwitting preparation for what lay ahead.

"Even if you didn't know her, you knew about her," said Princeton classmate Marjory Gengler Smith, herself a standout athlete in that pioneering class. "Everyone took notice."

Trained in architecture and urban planning, she was already an independent, accomplished professional by the time she met Hussein — a thrice-married widower 16 years her senior and several inches shorter than the statuesque Halaby. And the king was still mourning the death of his beloved third wife, Queen Alia, in a 1977 helicopter crash.

"I will not deny that the idea of being his fourth wife, or anybody's fourth wife, was troubling to me," Noor wrote in her 2003 autobiography, "Leap of Faith."

But what ensued, by all accounts, was a notably egalitarian partnership, particularly by regional and royal standards. And the union lasted until his death — longer than the king's three previous marriages combined.

Many Jordanians were initially suspicious of this foreign-born woman, a Christian convert to Islam, and she was determined to win over her new compatriots. Having taken the name Noor al Hussein — "Light of Hussein" — she perfected her Arabic and mastered the traditions and gestures of Jordan's conservative culture.

 

At the same time, she pursued progressive reforms such as the economic empowerment of Bedouin women, and raised eyebrows among some Jordanians by tooling around, tousle-haired, on the back of Hussein's motorcycle.

But she hewed closely to tradition when it counted. At her husband's funeral in 1999, she eschewed her usual makeup, dressed in stark white and inclined her head repeatedly to mourners, all in keeping with Jordanian custom — a consoler, rather than the one consoled.

Outside Jordan, the queen's Jackie Kennedy-like mystique helped raise Jordan's profile, sometimes rattling the kingdom's largely somnolent diplomatic corps. Her personal brand of soft statecraft aided in shaping Jordan's international image as an island of relative stability and moderation, and its position as an important U.S. ally.

But Noor's ability to navigate different worlds, imparted to her four adult children, might have helped fuel accusations leveled by Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi that Hamzah worked with unnamed foreign elements to destabilize the country. Several allies, including the United States, have expressed strong support for Abdullah.

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