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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

Despite what Noor's associates describe as a calmly analytical nature and an ability to methodically follow through on goals, she might in some ways have been caught unawares by the crisis of the king's final illness, and what it would mean for the royal line of succession.

Suffering from lymphatic cancer, Hussein rallied for a time, but his fatal deterioration was a rapid one. It was in the last days of his life that he removed his own brother, Hassan, as crown prince, instead anointing his eldest son, Abdullah, who was born to the king's second wife, Princess Muna.

In what was widely believed to be a final gift to Noor, he designated Hamzah, then just 18, as next in line to the throne after Abdullah. To make Hamzah the heir outright would have required constitutional changes, because the monarch was allowed to designate only a brother or an eldest son as his successor.

"It was said that if Hussein had died a week earlier, Hassan would have been king," said Shlaim, the biographer. "And that if he had died a week later, it might have been Hamzah."

There is little doubt that in raising Hamzah, Noor groomed him as a potential monarch. Though Western-educated, he was schooled in classical Arabic, in contrast to Abdullah, who spoke English with his British-born mother and later struggled to summon any semblance of eloquence when he gave speeches.

Hamzah, now 41, even looks the part, bearing a much stronger resemblance to the late king than the round-faced Abdullah, who favors his mother.


Five years after Hussein's death, Abdullah removed Hamzah as crown prince, replacing him with his own eldest son.

Some longtime observers of the region believe Noor might have failed to anticipate how popular and effective Abdullah would become in the early years of his reign. But recent years have been marked by discontent over economic malaise and the social stresses of taking in millions of refugees from Iraq and Syria, with the added blow of the pandemic.

Even after Hussein's death, Noor defied expectations, said Aaron Miller, a longtime Middle East envoy who worked with her in the early 2000s at Seeds of Peace, a New York-based educational activism group on whose board she served. It was one of a number of causes — peace advocacy, the arts and the environment — to which she became a patron, work that began during Hussein's reign and continued afterward.

Although widowed queens tend to lose their standing, Noor battled to maintain influence, including a quiet struggle with Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, to retain her own royal title.

"She's a survivor," Miller said, "with grace, style and courage."

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