Queen Rania of Jordan: ‘a mum and wife with a really cool day job’
Amman - Abroad, Jordan’s Queen Rania is an eloquent spokeswoman for the kingdom. She takes the international podium to daringly discuss taboos, such as honour killings, in her conservative society. She’s also not afraid to stand up to Muslim militants.
In New York and Washington, Rania, 45 years old as of August 31st, enjoys celebrity status. She appeals to some as a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Cindy Crawford.
At home, the Palestinian-born wife of Jordan’s King Abdullah II is everywhere.
She participates in public functions, where her royal duties are officially confined to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and social welfare. That includes meeting with global leaders to promote education and health initiatives for children in the developing world.
However, she is frequently seen embracing women villagers working in the field in outlying towns, cuddling cancer-afflicted children, dropping in on schools to inspect the quality of education or walking in the street, like an ordinary citizen, chatting with people.
She also pops up on social media, tweeting liberal and moderate views, or posting pictures of her four children, including her eldest son and heir to the throne, Prince Hussein, on Instagram — where she has more than 4 million followers.
Recently, she tweeted a description of herself, saying she was “a mum and a wife with a really cool day job”.
Generally, Rania is an idol to Jordanians. Her countrymen passionately talk about her intelligence, logic and wisdom and her youthful good looks. Women specifically brag, or wish for her top brand-name wardrobe, jewellery and handbags.
But to others Rania’s Palestinian roots are troublesome.
Critics say her royal status gives credence to claims by right-wing Israelis that Jordan, with a substantial Palestinian refugee population, should be turned into a Palestinian state — taking in all of the West Bank’s Palestinians to make room for Jews in Israel.
“Her Palestinian descent is a weak link for Jordan,” former lawmaker Ahmad Oweidi al-Abbadi said. He claims to have been jailed a few years ago because he dared to speak out publicly about the queen “influencing” policy to allow Palestinians to take senior government posts.
Nonetheless, many Jordanians focus on other qualities of the queen.
“Queen Rania is very impressive,” Ica Wahbeh, a managing editor at the country’s sole English-language daily Jordan Times, said.
“She’s intelligent, articulate and a strong supporter of causes that affect the lives of her citizens, particularly the vulnerable among them, like children, women and the elderly.
“She’s active, both in the country and abroad, projecting the striking image of a modern queen.”
That’s exactly what Rania is after: to help King Abdullah II attain his goal of creating a model state for other Muslim nations, ruled by moderate Islam, tolerant of other religions and free of militants.
Rania has noticeably chosen not to wear the traditional headscarf worn by many Muslim women. She was once quoted by CNN as saying there “are many women like me who do not wear the veil”.
“So, as long as it’s a choice, I have nothing against the veil,” she said.
Rania’s popularity grew this year when she visited the village of the Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh, who was captured by Islamic State (ISIS) militants on December 24th and burned alive in a cage in a gruesome crime that sent chills across Jordan.
Rania consoled Kasasbeh’s wife and led a street procession in honour of the slain pilot.
A few years ago, Rania and Abdullah fought a battle in Jordan’s conservative parliament to introduce harsher punishments for men who kill women relatives under the pretext of cleansing family honour. Men in such killings used to receive a sentence of just six months in jail.
Under the royal-driven amendment, punishment was put on par with other homicides.
Born in Kuwait to a Palestinian physician from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, Rania attended the New English School in Kuwait City. Later she earned a business administration degree from the American University in Cairo.
In 1991, she moved to Amman, where her parents settled after fleeing the Gulf war that liberated Kuwait from Iraq.
She met Abdullah, then a prince, at a dinner party in January 1993. Two months later, they were engaged and on June 10, 1993, they were married.
When King Hussein died on February 7, 1999, Abdullah — his eldest son — ascended to the throne. Six weeks later, he officially proclaimed his then 28-year-old wife as queen.
During her coronation, the king declared that his wife’s non-royal background made her better connected to “the hopes and outlooks of people” since she “truly believes in their causes”.
Tamara Ross, a Jordanian American living in Oregon, said she met Rania during a visit to the United States.
“I was intrigued by her wonderful sense of style, which she carries so elegantly to her sense of pride, she said. “She is proud to be who she is and makes the people around her feel the same.”