Jordan's Queen makes stereotype-correcting visit
IT is a bit of ``pshaw'' in the midst of pageantry, a snippet of candor amid all the ceremony. When referred to as a ``Cinderella,'' the Queen -- well, the Queen simply rolls her eyes. Not that one couldn't be forgiven for describing the Arab world's first American-born Queen in fairy-tale terms. She is, after all, Queen Noor -- that blue-eyed blonde who caught America's attention and imagination when she shot from Princeton graduate to Queen of Jordan with her whirlwind marriage to King Hussein in 1978.Skip to next paragraph
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The former Lisa Halaby, daughter of Najeeb Halaby, former chairman of Pan American World Airways, who is the son of a Syrian immigrant, first met the King while working in Jordan as a design director for Alia, Royal Jordanian Airways.
After their marriage, the King's fourth, the Queen relinquished her United States citizenship, converted to Islam, and changed her name to Noor, which means ``light.'' Today she is the mother of three young children, is actively involved in Jordanian affairs, and serves as an unofficial spokeswoman for the Arab world. (Nearly 60 percent of Jordan's citizens are Palestinians, many of whom are refugees from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.)
Back on her native turf recently for a ``friendship visit'' to the US, Queen Noor addressed college students and granted interviews in an effort to correct the ``many stereotypes about our part of the world and about royalty.'' Her visit coincided with a flurry of new diplomatic activity in the Mideast. In her speeches, the Queen spoke of her husband's Mideast peace efforts and the necessity of an ``equitable solution'' to war, and she referred proudly to her ``dual [Arab-American] heritage.''
In person, she stops short of describing herself as just-plain-folks, but insists that she ``does aerobics'' and spends her days like many women, ``juggling personal and professional demands.''
``We don't have time for a great deal of pomp and ceremony,'' she said during an interview in her suite at Boston's Ritz-Carlton Hotel. ``We are, in fact, a working couple before anything else. We [just] have different, larger, responsibilities.''
Dressed modestly in a simple silk dress and dark pumps but above-average diamond and pearl jewelry, the Queen presents an elegant mix of American directness and regal dignity. She speaks in a lightly accented voice that no longer sounds purely American, politely but carefully answering questions about her visit, the Mideast, and her unique role in Jordan.
``I had traveled and worked abroad for a time, and before I was married I had worked in Jordan,'' she says, explaining her decision to live in the Arab world. ``I felt very much at home there. It's not just the Arab blood that was responsible for that -- something in me just felt it belonged in that part of the world.
``One of the reasons why I remained in the Mideast and Jordan [is that] Jordan is a very dynamic community in transition. . . . We have preserved a great deal of our heritage. . . . At the same time we are progressive. . . . We have not yet suffered all the failures of the highly industrialized, technologically advanced countries. In other words we're in the process, we're seeking, we're searching. I think that's far more exciting than living and working in an environment where people feel they've found all the answers.
This instinctive attachment to her new country has apparently cushioned the transition from American citizenry to Arab royalty. She describes her first seven years as queen as a process of ``constructive evolution,'' rather than outright change. ``[My role] has grown and . . . evolved. At the outset I knew I would work and be active,'' she says. ``I have my own office. Most of what I've done has been rather revolutionary, as far as someone in my position. At the same time it is a natural evolution within my country.''