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Queen Noor consoles the consolers; Hussein's widow comforts women as they pay respects


AMMAN, Jordan -- The women of Jordan arrived by the hundreds yesterday to console the widow of King Hussein, but the serene, blond Queen Noor did much of the consoling.

The 47-year-old, American-born queen led the women of the royal family in an eight-hour reception yesterday at the palace of her late mother-in-law, Queen Zein.

Yesterday was her first public appearance since the king's death Sunday from cancer. Considered an outsider in 1978 when she married the king, a man 16 years her senior, Queen Noor worked hard to establish herself as a Jordanian in this patriarchal, clannish society. And in her time of grief, Jordanians have rallied around her.

"I left my four babies to come and see her," said Frial Nawafti, a 30-year-old teacher who stood in line to greet the queen. "She has too much sadness."

"God bless her, she is our mother, our love," said Nadia Hassan Hussein, an elderly woman who traveled from the Jordanian city of Madaba to pay her respects.

Jordanian women, from the posh neighborhoods of Amman to the Palestinian refugee camps outside the capital, stood in line for hours to see the queen. Also paying her respects was Farah Deba, the widow of the last shah of Iran.

Queen Noor wore the colors of mourning, a fitted, ankle-length black suit and a white chiffon scarf. She was both elegant and modest.

When the women met her, some kissed her hand. Others hugged her. Several women soldiers saluted her. When one young woman asked to kiss her, Queen Noor replied, "Of course, darling, come."

Many of the visitors broke down in tears. And the Princeton-educated queen, the daughter of a Syrian-American father and a Scandinavian mother, comforted them. In doing so, she invoked the name of her husband of 20 years.

"The king will live with us and in our hearts forever," Queen Noor told one visitor, speaking softly and calmly.

"His spirit makes us strong," she said to another.

'A genuine person'

Tall and graceful, Queen Noor embraced Palestinian women who shuffled into the reception room, cloaked in the black cape-like chador common to religious Muslims. She tenderly touched the cheeks of middle-age women in conservative dresses and suits.

"I know how much strength it takes to stand there and console people instead of being consoled," said Sima S. Bahous, the executive director of the queen's foundation established to improve the lives of Jordanian women. "At heart, she is a genuine person."

The former Lisa Halaby was King Hussein's fourth wife. When they married, she converted to Islam and changed her name to Noor el Hussein, "Light of Hussein."

The couple had two sons and two daughters.

Queen Noor was at her husband's side throughout his treatment for cancer, which began in August at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. During that time, back in Jordan, the queen figured in a nasty family feud over the king's successor.

When King Hussein removed his brother Hassan as crown prince and heir to the throne last month, he blamed those close to the 51-year-old prince for rumors and gossip that accused the queen of influencing his decision.

She was accused of lobbying her husband to name their 18-year-old son Hamzeh as heir.

Although he acknowledged Hamzeh to be his favorite, the king chose Abdullah, his eldest son by a former wife, to succeed him.

In dismissing his brother, King Hussein praised Noor, calling her "the Jordanian who holds her head high in the defense and service of this country's interest." He applauded her strength and spirit, acknowledging that she "has not escaped the attempts of criticism."

Queen Noor's support of her husband during his illness has been recognized here.

"The last six months having been very close to his majesty brought her more affection from the people," said Al Sharif Hussein Hamed, a member of the extended royal family. "At the beginning, she was a stranger to us, but she is very clever and adapted to our ways and traditions. She's become more Jordanian than many other Jordanians."

Marwan Muasher, a confidant of the king and Jordan's ambassador to Washington, recalled the queen's strength during the king's plane ride home from the Mayo Clinic last week. The queen came into the main cabin of the airplane, greeted the staffers and asked them to come and bid farewell to him.

"We were all trying to be strong. Everybody was sad, but everyone was trying to be strong for the family, deriving our strength from the queen who was very, very composed," the ambassador recalled.

"She is a piece of our lost king," said Fardos Al Masri, who visited the women of the royal family yesterday.

The queen's future

As the king neared death, questions arose about the queen's future. Would she remain a queen? Would she remain in the country once her husband died?

After he was sworn in as the new king of Jordan, Abdullah II made his first official act. In accordance with his father's wishes, he named his half-brother Hamzeh, Queen Noor's oldest son, crown prince.

The decision secures the queen's position here, according to political observers. But others say Queen Noor would have remained in Jordan in any case.

A hands-on mother who often drives her own car, Queen Noor has attended PTA meetings at the American school where her 12-year-old daughter Raiyah is enrolled. She is actively involved in the Noor Al Hussein Foundation and other issues, such as the environment, the arts and the eradication of land mines.

Described as an intelligent, hard-working professional with a quick wit, the queen was the driving force behind the revival of Jordanian handicrafts, said Bahous.

The foundation's workshops in rug weaving, ceramics and needlework employ Jordanian women whose goods are marketed and sold here and abroad.

"This foundation is dedicated to King Hussein and his dreams for Jordan," said Bahous. "King Hussein's legacy will probably be carried on through her. Knowing her, she will continue to do her work naturally and intelligently, full throttle."

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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