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Queen Noor was not seen in public today. She had rarely left her husband's side during his treatment for cancer over the last six months, and her confidantes said she was grieving in private.
But she is expected to be on center stage at her husband's funeral on Monday, and she won praise from Washington today as President Clinton, a good friend, called her ''a daughter of America and a Queen of Jordan'' who had ''made two nations very proud.''
The new King, Abdullah, is not Queen Noor's son. He was born to Princess Muna, the King's second wife. Queen Noor's own eldest son, Hamzeh, 18, was passed over last month when the King appointed a new heir. But in an arrangement that many here believe was a parting gift from Hussein, an enduring role for her family line was cemented today when King Abdullah designated Hamzeh as his Crown Prince.
King Hussein's widow was born Lisa Najeeb Halaby to a Christian Arab-American family and raised in Washington, D.C. She took the name Noor al-Hussein -- the light of Hussein -- when she converted to Islam and married the King on June 15, 1978.
The Queen quickly became a warm stepmother to two of the King's children, Prince Ali and Princess Haya, the children of the King and his previous wife, Queen Alia, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977.
Queen Noor and the King have had four children of their own, two boys and two girls, beginning with Prince Hamzeh, who was born in 1980.
But the Queen has not always been regarded with favor at home. A 1974 graduate of Princeton University, she has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, economic development and environmental protection. She has been seen by some Jordanians as too ambitious, too forceful and too foreign to be Queen in what is a very conservative society.
She shocked some Jordanians several years ago when she posed for a magazine photograph with her husband on one of the King's Harley-Davidson motorcycles. More recently, during the internal palace jockeying over who would succeed the King, she was subjected to particularly harsh barbs from people close to the King's brother, Hassan, who was then the Crown Prince.
But her associates say she has tried to turn a deaf ear to criticism from people who saw her and her son as Hassan's rivals, recognizing as one of them put it, that, ''If you want to attack a man in the Middle East, then the easiest target is his wife.''
And in his last public statement, the angry Jan. 25 letter that dismissed Hassan as Crown Prince, the King offered an eloquent testimonial to a wife he said had been the target of baseless criticism, calling her ''a Jordanian who belongs to this country with every fiber of her being.''
There is no constitutional place for the King's widow within Jordan's monarchical system, but there is precedent for a powerful role. After King Hussein himself was crowned in 1952, at age 16, his mother, Queen Zein, was a major force for well over a decade, advising her son as he matured as a statesman.
Queen Noor almost certainly has more political experience than King Abdullah, a career soldier. She has served as a roving ambassador for Jordan, and was a frequent visitor to the White House at the King's side.
Well-connected Jordanians say they believe that the new King may well turn to Queen Noor as a unifying source of institutional memory and as someone who can help to solidify a royal family that otherwise might find itself divided.Continue reading the main story