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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 22:49 GMT

World: Middle East

Battle of the wives

Two queens for Jordan: Queen Noor (left) and Princess Rania (right)

By Middle East Analyst Martin Asser

The accession of King Hussein's son, Abdullah II, may be secure, but a question mark still hangs over the hierarchy of the women in the ruling Hashemite dynasty of Jordan.

Jordan's sorrow
To date there is still only one queen, Noor, the late king's wife. She has been playing as prominent a public role as permitted her under the constraints on women imposed by Islamic funerary traditions.

[ image: Toni Gardiner: 1962 married, 1972 divorced, 1999 Queen Mother]
Toni Gardiner: 1962 married, 1972 divorced, 1999 Queen Mother
But she is not the new king's mother. That position belongs to Princess Muna, born Antoinette (Toni) Gardiner, the colourful Englishwoman who divorced King Hussein in 1972. She is also holding court in the Jordanian capital and her prestige has been greatly enhanced by the accession of her son.

Then there is Princess Rania, King Abdullah's wife and mother of his four-year-old son, also - prophetically perhaps - called Hussein. Rania has not been given the title of Queen yet, but it is only a matter of time.

The Hashemite 'Dynasty'

If it all sounds like the starting-point for a Hollywood mini-series, there could certainly be some interesting plot lines in store for the future.

[ image: Princess Rania: The next generation]
Princess Rania: The next generation
One might revolve around Queen Noor as the mother of Prince Hamzah. He was reputedly King Hussein's favourite son and the one whom the dead king wanted to succeeded him.

But Hamzah is only 18 and the king's death from cancer came too early and too suddenly for that wish to be realised. Hamzah is now is now crown prince and heir to the throne.

Another unpredictable role could be played by Princess Sarvath, though her character might already have been written out of the script.

She is the wife of ex-Crown Prince Hassan, King Hussein's brother whom he dismissed as next-in-line after more than 30 years service, just days before the king died.

Princess Sarvath, the cultured and intellectual daughter of a Pakistani diplomat, was therefore only days away from becoming queen herself.

In the rumour mill that is Amman, fuelled by off-the-record briefings by anonymous palace officials, a story was being circulated that Princess Sarvath had already drawn up plans for the redecoration of the royal apartment before King Hussein had even died.

In his open letter of 25 January, in which he humiliatingly deposed Crown Prince Hassan, King Hussein wrote about slander and backbiting directed at Queen Noor.

A new generation

That certainly fits in with the intrigue apparently at work in the Hashemite court, but who is slandering who is far from certain.

In the new Jordanian era under King Abdullah, it is Princess Rania whose star is on the rise.

She is of Palestinian origin. That might be a taboo subject in public discourse in Jordan, where most citizens come from Palestinian stock. But it assures her a place in the hearts of the majority of the population.

She has not shied away from controversy, tackling child abuse and the crushing poverty in some areas of Jordan. But that too could work in her favour for a new generation of Jordanians who are hungry for change in the traditional, tribally-dominated kingdom.

Most to lose

The one with most to lose is Queen Noor. She enjoyed power and influence as King Hussein's consort. A vestige of that will no doubt remain as Jordanians honour the memory of the late King Hussein.

[ image: Queen Noor: Seemingly as popular in Israel as she is in Jordan]
Queen Noor: Seemingly as popular in Israel as she is in Jordan
But she has always seemed out-of-step with Jordanians, even though her father was an Arab. And that distance from the people was compounded in her apparent warmth for Israel and Israelis.

But as the dying king lay unconscious in hospital, the crowd outside gave Queen Noor a rousing reception as she appeared among them to share their grief. That could be a turning-point in her relationship with Jordanians.

Queen Noor's greatest loss would be if her son, Crown Prince Hamzah, is to share his Uncle Hassan's fate never to become king.

But that is another plot for an episode that will not be written for many years yet.

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