Queen Rania's coronation was never supposed to occur. When, at age 22, Rania Al-Yasin married Prince Abdullah of Jordan — King Hussein's eldest son by a wife he had divorced years before — her new husband was simply one prince among many. Rania was a commoner, from a Palestinian refugee family, no less. Her husband's father was on the throne with his fourth wife, American-born Lisa Halaby, known as Queen Noor, beside him. Hussein's dull and courtly brother, Hassan, was crown prince.
During the six years between their marriage and King Hussein's death in 1999, Rania and Abdullah were just attractive young royals about Amman, Jordan's capital. They were peripheral to local gossip, not particularly notable except for the fact that Abdullah, an army man who loves flying and driving fast cars, had stopped his fabled womanizing, and Rania was very, very pretty. And now they were very, very married. Almost a year to the day after their wedding, their first child, whom they named for his grandfather, was born. King Hussein loved baby Hussein, eldest son of his eldest son.
On his deathbed, King Hussein switched the long-accepted line of dynastic succession, bypassing Hassan and making Abdullah crown prince instead. Two weeks later, the king was dead and Abdullah, who had just turned 37, became the new king.
"It was a big shock to me," says Rania, opening her wide eyes wider. "First of all, to lose the king, whom we all loved so much. And then, the other thing." Hussein's death at the age of 63 and the new succession came as shocks to all of Jordan, but people gathered happily in the streets for the coronation of the young, vital king, and camels bearing high-ranking soldiers bowed to their knees for him. The elegant new queen was correctly restrained yet charming and welcoming. She looked like a royal Arab fantasy in her traditional embroidered dress. (Although Queen Noor retained her title, it is now more of an affectionate honorific than an official designation. Noor's son, Prince Hamzah, is next in line to the throne—a line of succession that could change as Prince Hussein matures.)
Two years later Queen Rania has traveled the planet, from small villages in Kosovo to Washington, D.C. She has met with some of the world's most important people.
"You think it is like a fairy tale," she says today, sitting in a plush suite in a Washington hotel. "It sounds like a fairy tale." She recrosses her long legs and adjusts the collar of her blouse. "But in fact, it is not a fairy tale." Rania shakes her head. Her thick, long, honey-brown hair tumbles around her face. "Being queen is overrated," she says. Being queen, she says, is more like running a very big and very serious business. She smiles a wide, white smile. Rania, it turns out, loves business. And she is very, very serious. —Amy Wilentz