On my fridge, amidst the plethora of wedding invitations so typical of a Brigham Young University kitchen, sits a magnet emblazoned with the world’s greatest couple. In my eyes, the sociopolitical powerhouse of King Abdullah II bin Hussein bin Talal bin Abdullah of Jordan and his Queen, Rania al-Abdullah, is rivalled only by Barack and Michelle Obama. In a region that is plagued by war and almost every administrative and economic problem one could think of, the reign of Their Jordanian Majesties represents unparalleled progressivism, poise, leadership, compassion, and security.
Like many political entities, both King Abdullah and Queen Rania are impressive on paper. The King is, first of all, the king, was educated at Oxford and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown and is also a Major General in the Jordanian Special Forces, a frogman, licensed pilot, car-racing champion, and free-fall parachutist. When he was first crowned, King Abdullah would disguise himself with voluminous white beards and beat-up clothes and ride taxis around Amman to get a sense of what was actually happening in his country. In contrast to his predecessors both within Jordan’s ruling elite, and in other countries King Abdullah’s activist leadership style has helped keep his administration afloat on tumultuous seas. Queen Rania has been a lifelong advocate of education, children’s rights, and socioeconomic improvements for women. She worked in banking and in IT after graduating from the American University in Cairo. She is UNICEF’s First Eminent Advocate for Children and sits on the board of directors for the World Economic Forum, the U.N. Foundation, the International Youth Foundation, and others. Both within Jordan and worldwide, Queen Rania has started and patroned initiatives to improve the livelihood and education of children and families. She and Abdullah met in 1993 at a dinner party and were married later that year. King Abdullah told People Magazine in 2005 that “The minute Rania walked in [he] knew it right then and there. It was love at first sight.” Queen Rania had a slightly different perspective: “I think he was quite interested, and he pursued it and it happened.” They have four children: two boys and two girls.
Their country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is no Bora Bora. In 2010, the annual poverty line in the country was 813.7 Jordanian Dinar per person, or $1,150. More than 70 percent of Jordan’s population is under twenty-nine years old, and their unemployment has skyrocketed in recent years as population growth outstrips their economy. The Earth Institute at Columbia University reports Jordan is the third most water-scarce country in the world. Despite its hardscrabble reality, in King Abdullah’s words, Jordan is the “success story of stability in the region.” That may be an understatement. In recent years, the tiny kingdom has held off the amoebic spread of ISIS, despite its shared borders with Syria and Iraq; sheltered millions of refugees when its wealthier neighbors refuse; and weathered Arab Spring relatively unscathed after reforms in parliamentary procedure; all this in spite of a poor economy and an even poorer water supply (thanks, Israel!).
Jordan’s stability comes at a price; King Abdullah’s tight control of the country means many of the social reforms that Jordanians desire have been promised but not enacted in full. Jordanian law still allows for arbitrary detention, and many citizens feel their parliament preoccupies itself with “issues” that ignore reality. Just last month though, Human Rights Watch reported Jordanian Parliament passed important reforms that have been in the works for years, including improved rights for people with disabilities, a “full repeal of a controversial penal code article that allowed people who commit sexual assault to avoid punishment if they marry their victims, and new limits on pretrial detention and other criminal justice reforms.” These changes preclude more social reforms and increased rights for citizens and refugees.
Out of all the accomplished, poised, adorable political couples in the world, I am most inspired by King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Considering the deeply tumultuous state of their region of the world and their tiny economy, King Abdullah and Queen Rania have championed human rights, stayed in touch with their people, and sailed their ship through quite the storm.
Latest posts by Sage Smiley (see all)
- Mission Unclear: What to do about a rise in global use of “hostage diplomacy” - March 12, 2019
- Is Pulling Out of Syria an Effective Strategy? - February 14, 2019
- Syria’s Idlib Gets a Break? (Alternately: what to do when you’re entrenched in a proxy war and also have been bussing all your enemies plus a bunch of innocent bystanders to one city for the past few years) - October 5, 2018
- Letter from the Editor: April 2018 - April 9, 2018