The Queen of Campaigns

Rania, the consort of Jordan's King Abdullah, is a very modern royal who is using the internet to fight for women's rights in the Muslim world. Simon Usborne reports
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The Independent Online

When Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, becoming Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco, she famously abandoned the silver screen. It was deemed indecorous for a royal consort to continue with such a public career, so when Alfred Hitchcock offered Kelly a role in Marnie the actress was obliged to say no (Hitchcock quipped that he was "very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part").

Queen Rania of Jordan is no Grace Kelly. She has the Hollywood looks but, since becoming consort of King Abdullah II, the Palestinian has held court at Davos, been voted third most beautiful woman in the world by Harpers & Queen, granted a half-hour interview to Oprah Winfrey, appeared alongside Bono on the cover of Vanity Fair, teamed up with John Legend and Scarlett Johansson to front an "end poverty" campaign, and featured in Forbes' "most powerful women of the world" list.

Never one to shrink into the shadow cast by her husband, whose profile has never really rivalled that of her consort, one of the most conspicuous first ladies in the world (and busiest – she is also the mother of four young children) Queen Rania has now become a star of the internet. Earlier this year, she launched her own YouTube channel and recently became the first recipient of the video-sharing site's Visionary Award, which it created to recognise people who use the site as a platform for "positive social change".

In a fashion we have come to expect from the media-savvy, and frequently funny, consort, Queen Rania spoofed the US chat-show host David Letterman in her acceptance speech by copying his "Top 10" format. In the video, which is replete with a laughter track and post-joke cymbal strikes, she counts down the 10 reasons for setting up her own YouTube channel. "Because I didn't have enough friends on Facebook," she says. Other reasons include: "Because anything Queen Elizabeth can do I can do better"; "Because what you know about Arabs shouldn't just come from Jack Bauer"; and "Because I wouldn't have got past an audition in front of Simon Cowell."

The vivacious consort saves the serious point until last. Reason one: "Because suspicion, intolerance and mistrust are driving us apart." Earlier, in the first of the 14 videos on Queen Rania's site, which has scored three million hits in less than nine months, she goes further: "YouTube is a great platform for dialogue and I believe we need to use these tools to get these messages out there," she says. "I want people to know the real Arab world – to see it unedited, unscripted and unfiltered – to see the personal side of my region and to know the places, faces, rituals and cultures that shape the place that I call home."

The series began at a time when a film criticising the Koran produced by an anti-immigrant politician in the Netherlands had stirred Muslim sentiment. It also followed the outrage over cartoons depicting Prophet Mohamed in several European newspapers. In the videos, in which Queen Rania is helped in her attempt to open minds by the Palestinian-American comic Dean Obeidallah and the Iranian comedian Maz Jobrani, who is part of the "Axis of Evil" comedy group, she invites viewers to share their opinions of the Middle East and talk about stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. "I'm not claiming a video can change the world," Queen Rania said in her acceptance speech, "but maybe it can help us change some minds."

Changing minds has become Queen Rania's raison d'être. Born Rania Al-Yassin in Kuwait to Palestinian parents (her father was a doctor), she always looked West – she studied the British curriculum at an international school in Kuwait before earning a degree in business administration at the American University in Cairo. From there she went on to a brief career in marketing at Citibank, before taking a job at Apple Computer in Amman. It was in January 1993 that she met Prince Abdullah bin Al-Hussein, a graduate of Oxford and Sandhurst, at a dinner party. In two months they were engaged: they were married by June.

When the couple ascended the throne after the death of King Abdullah's father in 1999, they set about bringing a more populist approach to the Jordanian monarchy. With her education, looks and "real-world" experience, Queen Rania was the perfect partner but she wanted more than merely to sit beside her husband as the face of a new Jordan. Effortlessly taking up the role of a player on the global stage, she became a champion for women and children's rights, setting up numerous charities. The exhaustive list of organisations she supports includes the UN Children's Fund, the Clinton Foundation, the Arab women's summit and the International Criminal Court's Trust Fund for Victims.

In September, Queen Rania was in New York to host a glittering women-only charity dinner. Joining forces with Wendi Murdoch, the wife of the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown, the Queen was in full networking mode. The women helped raise pledges worth hundreds of millions of pounds on behalf of the White Ribbon Alliance, a charity which campaigns to prevent death in childbirth.

Whether mingling on the world stage in stunning gowns – Queen Rania rivals Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in the style stakes – or visiting remote villages in her kingdom, Queen Rania is a woman on a mission.

The YouTube award is the latest feather in her designer cap but Rania is no stranger to the power of the internet to spread her message. On her own website, www.queenrania.jo, in which she is said to take a keen personal interest, the first lady outlines her goals under snappy headers such as "Children Talk", "Youth Matters", "Women Empower" and "Community Connect".

On her profile page she ponders the size of the task she has set herself. "Daunting? Yes," she writes. "Impossible? No. In fact, such challenges energise me."

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