Queen Rania goes online to challenge stereotypes
Source: The Telegraph
The elegant Queen Rania of Jordan, champion of women's rights and anti-poverty activist, has taken her considerable influence online to challenge Western stereotypes about Islam and warn her own country's youth against extremism.
By Carolynne Wheeler Her YouTube channel, where videos featuring Arab comics, singers and the Queen herself are posted weekly, has drawn more than a million viewers since it was launched in the spring, surprising the Jordanian royal court with the reaction.
"I've been surprised by some of the questions that I've been asked about the Arab world and Middle East", the Queen tells viewers in one clip. "Do all Arabs hate Americans? Can Arab women work? Are there any YouTubers in Jordan?"
"YouTube is a great platform for dialogue and I believe we need to use that platform to get our message out there."
In a broadcast interview last week she added, "I do feel that our world is in a bit of a crisis at the moment, violence has overtaken dialogue and compassion has lost out to anger. I'm hoping this will become a channel of communication between east and west because I very much think our world is in dire need of that."
The YouTube channel has also kicked off a new round of public appearances and interviews with Queen Rania, who, while criticised among more conservative quarters at home for not wearing the Islamic headscarf, in all other respects epitomises the modern Arab woman: Young, beautiful and educated, she gave up a career at a multinational corporation to marry then-Prince Abdullah, who became king after his father, King Hussein, died in 1999.
A devoted mother of four, she has dedicated her royal life to such publicity-friendly causes as Bono's Product Red campaign against Aids in Africa, an end to honour killings in the Middle East and improving public schools at home in Jordan. Named one of the world's most 100 powerful women by Forbes, she has been featured in Hello magazine and the popular US television talk show Oprah, and earlier this year appeared on a collector's edition cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
She and her husband, both fluent in English and frequently welcomed in Western countries, have devoted much time to promoting moderate Islam and condemning terrorist attacks ascribed to radical factions.
The YouTube channel, however, is an entirely new approach. Entirely in English to appeal to a Western audience, it is also seen as a way to reach out to the often-fractious youth of the Arab world, reflecting the growing power of the Internet in a region where regular media often find themselves censored. Even in Jordan, it remains a criminal offence to criticise the King.
With 60 per cent of the Arab world's population under the age of 30 and hundreds of thousands plugging in, often via free dial-up connections and Internet cafes, to YouTube and Facebook, even the most authoritarian regimes find themselves struggling to control dissent. A young Internet organiser nicknamed 'Facebook Girl,' Esraa Abdel Fatah, was earlier this year arrested in Egypt for organising a series of anti-government protests via the online networking site.
The Jordanian queen, observers say, is just trying to keep up with the times.
"They're trying to ride a wave which is that people have lost faith in state-run media, they don't read newspapers. So YouTube is a very interesting platform for the Queen to use to attract young people," said Daoud Kuttab, a Jordanian online broadcaster and recently a professor of new media in the Arab world at Princeton University in the US. "She and her husband want to influence young people away from radicalism into a more pragmatic, centrist thought."
Her video clips, to be posted each week until International Youth Day next month, address women working in the Arab world and the Amman hotel bombings of 2005, among other issues, and feature an Arab comedian and a musical duet with Arab and Portuguese singers. In one, she appears in a white blouse and traditional red keffiyeh, a desert scarf, to explain the scarf is not a symbol of terror.
Some of the clips have been met with scepticism. "Here is an idea, give up all religions and be atheist so we would not be bound by religions or have stereotypes about other religions," wrote one viewer.
Others, however, have been more impressed by the queen's efforts and star power.
"First let me say, you continue to impress and inspire me. As a teenage girl from the USA I was surprised to find that in your hopes and wishes you could relate to me, as your cultural, religious, and social backgrounds are so different from mine. It amazes me that women worldwide can connect through the desire for progress," wrote another viewer.
Queen Rania's official website
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