Queen Rania to Oprah: “I Think What Would Surprise Most People Is Just How Alike We Are”

May 17, 2006

Oprah Winfrey: All new. Smart, beautiful and royal. She came from halfway around the globe to see us. Meet the world's youngest queen.
Queen Rania : The day I found out I was going to be in this position, it was really terrifying.  
Oprah Winfrey: Are there some days when you wake up and go, `I am queen'?
This is dispelling all the royal myths. What do people in her country really think of Americans?
This has been a really good day for me, standing between a president and a queen. Next.
She is a brilliant woman, a gorgeous mother of four and an international fashion icon. Her mission, to make the world a better place for women and children. She also just happens to have a kingdom and a crown. When you were a little girl, did you ever dream of becoming a queen? It was a dream. I know. But what's it like to be a real one? I want to know.
Oprah Winfrey: Rania al-Yassin was born in Kuwait, the daughter of a Palestinian doctor. Shortly after Saddam Hussein invaded the country, her family fled and resettled in Jordan. After graduating from business school, Rania began working her way up the corporate ladder. At 22 years old, a dinner party invitation would turn her life upside down. That night Rania caught the eye of one of the world's most eligible bachelors, Jordan's Prince Abdullah.
King Abdullah: For me, it was, I know it sounds a bit corny, but love at first sight.
Queen Rania: I mean, at the beginning, it was a bit intimidating to think of, you know, meeting a prince and falling in love with a prince. But I think it was just a boy meets girl kind of story.
Oprah Winfrey: Six months later, they had a royal wedding and started a family. Prince Abdullah was planning for a lifelong career in Jordan's military when he got shocking news.
Queen Rania: My husband walked in and told me, `Rania, I think I'm going to be the crown prince.' It was very awesome at the time.
Oprah Winfrey: When Abdullah's father, King Hussein, was on his deathbed, he stunned the country by announcing his son, not his brother, would succeed him as king. King Abdullah and Her Majesty Queen Rania have become the face of modern royalty. Together, they are bridging the gap between the Arab and Western World. In a culture where women aren't always seen and heard, this glamorous, hands-on mother of four works tirelessly promoting the causes close to her heart.
Queen Rania: As you educate a woman, you educate the family. If you educate the girls, you educate the future.
Oprah Winfrey: She is the world's youngest queen, and we're honored to have her here. Please welcome her Royal Majesty Queen Rania.
Well, I heard that you had once said being queen is not who I am, it's what I do. Is that true?
Queen Rania: Very much so. I mean, I think when people think of queen, they really think of it as a fairy-tale.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes, we do. Yes, we do.
Queen Rania: And it's very much--I think the fairy-tale is very much for those on the outside looking in.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania: For me, it's just real life. You know, I--I'm a mother. I care about my children. I worry about what they eat, I worry about the influences from their friends. I worry about...
Oprah Winfrey: How old are you children? How old are your children?
Queen Rania: I have four children. My oldest is 12 years old and my youngest is one. He's only a baby.
Oprah Winfrey: Wow. Are there some days when you wake up and you go, I am queen?
Lord be, I am queen! Yes! I am queen. Is--are there some days?
Queen Rania: I think today is one of them because I got to meet you.
Oprah Winfrey: Well, thank you. OK.
Queen Rania: I guess that's one of the few perks of being queen is...
Oprah Winfrey: You can meet anybody you want.
Queen Rania: ...I get to meet people like you.
Oprah Winfrey: But this is interesting, though, because look, I feel that, you know, coming from my background, being raised poor and poor negro child and all that, to have risen to where I am in life, sometimes I look around at my life and I go, Lordy! You know, and I feel--I do feel that my life is a fantasy. Do you?
Queen Rania : It does sometimes feel surreal.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : You know, why me and how come, you know, I was able to be in this situation, able to affect change?
Oprah Winfrey: Was it daunting at first, the idea?
Queen Rania: Yeah. It was terrifying.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania: The day I found out that I was going to be in this position, it was really terrifying because I had self-doubt. I wasn't particularly sure-footed. I didn't know what was going to happen to my life or what would happen to my children, you know.
Oprah Winfrey: How old were you?
Queen Rania : Well, at the time I was 29.
Oprah Winfrey: You were 29.
Queen Rania : Uh-huh, I was 29.
Oprah Winfrey: Wow.
Queen Rania : So I didn't know what course my life was--would take. And you know, at the very beginning, I'd walk into, for example, board rooms or meetings where there'd be these very accomplished people...
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : ...and intellectual and very experienced. And you know, I would sit around the table and you know, when I talked, they'd look at me and they'd listen to me, and I'm like, are these people for real? They're taking me seriously. I'm only a kid. You know, but you kind of grow into the role. You take it by your stride and just really do the best that you can.
Oprah Winfrey: What's frustrating about it? Does the queen get frustrated?
Queen Rania : You know, I think one of the major misconceptions about this position is that people think I might be far removed...
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : ...that I might not be, you know, in touch with reality.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : When the honest truth is that my life is very much about dealing with issues on the ground.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes.
Queen Rania : A lot of the problems that our country faces. And that's something I do on a daily basis.
Oprah Winfrey: You know, I believe in educating girls, too. And I love your—I quote you all the time when you say educating a girl, you educate the future.
Queen Rania : Absolutely.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes.
Queen Rania : And one of the most important things that you can do for a girl is to empower her with her education.
Oprah Winfrey: That's...(unintelligible).
Queen Rania : Because once she has the education, she can then have control over her income, she can change her life, she can have choices. And I truly believe that education--and when we talk about poverty, in my mind, poverty is a she. You know, so many women around the world are just condemned to a life...
Oprah Winfrey: Poverty is a she? Yes.
Queen Rania : Yeah. So many women around the world are condemned to a life of misery, of hopelessness, of no future. And the most important thing is, you know, when a woman is educated and her life is improved, then she can improve the life of her children.
Oprah Winfrey: Her entire family. That's why you educate the future, yes.
Queen Rania : And the entire family means also girls.
Oprah Winfrey: So what would be--we be most surprised to see or experience with women if we were to come to your country?
Queen Rania : I think what would surprise most people is just how alike we are. You know, and this is something I have found out through my travels. Whether I'm in China, India, Africa, United States or Europe, you walk into a room and you meet someone and you think you're going to be so different. But once you go beyond the mannerisms, the language, the cultural idiosyncrasies, you realize that you're basically the same, you know?
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : Mothers are mothers all over the world. They want the best for their kids.
Oprah Winfrey: Mothers are mothers. Kids, yeah.
Queen Rania : They want to have dignity, their rights.
Oprah Winfrey: That's true.
Queen Rania : And it's the same thing.
Oprah Winfrey: Well, to understand what life is like for the women of Jordan, we spent the day with a few local moms in the capital city.
Ms. RANA HASSOUNEH (Age 35): Hi, my name is Rana Hassouneh. I'm a 35-year-old mother of three, and this is beautiful Amman, Jordon, my hometown. I have one son that's 20 months old. My oldest daughter is about four and a half years old and my youngest is two and a half months old.  I'm going to exercise class and I'm running late, as usual. But I need to lose the baby fat real quick so I have to get going. A lot of Jordanian women are really health conscious.
Ms. MUNA HALAWA (Age 30, Working Mom, 3 Children): Like every mom, I drive my kids to school every day. I'm about five minutes late. We have our small preschool. I'm part time here and I work here every day. It's a challenge. We have to maintain good balance between work and motherhood.
Ms. RANA TADROS COPTI (Age 39, Working Mom, 2 Children): Hi, welcome to my store in Amman, Jordan. Women here are very modern here in Jordan. We do wear a jot of jeans during the day. The younger generation don't mind if it is a little bit low cut or shorter or does show their back.
Ms. HALAWA: Some of my girlfriends are going into plastic surgery. It's like tummy tuck, But for me I'm happy the way I am. I watch my weight. I don't like me or my daughter, you know, growing up crazy about dieting. Here in the store, we have a lot of American products. When it comes to cereals, I would rather get American cereal that my kids like.
Oprah Winfrey: Back at Muna's home, she prepares lunch for her family which is the most important meal of the day in Jordan.
Ms. HALAWA: It's our main meal when my kids and my husband came from work and school.
Mr. HALAWA: See, I gained 30 sounds since I got married. Very good food.
Ms. HALAWA: I cook Arabic food, I cook Chinese, I cook Italian. We cook pasta a lot. But my kids' favorite food is of course, burgers and spaghetti.
Ms. COPTI: We're going to call Domino's for pizza, ask them for delivery. As a working woman, we order pizza on average once a week.
Oprah Winfrey: That we didn't know, there was a Domino's in Jordan. Well, here's what--here's what Jordanian women want Americans to know about marriage and faith.
Ms. HASSOUNEH: When I'm looking for a photo of me and my husband, we dated for a few years before we got married. People in the United States think that Arabs only get married if it's an arranged marriage. We didn't have the typical arranged marriage at all.
Ms. HALAWA: I have a very supportive husband. He's a real good partner to me. It's the best thing that's happened to me in my life.
Oprah Winfrey: In this largely Muslim country, one religious tradition is becoming more and more a matter of choice. Latest statistics say only about 60 percent of women in Jordan are choosing to wear the veil.
Ms. HALAWA: I have been wearing the veil for five years now. It's a personal belief. I mean, in Islam, they ask us to cover. And now some people don't, like my mom, she doesn't cover. I think that I'm doing all my duties toward Islam and it makes me feel just happier.
Ms. HASSOUNEH: I'm a Muslim, and we pray five times a day, so this is my prayer mat. I have to have a special head scarf on that looks like this. And that's it. I'm done.
Oprah Winfrey: Do you pray five times a day?
Queen Rania: I do.
Oprah Winfrey: And do you have to have a long prayer?
Queen Rania : No, it takes about five minutes each prayer.
Oprah Winfrey: Each prayer?
Queen Rania : Yeah.
Oprah Winfrey: So you would stop in the middle of the day where you are—wherever you are and have a prayer? So what are the times?
Queen Rania : The first one is at sunrise. And then one in the middle of the day. And then the afternoon, evening, and then at night. So--but it's very important to stay connected with your faith. Faith plays a very important part in my life.
Oprah Winfrey: Why do some women choose to wear the veil and others not?
Queen Rania : Well, you know, it's a personal--we think it's a personal choice. And, you know, as long as a woman does it because she wants to and she's not coerced into it then that is her right. Unfortunately...
Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever wear a veil? Did you ever?
Queen Rania : I never wore a veil.
Oprah Winfrey: Never did?
Queen Rania : Unfortunately in the West, people look at the veil as a sign of oppression or weakness.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : And this is not true. As long as a woman is wearing it because of her belief. And I always say we should judge women according to what's going on in their heads rather than what's on top of their heads.
Oprah Winfrey: Very good for you, yeah. When we come back, why Queen Rania hasn't told her son that one day he might be king. We'll be back to talk about that.
Oprah Winfrey: I'm talking to a queen, a real one today. A lot of people call themselves queen. Today, we have a real one. Her Royal Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan is here. She came halfway around the world just to be with us today. For a royal family, the king, queen and their four children are about as down to earth as you can get. So I heard that your husband, the king, is--he barbecues?
Queen Rania : He does, yes. He loves his barbecue.
Oprah Winfrey: This is dispelling all the royal myths we knew. Yes, he barbecues?
Queen Rania : Yes. He's very proud of his ability to produce the best steaks and the best burgers.
Oprah Winfrey: Like all men around the world.
Queen Rania : So it's a man--it's definitely a man thing. But I enjoy cooking as well. So it's one of the things we do to relax on the weekends and just to connect and just to feel grounded.
Oprah Winfrey: Do you have a barbecue--a grill at the palace?
Queen Rania : We sure do.
Oprah Winfrey: That is so cool. That is so cool.
Queen Rania : Come over and you can try our steaks.
Oprah Winfrey: Do you like--I might take you up on it. Do you like--is it like a grill in the backyard or what?
Queen Rania : We have a grill in our garden, yeah.
Oprah Winfrey: In your garden?
Queen Rania : Yeah.
Oprah Winfrey: That is a cool thing for a king to barbecue. So I was asking Queen Rania during the commercial break if there was like a formal something going on at the palace. And I was brought to the palace, and were in line to meet you, we would all have to like bow and kiss your ring?
Queen Rania : Not at all. We don't really enjoy the whole ceremonial aspect of this. There are certain occasions when there is ceremony and there is the formalities, but we try to limit those as much as possible. I think it's important to just be yourself.
Oprah Winfrey: What have you told your oldest son about being king, if anything?
Queen Rania : Nothing at all.
Oprah Winfrey: Nothing at all.
Queen Rania : You know, what's important for me, now, he's just a child. He's only 12. And what's important for me is for him to be, you know, grounded in reality. And the most important thing is to instill him with the right values. I just feel that values are the shield that you carry with you throughout life and it protects you from whatever life throws at you. So...
Oprah Winfrey: That's a wonderful quote. So how do you give a strong value system when you have everything? How do you do that?
Queen Rania : You try to take away some of those things.
Oprah Winfrey: Well, how do you do that when they're in the palace? You're in a palace! Hey, mom, you know.
Queen Rania : I think--I think that's part of the myth of the whole royal thing. I mean, our palace is very much a home.
Oprah Winfrey: Is it? Yeah?
Queen Rania : And when my son asks for something, he doesn't automatically get it. He has to work for it and he may not get it at all.
Oprah Winfrey: Like what? Like what?
Queen Rania : Like I control--like I don't let him watch as much TV as he wants or...
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : Or--and what kind of shows he's allowed to watch. If he's allowed to buy the latest gadget or whatever, he doesn't get it automatically, so.
Oprah Winfrey: He doesn't?
Queen Rania : Not at all. Not at all. I mean, he has to work for it and he has to have...
Oprah Winfrey: And so what kind of work would he be doing? No, I'm serious. What does he do? Like he doesn't have to wash the dishes or...
Queen Rania : No, he has to--well, he has to tidy his room and he has to get good grades and he has to demonstrate that he's behaving well and he's earned it.
Oprah Winfrey: Really?
Queen Rania : So yeah, I mean, I think it's very important for him to remain in touch with reality.
Oprah Winfrey: And what are the most important values that you think it's important for instilling in your children?
Queen Rania : They have to feel like they're global citizens, to really have an understanding of the world at large.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : And it's just so important because once you feel that others are like you, then you want for others what you want for yourself, and that way you start helping others and...
Oprah Winfrey: You're a quote a minute. That is really good. Very good.
Queen Rania : Thank you. A lot of times the little problems that are happening halfway across the world and we think, well, that's their problem, but it's not. When you solve somebody else's problem, you're solving a problem for yourself, because our world today is so interconnected.
Oprah Winfrey: Right. What have you seen that has caused you the most sense of, you know, I want to change, I want to do something about that? What have you seen? You've seen a lot.
Queen Rania : You know, I see a lot of things. I would love to see the physical conflict in the Middle East solved, the problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I would love to see settlements in the--in Iraq, you know. I'd love to see more of our children educated in the Arab world. Thank God in Jordan, we have a very high level of education, but in other countries there is still need.
Oprah Winfrey: Are most people rich in Jordan?  
Queen Rania : No. No, actually, no, they're not because we're not a country that's rich in oil or natural resources, but I do believe we're very well educated and creative.
Oprah Winfrey: High literacy rate.
Queen Rania : Very high literacy rate.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes. When we come back, how do Arabs in the Middle East really feel about Americans right now? Queen Rania tells us when we come back.
Oprah Winfrey: The world's youngest queen, her Royal Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, is here. And she came halfway around the world just to be with us today. So how do the Arabs feel about us now?
Queen Rania : Well, you know, I think on both sides, between the Arabs and the West, there is mutual misunderstanding and feeling of suspicion and mistrust. Many of the Arabs feel that America is not on their side, that their policies are not fair toward Arabs and Muslims. However, I must say that the majority of the Arab people differentiate between American policy and the American people. So if any of you were to come and visit any of the Arab countries, you would be met with a great deal of hospitality and welcome. But when you talk about politics, then they start to say that, you know, America is not fair towards the Arabs, they are biased against the Arabs. And that just highlights the need for us to communicate a little bit more. We really need to change the way we look at each other, the way we deal with each other, the way we talk to each other.
Oprah Winfrey: What would be the greatest misconception that you would want to dispel?
Queen Rania : Well, I would like to dispel the misconception that Arabs are all extremists...
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah.
Queen Rania : ...that Arab people are violent and that women in the Arab world are oppressed and suppressed because that's not true.
Oprah Winfrey: And so you have some really strong ideas on how we can fight terrorism.
Queen Rania : Well, first of all, it starts with our children, you know, and how we educate them. It's important for us to educate them about other cultures, about other religions, encourage them to think for themselves, to question, to create, to debate, and not just be influenced by what others have to say. We have to create opportunities for our youth, you know, so they have a chance in life, because whenever you're frustrated and whenever you feel like you don't have a future, you can't get a job, then you're more susceptible to the influence by terrorism and extremist ideology.
Oprah Winfrey: Right.
Queen Rania : The fight is not between Americans and Arabs. It's not between East and West. It's between extremists who exist in all religions against the moderates. And the worst thing for the extremists--the biggest nightmare is for us to get along, and that's why we have to get along. We have to communicate more.
Oprah Winfrey: Ok. Tell me this. So what makes you deliriously happy?
Queen Rania : Chocolate.
Oprah Winfrey: Chocolate? What's your favorite kind, because I've been on the search for the world's best chocolate.
Queen Rania : The darker the better.
Oprah Winfrey: The darker the better?
Queen Rania : Uh-huh.
Oprah Winfrey: And the darker, the better it is for you, too. OK.
Queen Rania : Supposedly, but I don't know if I believe that. It's too good to be good for you.
Oprah Winfrey: Too good. OK, so we talked about some of the perks of being a queen. Isn't it good being queen? It must be good being queen.
Queen Rania : You know, I know that people would love to think that it is, and it is sometimes, but you know, there are a lot of challenges.
Oprah Winfrey: Is it something that you're conscious of, like...
Queen Rania : I'm not at all conscious of it and I make a conscious effort not to be conscious of it.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah. Not to be conscious of it.
Queen Rania : Because I'm Rania, you know. People call me queen but you know, that's not me. I'm Rania.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah. And so you were saying that your ability to help somebody else's life is what really matters to you?
Queen Rania : Absolutely. You know what? I think--I call it the goodwill bank account, you know. I think we spend so much time in our lives working on our dollar bank account when we should really be thinking of the goodwill that we leave behind because that's the only thing that we really take with us is our good deeds.
Oprah Winfrey: Thank you, Your Majesty. Thank you. Thank you.
Queen Rania : My pleasure.