This week Noor al-Hussein returns to Washington, the city of her birth—a far cry from the Lisa Halaby who left in 1965. For the past 15 years her husband has risked the wrath of Palestinian guerrillas, most of the Arab world and Israel, and survived three assassination attempts—only to be overlooked during the Camp David peace negotiations. He now is angry over what he feels is the Carter administration's neglect of his earlier efforts at conciliation with Israel. Hussein has been noticeably cool to his old friends in Washington lately—and observers hope that this week's state visit will solve a few of his quarrels with the Carter foreign policy. The queen is clear about her loyalties. "I never felt American when I married," she says. "America was a place where I grew up, studied and developed a foundation for living. It's not that I'm rejecting America, but I've always felt at home in Jordan. I felt from the start I belonged here. This is my country."
Still, the confining life of a woman in the Islamic world has sometimes proved trying to the once-headstrong young woman who dropped out of Princeton to live in Aspen for a year—and roomed with a male classmate as a senior. She is now mother to a 2-month-old, Prince Hamzah, fourth in line to the Jordanian throne, and is followed by servants and bodyguards wherever she goes. "I am sort of a slave," she admits. "There are times when I wonder whether it's all worth it. But when things are difficult, I realize what's at stake." The king's devotion seems absolute. "When I met Noor, everything changed. I found life again," he says. Cultural conflicts were inevitable, and Lisa Halaby's old friends would hardly recognize the deference of her language. "His Majesty put off most of his major visits until the baby was born so I could go with him," she says. "It was very kind of him. I did indicate to him I'd be pleased to come along." Noor admits there have been necessary adjustments in her marriage to a man 16 years her senior: "Perhaps it was because I'm not his first wife. Sometimes it's as if I'd slipped into an ongoing process. Sometimes I've resented that. One wants everything special."
Nonetheless, Noor has managed to carve out a large area of influence for herself. She presides over government task forces on environment, architecture, mental health, education and conservation, and hopes to increase Jordan's use of solar energy. She runs a large staff of servants—mostly British—in three palaces, and enjoys discussing politics with her husband. "It's a part of every moment of our lives," she says. "I'm involved in it and fascinated by it. He doesn't make a point of briefing me, but it happens. I read intelligence reports." On the eve of her trip to Washington, though, Noor kept her political observations to herself, eager not to damage what may be a delicate rapprochement between her native country and her adopted one. "I want to be part of the same process as my husband," she says. "I have a sense of duty, of mission. My situation gives me a power to build or to destroy. I can either act in a positive way or act to pull things apart."
She feels the changes in her life deeply. "Nobody calls me 'Lisa' anymore," says the 28-year-old queen of Jordan. "I think of myself as 'Noor.' " Just two years ago she was Lisa Halaby, the preppy, Princeton-educated architect daughter of the former chairman of Pan American Airways. She was working as a designer and decorator for the Jordanian national airline. In a storybook romance, King Hussein—shattered by the death of his third wife in a helicopter crash—met the young American at an Amman reception. He courted her at dinner every night for four weeks, proposed, and after the wedding renamed her Noor al-Hussein—the Light of Hussein. Today she is every inch a queen. "His Majesty and I want to present the very best of our country and ourselves," she says, without apparent self-consciousness. "I want to contribute to the peaceful and secure progress of the country."