THE QUEEN RANIA FACTOR. I was in Whole Foods the other day, like a good out-of-touch elitist, shopping for cheese, and at the checkout stand I saw a glamour shot of Queen Rania of Jordan on the cover of Washington Life magazine. I have to say that I've long been bugged by Western elites' fascination with this particular queen. Here she is hanging out with Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros. And here she is with Laura Bush. Here she's written up in Hello magazine. She's a bipartisanly loved celebrity -- everyone thinks she's great! And she certainly is good looking and appears to be involved in some worthwhile charitable endeavors.

But here's the thing.

As you'll recall, pretty much everyone nowadays is in some sense interested in promoting democratic reform in the Arab world. And Queen Rania isn't a fun cosmetic constitutional monarch like you have in England or Spain. She and her husband are actually existing despots who make their living exploiting the productive members of Jordan's population, and maintain their control over the country and its resources through the use of coercive violence and other standard means of repression. Take a look at the State Department's Human Rights report on Jordan. It's far from the worst dictatorship on the planet, but it's a real and true dictatorship -- "Citizens may participate in the political system through their elected representatives in parliament; however, the king may at his discretion appoint and dismiss the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; dissolve parliament; and establish public policy." You can be arrested for criticizing the royal family, and the freedom of association is severely restricted. This is done because if it wasn't, Rania and her husband would lose access to their lavish globe-trotting lifestyle and possibly even their invitations to fun parties.

I'm not saying we should invade Jordan, but can we at least stop pretending that Rania and her husband are brave allies in some noble quest to bring freedom to the Middle East. They could create the world's first functioning Arab democracy tomorrow if they wanted to by stepping back and handing authority over to the Jordanian people's elected representatives. But they don't want to. They'd rather stay in charge. And so Jordan has no democracy. And they deserve to be talked about accordingly -- no doubt if her title were "the dictator's wife" rather than "queen," people would find the situation less glamorous and appealing. But what's the difference? Certainly the mutual affection between American and Jordanian political elites isn't generating any great affection for the United States among the average Jordanian.

--Matthew Yglesias

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