Elizabeth in Arabia: the British Queen who "friended" most of the Middle East's leaders

Published September 16th, 2015 - 05:38 GMT

Last week, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her reign – coinciding with the growth of air travel – had her criss-crossing the planet for over half a century, with frequent stops in the Middle East. (Her second-ever state visit was to Libya.)

Her trips were more than pomp and circumstance. A 1979 state tour to six Gulf countries drew international attention with great speculation about how Arabs might treat a female dignitary. The Middle East was still a mystery to most westerners and it was also a time of regional turmoil; Iran's Islamic Revolution had begun a month before, with the shah now replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

More than 60 journalists joined that journey, and their coverage of life in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi, and the United Arab Emirates opened eyes around the world. The Queen already knew the Emirati rulers through a shared passion for horse racing – they were frequent visitors to their British stud farms and stables – and Arab royalty were often educated in British schools. But her travels here, and resultant media attention, broadcast Arab culture and commerce to a wider audience.

Sixty years of official touring provide a pictorial and colorful record of Arab leadership, linked to the legacy of one enduring woman who spans Arab extinct monarchs to Arab 'Spring' leaders. Look at some of the rulers she befriended along the way.

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King Idris of Libya

In 1954, Elizabeth traveled to Tobruk (on her second-ever state visit) to met Idris, the first and only King of Libya. He ascended to the throne in 1951 when Libya won independence from Italy. She put on her own crown the following year. Idris was deposed in a 1969 coup d'etat led by Muammar Gaddafi.

King Hussein and Queen Dina of Jordan

Honeymooning in Britain in 1955, Jordan newlyweds King Hussein and Queen Dina stopped in at Windsor Castle for a visit with Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the sparkling-socked Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Hussein’s first marriage lasted two years. Liz and Phil are nearing their 69th anniversary.

King Hussein and Queen Elizabeth

The sovereigns reunited during Elizabeth's 1984 state visit to Jordan, as captured in 'Married to a Bedouin' by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. Liz met the aspiring author - a New Zealander living in a cave with her Bdoul (Petra) Bedouin husband and babies - while visiting Petra with Queen Noor. Her majesty's (Commonwealth) subjects are everywhere.

King Abdullah of Jordan

The Queen entertained a new generation of Hashemite royalty when Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania spent a 2001 state visit at Windsor Castle. They've met many times since, perhaps to celebrate their common motherlands. Jordan's reigning King after all has a British born and bred mother (Princess Muna Hussein né Antoinette Avril Gardiner).

Sheik Mohammed and Princess Haya

Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Dubai – and his wife Princess Haya bint Hussein – share Elizabeth’s passion for equestrian sports. He founded the Dubai World Cup and renowned Godolphin racing stable. As of 2013, the Queen’s horses have won over 1,600 races.

King of Iraq

In 1958, Liz visited 23-year-old Faisal II just months before his brutal murder during the 14 July Revolution. The regicide ended the 37-year Hashemite Iraqi monarchy - it then became a republic. The UK and US had advance intel of that coup, but at the time were focused on supporting Faisal’s beleaguered cousin, Jordan’s King Hussein.

Shah of Iran

In 1961, Queen Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Iran – her 11th state visit – to meet with the Shah and Shahbanu of Iran. Six years later, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi promoted himself Emperor. Overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, he abdicated, and lived the rest of his life in exile.

Crown Prince of Iran

The Shah’s eldest son, Reza Pahlavi, is the last Crown Prince of Persia. Shown here at Royal Ascot with Queen Elizabeth in 1978, the 18-year-old heir had just completed flight training with the US Air Force, and – following this state visit to the UK – he was returning to the US for university. The next year his world would radically change.

King Haled of Saudi Arabia

Liz did a Gulf circuit in 1979 with stops in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. Saudi King Khalid met her in Riyadh, where her courtiers advised her not to show the soles of her feet, or accept more than three small cups of coffee at a sitting. Her royal milliner created hats with tiny veils as a nod to Islamic culture.

Emir Isa Bahrain

This image is from an undated postcard commemorating the Queen’s visit with Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain. It likely comes from her 1979 state visit to the al Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, only eight years after the tiny nation gained its independence from the UK.

Sheikh Abdullah Jabir in Kuwait

The 1979 Gulf tour provided a respite from British weather and more than a modicum of fun for the queen. Here Elizabeth watches a dancing display with Sheikh Abdullah Jaber in Kuwait, the third monarch to rule Kuwait since its 1991 independence from Britain. He gifted her a silver dhow to commemorate the visit.

Queen Elizabeth driving

In 1998, the modest Queen Liz chauffeured then-Crown Prince Abdullah around Balmoral Castle. The Saudi royal was in safe albeit speedy hands: An army driver during WW2, Liz whizzed along the narrow Scottish roads, chatting away to her terrified passenger. The Prince was not used to a woman in control of a car, as his kingdom bans female drivers.

Saudi King Abdullah Queen Elizabeth

The Saudi prince survived, and in 2005 became the late King Abdullah. This 2007 picture of him escorting the Queen into a state banquet at Buckingham Palace proves the man could take a joke. And that Queen Liz could deliver a lesson in royal trips!

Qatar emir

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, controls a tiny island just a fraction of the size of the UK, but his $2.3 billion USD wealth is five times that of the Queen. He owns more of London than she does, including investments in Barclays Bank and supermarket giant Sainsbury’s.

Prince Charles at his mother's coronation

Prince Charles – decidedly unimpressed – stands between his aunt, Princess Margaret, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mum watching the February 6, 1952 coronation of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Over six decades later, he is still watching her on the throne. We wonder how many new Arab leaders this future King may meet...

King Idris of Libya
King Hussein and Queen Dina of Jordan
King Hussein and Queen Elizabeth
King Abdullah of Jordan
Sheik Mohammed and Princess Haya
King of Iraq
Shah of Iran
Crown Prince of Iran
King Haled of Saudi Arabia
Emir Isa Bahrain
Sheikh Abdullah Jabir in Kuwait
Queen Elizabeth driving
Saudi King Abdullah Queen Elizabeth
Qatar emir
Prince Charles at his mother's coronation
King Idris of Libya
In 1954, Elizabeth traveled to Tobruk (on her second-ever state visit) to met Idris, the first and only King of Libya. He ascended to the throne in 1951 when Libya won independence from Italy. She put on her own crown the following year. Idris was deposed in a 1969 coup d'etat led by Muammar Gaddafi.
King Hussein and Queen Dina of Jordan
Honeymooning in Britain in 1955, Jordan newlyweds King Hussein and Queen Dina stopped in at Windsor Castle for a visit with Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the sparkling-socked Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Hussein’s first marriage lasted two years. Liz and Phil are nearing their 69th anniversary.
King Hussein and Queen Elizabeth
The sovereigns reunited during Elizabeth's 1984 state visit to Jordan, as captured in 'Married to a Bedouin' by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. Liz met the aspiring author - a New Zealander living in a cave with her Bdoul (Petra) Bedouin husband and babies - while visiting Petra with Queen Noor. Her majesty's (Commonwealth) subjects are everywhere.
King Abdullah of Jordan
The Queen entertained a new generation of Hashemite royalty when Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania spent a 2001 state visit at Windsor Castle. They've met many times since, perhaps to celebrate their common motherlands. Jordan's reigning King after all has a British born and bred mother (Princess Muna Hussein né Antoinette Avril Gardiner).
Sheik Mohammed and Princess Haya
Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Dubai – and his wife Princess Haya bint Hussein – share Elizabeth’s passion for equestrian sports. He founded the Dubai World Cup and renowned Godolphin racing stable. As of 2013, the Queen’s horses have won over 1,600 races.
King of Iraq
In 1958, Liz visited 23-year-old Faisal II just months before his brutal murder during the 14 July Revolution. The regicide ended the 37-year Hashemite Iraqi monarchy - it then became a republic. The UK and US had advance intel of that coup, but at the time were focused on supporting Faisal’s beleaguered cousin, Jordan’s King Hussein.
Shah of Iran
In 1961, Queen Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Iran – her 11th state visit – to meet with the Shah and Shahbanu of Iran. Six years later, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi promoted himself Emperor. Overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, he abdicated, and lived the rest of his life in exile.
Crown Prince of Iran
The Shah’s eldest son, Reza Pahlavi, is the last Crown Prince of Persia. Shown here at Royal Ascot with Queen Elizabeth in 1978, the 18-year-old heir had just completed flight training with the US Air Force, and – following this state visit to the UK – he was returning to the US for university. The next year his world would radically change.
King Haled of Saudi Arabia
Liz did a Gulf circuit in 1979 with stops in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. Saudi King Khalid met her in Riyadh, where her courtiers advised her not to show the soles of her feet, or accept more than three small cups of coffee at a sitting. Her royal milliner created hats with tiny veils as a nod to Islamic culture.
Emir Isa Bahrain
This image is from an undated postcard commemorating the Queen’s visit with Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain. It likely comes from her 1979 state visit to the al Qudaibiya Palace in Manama, only eight years after the tiny nation gained its independence from the UK.
Sheikh Abdullah Jabir in Kuwait
The 1979 Gulf tour provided a respite from British weather and more than a modicum of fun for the queen. Here Elizabeth watches a dancing display with Sheikh Abdullah Jaber in Kuwait, the third monarch to rule Kuwait since its 1991 independence from Britain. He gifted her a silver dhow to commemorate the visit.
Queen Elizabeth driving
In 1998, the modest Queen Liz chauffeured then-Crown Prince Abdullah around Balmoral Castle. The Saudi royal was in safe albeit speedy hands: An army driver during WW2, Liz whizzed along the narrow Scottish roads, chatting away to her terrified passenger. The Prince was not used to a woman in control of a car, as his kingdom bans female drivers.
Saudi King Abdullah Queen Elizabeth
The Saudi prince survived, and in 2005 became the late King Abdullah. This 2007 picture of him escorting the Queen into a state banquet at Buckingham Palace proves the man could take a joke. And that Queen Liz could deliver a lesson in royal trips!
Qatar emir
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, controls a tiny island just a fraction of the size of the UK, but his $2.3 billion USD wealth is five times that of the Queen. He owns more of London than she does, including investments in Barclays Bank and supermarket giant Sainsbury’s.
Prince Charles at his mother's coronation
Prince Charles – decidedly unimpressed – stands between his aunt, Princess Margaret, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mum watching the February 6, 1952 coronation of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Over six decades later, he is still watching her on the throne. We wonder how many new Arab leaders this future King may meet...

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