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Backstory: Qatar reformed by a modern marriage

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Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned leans forward, pushes her laptop computer aside and adjusts the wire-rimmed glasses that sit askew on her unveiled face. It's mid-morning, and she has just come out of a staff meeting. She is off to Africa next week, and documents relating to the royal visit are piled high beside a vase of yellow roses on her desk, waiting to be read. A copy of Fortune magazine lies, open, on a side table nearby, a plate of small sweet dates upon it serving as a paperweight.

The pretty Qatari commoner who caught the crown prince's eye all those years ago has transformed herself over time into a royal wife the likes of which the conservative Arab region has never seen before.

To begin with, she is seen. The second of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's three wives, Sheikha Mozah is the first and only ruling spouse here to show herself in public. But that is just the start of it.

Mozah seems to be doing everything all at once – from improving public transportation for foreign workers to the establishing the region's first battered women's shelter to reforming the higher education system, building non-Muslim public places of worship, sponsoring public debates, and serving as a UNESCO special envoy. Focused, energetic, and hardworking, the glamorous mother of seven of the emir's 27 children rivals her husband in terms of influence in this land.

"Her Highness is the best thing that ever happened to Qatar," states Esra al-Ibrahim, a young Qatari student, matter-of-factly. "She totally inspires us. Since she came to power, Qatar has changed 100 percent."

The sheikha laughs at that. It's the emir, she says, who inspires her. "I have lived with my husband more than I have with my parents ... I live beside him, and know his worries, his hopes, and his dreams for his nation," she says in an interview with the Monitor. "We believe that things happen by design, not in an arbitrary way. And we believe it is our duty to make things happen."

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