using Apache mod_rewrite to take a variable out of my visible URLs

I'm a bit of a basket case when it comes Regex and Apache mod_rewrite. I thought this one might be simple, but no go. A client asked me to clean up some URLs on a site I did for them. I was suppose to take this:

and render it into this:

I thought this would do it, but no go:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^whatPage/(.*)$ /index.php?whatPage=$1
RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} (.*)index\.php?whatPage=(.*)
RewriteRule ^(.*)index\.php?whatPage=(.*)$ /whatPage/%2 [R=301,L]    

What am I getting wrong here?

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- You can't access the queryString from within a RewriteRule
- The RegEx from the condition would match too much

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^whatPage/(.*)$ /index.php?whatPage=$1 [L]
RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,4}\ /index\.php\?whatPage=([^&\ ]+)\ HTTP
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ /whatPage/%1? [R=301,L]

And finally: Where are you using this? in httpd.conf? or in per-dir context (<directory...> section or .htaccess config. files)?

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lkrubnerAuthor Commented:
Oh sorry, I should have made clear that this in an .htaccess file at the top level of a domain. We own the server but I didn't feel like hacking into httpd.conf.
lkrubnerAuthor Commented:
As before, your answer works like magic. I wish I understood this stuff as well as you do!
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lkrubnerAuthor Commented:
Could you please tell me what the beginning of this means:

^[A-Z]{3,4}\ /index\.php\?whatPage=([^&\ ]+)\ HTTP
Start of the string (^)
followed by 3 or 4 ({3,4})
chars in the range A-Z
followed by a space (\ )
followed by /index.php?whatPage= literally
followed by 1 or n (+)
chars not containing a '&' or a space ([^&\ ])
and capured in a backreference
followed by a space (\ )
followed by HTTP literally.
Ah, I saw your question in the NG and you transformed your URL further. I have looked only on your snippet, not on the URLs.

That makes it some kind of complex... So you have either one or two parameters and whatPage is always present, while the 2nd param. differs?

RewriteEngine On
# matches on /whatPage/aa --> index.php?whatPage=aa and /whatPage/aa/oneOtherParam/othervalue --> index.php?whatPage=aa&oneOtherParam=othervalue
RewriteRule ^whatPage/([^/]+)(/([^/]+)/([^/]+))?$ /index.php?whatPage=$1&$3=$4 [L]
RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,4}\ /index\.php\?whatPage=([^&\ ]+)\ HTTP
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ /whatPage/%1? [R=301,L]
RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,4}\ /index\.php\?whatPage=([^&]+)&([^=]+)=([^&\ ]+)\ HTTP
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ /whatPage/%1/%2/%3? [R=301,L]

> and render it into this:

The source code remains unchanged, of course.
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