Do You Remember? King Abdullah in Disguise?

Emad Hajjaj, Jordan’s top cartoonist, has a way of depicting the Arab street unlike anyone else. He also has a way of defining the Jordanian spirit and the society of which it embodies. Every now and then I’ll dig up some old cartoons in an attempt to re-tell some of our more modern history in hopes of remembering and at times laughing.

King Abdullah II, in his earlier days of ascending the throne, used to travel around Jordan wearing disguises to pretend to be an ordinary Jordanian citizen. A TV reporter, a taxi driver, an old man with a white beard. This was an attempt to see how the happenings of the country in terms of corruption and the problems people face. Now do not think of King Abdullah as a spoiled rich kid, you are talking about a man who spent most of his life in the military and that’s a pretty tough gig even for a prince.

It became a running joke in the kingdom, amongst the citizens at least, that government employees were now running scared and finally working at full capacity. For a good few months I think people were trying to get a great deal of their government related business done, taking advantage of the sudden spike in public sector effeciency.

“In this position the greatest fear that I have is of being isolated. So going out in disguise was really to be able to keep that link that I’d had previously.”

“If I wasn’t in disguise and was to go to an institution and ask what the problems were, people would probably say what I want to hear, or what they think is the right thing to say.”

Jordanian citizens do not know when or where he will turn up next.

King Abdullah joked: “It’s a bit like Elvis, it’s like sightings all over the country.” [more]

In all probability the King probably does not do this anymore as I am guessing his schedule has become rather demanding, running the country and all. Though I remember this news as being the foundations for my admiration of His Majesty after mourning the loss of his father.

He gained my respect and I believe the respect of many many Jordanians.

A Catalog of Royal Disguises

Dear Government Employee, expect to see soon at the…

(top right to left)
Ministry of Information/ Office of Incomming Labour (Egyptian Worker)/ Jwaydeh Prison/ Ministry of Social Development
Social Security / Highschool/ Ministry of Tourism/ Ministry of Awqaf & Islamic Affairs


  • Very fun, Nas! I loved that about him, what spark and newness he brought to our lives after the grief of losing King Hussein. I saw him TWICE tooling around like that in the early days, driving his own car, losing his security detail stuck in traffic like the rest of us. A few months back he made a presentation in our area and we were stuck in our homes unable to leave for hours due to to busloads of soldiers closing the streets. Oh well.

    Can anyone tell me what “Mahjoob” means?

  • Nas – Thank you for refreshing our memory of how great His Majesty really is
    I remember being very happy reading about what he did in Al Bashir Hospital because that place needed a shock like that at that time … and the cartoons … I never get bored of Hajjaj

    Kinzi – Mahjoob means undisclosed or kept secret or in seal

  • Emad Hajjaj knows no limits!
    Lol@the 2nd cartoon!

    The thing is, if most things in Jordan would be done in seconds if u got Wasta or you are the king or some big shot…then why does not it become the norm!I mean simply consider that all people got some heavy weight wasta and things will run smoothly!

    Gal renew your passport in mail gal

  • Believe me, I’m not playing smart or anything like that but I do find that refinement is in order here. Please look at it as an older brother admonishing his younger brother or a father exhorting his son, whatever is suitable for you.

    What the king was doing early on in his reign is going out incognito and not in disguise, being in disguise has a negative connotation to it, it indicates that the person was doing something furtive, or was trying to camouflage himself so he can do something that isn’t so nice, but we all know better, the king was out to do good things. As for Mahjoob it simply means [covered]

  • Firas,

    You may presume that Wasta is a form of ‘implicitly institutionalized service in Jordan’. The government would never agree to have it converted from a defacto to a dejure form of service. If wasta is legally allowed then what would be allowed next : Graft, racket, venal. Provided that the supply and demand process is done outside the judicial parameter, then the government will continue to look the other way. In my opinion there is no way to get rid of the Wasta in Jordan, it is an integral part of every day living.

  • Ok, nodoby has stated the obvious yet. Well what I remember, is that a lot of people on the street in Jordan at the time said it was likely just a publicity stunt because he was new to the scene and people in Jordan haven’t experienced much from him before, I say it was perceived that way especially because of the way local newspapers reported it and the way writers wrote about it at the time.

    Publicity stunt or not, it sure had its advantages. I just say it wasn’t “original”, his majesty king Hussein Allah yer7amo had already done it in the past, and I think that sort of exhausted any credit one could take for doing something similar.

  • Khalidah and Kinzi, thanks for your comments, I never get bored of Hajjaj either! πŸ˜€

    Firas, lool bad experience? you’re absolutly right but consider this, who far is an employee willing to work for a job he gets 150jds for? my guess is, hardly any work at all. πŸ˜‰

    Hatem, thanks for your comment although i dont see “disguise” as a word with negative connotations. at least not in this context, but i respect and value your opinion. πŸ™‚

    Hamzeh, lol thanks for stating the obvious. Anything the king does will always have several perceptions to it, but sometimes as you pointed out in your second paragraph you have to focus on the advantages that outweighed everything else, primarily the experience he gained from being on the street. stunt or not, i doubt you’ll find many leaders in the world willing to risk their lives by going out on to the street. thank you for your comment. πŸ™‚

  • Abu Nemih, I’m afraid u’ve got me wrong dude.
    I didn’t mean lgalise Wasta. What I wanted to say that since they are able to process a thing in such a short time, why don’t they do the same for all other papers?I mean upgrade the system so anything could be done in short time! That is like every citizen got a Wasta.

    Now,I have to admit that in Jordan most things are done pretty much quickly these days, things are more organized and we have a helpful staff.
    Still we got some outdated departments, like once I had to run from one office to another, waited for hours, even had lunch with the guys (employees) there while trying to figure out why we were taxed too much for property.I had to write requests to the manager (u have to write some funny letters begging for their mercy to look into your case). On the second day I was really bored (gabba3at), I went straight to the big boss, he was one of those guys, with the big office, big disk, an untouched brand new computer and some 4 men sitting there gossiping about corruption in other departments.
    I told him what’s going ,he was surprised and said why didn’t you come to me from the first day, I told him that the guys downstairs warned me not to do so, otherwise my whole file will be screwed, and that you are moody!Lol he laughed! All what I needed was his signature and some kharabeesh el jaj words. It took me 5 min in his office and I was done of the whole thing!.

Your Two Piasters: