King Goes Undercover Again

His Majesty King Abdullah paid an incognito visit to the Health Ministry’s Patients’ Affairs Department on Wednesday to check on services it offers citizens, sources told The Jordan Times. Wearing a black thobe (traditional dress) and a red-and-white kuffiyah, and sporting a black beard, the King arrived at the department, located in Shmeisani behind Le Meridien, at around 10:00am, sat in the waiting area, then obtained an application from a front desk official, one source told The Jordan Times.

As he was waiting for the application, the source said, the disguised King, leaning on a walking cane, talked to those in the waiting area about services offered by the department, which helps cover medical fees, mainly for surgeries, of citizens not covered by any health insurance scheme.

“After filling in the application, the King queued up to see a doctor,” the source added.

Mingling with citizens, the King was discussing procedures at the department with citizens also waiting for their applications until some of them recognised him. While at the department, the King helped a citizen fill up a form, another source said. [source]

Here’s the thing about these visits. While a part of me can only tip my hat in respect to such moves by the King, which have been done a few times in the past decade, another part of me is only reminded the extent to which our policy systems are skewed. First of all, these visits might start losing their appeal simply due to the amount of mainstream publicity they seek out. This is usually fueled by leaked statements from the Royal Court, followed by a local media frenzy with everyone tripping all over themselves for credit and no one stopping for a second to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

This brings me to my point.

These visits are a reminder that some times, things are so bad in Jordan that it actually takes a King to wear a costume and try out some of the common services we are all accustomed to. And this wasn’t even a big deal. The King filled out a form. Imagine having to undergo the lengthy and burdensome process of about 100 other government services in this country, some of which make absolutely no sense at all (why the heck are we still using postage stamps on forms!?). The kind of services, which in their best case scenarios (i.e. you have the money, time and patience), are week-long journeys of frustration.

But more importantly, I’m concerned with the process story that probably no one will talk about.

Let’s face reality for a minute: the outcome of such a visit will likely be a sudden improvement of these public services, with new systems being implemented, and new technology being introduced. And then, a few months or years later, all of that is abandoned in favor of the inevitable return to the status quo. It’s almost elastic.



Because, unfortunately, to a large extent, this is how public policy works in Jordan. One man, one vision, one command, one policy, and then the trickle-down effect – and that’s usually where things go wrong. There are no systems or mechanisms, nothing you can hold anyone accountable to. It is the distance between point A and point B. Success and failure is measured between those two points and no more or less.

There is no process. We pretend there is one, and the state tells us there is. But there isn’t. And anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of government services knows it. In other words, the majority of the country.

And because all of that doesn’t exist, because the traditional mechanisms of a democratic machine are absent, we will continue down the same path. The King will be wearing a costume for years to come. The person you expect to be leading a country is reduced to custodial roles that should, in all honesty, be run by a system – a mechanism. Something that will outlive the King and anyone who is reading this right now. Because that’s what systems are meant to do. Something the people have a direct say in. Because when that machine goes askew, when it breaks down, there is a system that allows the people to have some control over its functioning and maintenance and upkeep, as opposed to having to wait until the King realizes its a problem – or in this case experiences it firsthand – in order for it to be considered an actual problem.

In other words, when it comes to public services in Jordan, for the most part, a tree falling in a forest does not make a sound unless the King is around to hear it.

But again, those mechanisms don’t exist. The connection between the citizen and the public services he or she is entitled to, is non-existent. There are no mechanisms for accountability, thus no incentive to improve, thus no progress.

We, as citizens, have the right to complain but we know nothing will ever improve until the King pays a visit, whether incognito or otherwise. Yes, the entire public sector is one giant suggestion box that no one on the other end reads. And if you think I’m being metaphorical, well…

In most of these places, they don’t even bother with a fresh coat of paint on the walls until they know the King is coming. And if the Royal Court has planned the trip well ahead of time, those facilities might even lay down some grass and water the withering plants. And if you still think I’m being metaphorical…

And that, unfortunately, is how things work in this country.

And will continue to unless some drastic changes are made.


  • 1) no democracy, no sense of ownership.
    2) wasta breeds incompetence. democracy breeds accountability.

  • I think the solution is to create a Strategic Leaks Department as an integral part of the Royal Court’s Sustainable Development Operations office (is there such a thing?). This way whenever a government program is in dire need of special attention, agents of Strategic Leaks Department will leave anonymous tips that the king is about to embark on an incognito inspection trip to the facility or program. Repeat as necessary. That’s how you sustain development in a government built on nepotism and cronyism and loyalty and little else. .

  • I agree with you, in fact, even the private sector does not have such systematic processes. I really think it has something to do with our culture and our work ethic – add to that our patriarchal structure in public policy and media.

    Typical Jordanian work ethic:

    Customer: I would like to have a ….
    Employee: [Ya Allah shou beddo menni hada?!]

    We’re just not obsessed with improving things yet. We love embracing the status quo. Making improvements = more work and more responsibility. Now who would want that?

  • Exactly…and frustrating. Lack of accountability has allowed those in power to do the minimum requirement to function, but they can still collect the fat paycheck.

  • While I totally agree that there should be a better system sturcture that would guarantee better quality of governmental services, I do see that these sudden visit can benefitial in one way or another. The idea of the undercover visits is funny in a way but some governmental venues that he visited previously have improved their services and still are doing better than before.

  • Excellent post Nas. Dare I ask, why no parliament member bothers to make a visit (mostly no one will know him so no need to disguise) to a troubled department? Also I think citizens can make a website telling his majesty or any one else who cares about the most needy place for his next, royal, attention.

  • poor mechanisms ==> frustration ==> corruption ==> wasta (tribalism) ==> undermining of government ==> worse mechanisms ==> even more frustration ==> more corruption ==> tribalism rules ==> government weakens ==> influence from outside opportunists ==> welcome to lebanon/iraq

  • I totally agree with you nas, your blog is brilliant bjective and courageous, so why don’t you offer some solutions that you think might work, like where to begin? Democracy? Empowerment?
    what about other questions? what kind of democracy? i mean talk is easy you can sit and complain and write tons of words but what are the mechanisms’?
    The king thought of one which obviously is not the solution but it is better than nothing right? i”m not saying i have any!! but maybe we should start thinking about solutions to the problems that we all know about but what we need is the mechanisms
    I know most of yur answers before you reply?
    So what about the Zionist israeli plan to make jordan palestine?
    what about the majority of our jordanian population that are not native jordanians and are palestinian refugees?!! and have a problem of allegiance to the King and to the land!
    Have you ever been to Al naqabat main building ? you feel you’re in one of Hammas’s offices??!
    Arent the unions main priority are their members not issues in other countries?
    What about the relegious people who believe Jordan is ARD AL RIBAT in which all the muslim armies will start their battle to defeat the Jews from our land, i don’t think these people mind jordan becoming a palestinian state?!!
    I mean sometmes ii feel like you’re talking idealistic stuff and drifting from the reality?!!

  • @Ammar: First, I am not so sure about the extent to which the King’s “solution” is actually a solution to begin with. Second, I have trouble believing that because people are not from a purely jordanian origin, that their allegiances lie elsewhere. Third, I have not merely complained on this blog as it has been a place where I have talked about the mechanisms and institutions that need to be created to bring about the change we need, and I think it’s also been a platform for others to debate the same things.

  • This post was written some time ago and I hopped in by chance. Thank you for penning this, so I thought I could just chip in my share too.

    I think what King Abdullah has done here is absolutely admirable. How many Ministers/Presidents or Heads of Country even bother to do that? Receiving & reading reports is one thing, a King putting himself on the ground to experience truly the lives of a commoner is quite another matter. Of course, it’s anyone’s freedom to doubt what his true intentions are. I can safely tell you from where I am in my own country, my Prime Minister can’t even differentiate the various food commonly found in the average citizen’s food center.

    King Abdullah’s undercover trip may contain other motivations that we are not aware of. I can’t deny there may be a certain element of publicity involved, and which Government doesn’t do that? The bare minimum is, he cared enough to go through the process as a commoner – even in pretense. In my opinion, that was already 10 times better than a Hillary Clinton stepping off her plane in Haiti’s airport (secured by… cough… hundreds of US soldiers), issued a statement in front of snapping cameras, re-boarded her protected jet and garnered one hell of a publicity like as though she had been walking through the streets of Haiti after the earthquake.

    Have we ever gave him the benefit of doubt that he had been reading reports, so he attempted to mingle among the commoners and well, put to test how truthful these reports have been? Sometimes, such a visit may not be dedicated to changes, but also validating in other sense.

    Peace be with all.

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