The King’s Real Estate: For The Sake Of Transparency

Lands registered in the HM King Abdullah’s name. It’s been an issue that is often talked about, just not in any documented fashion. Few in media want to touch a subject where the “King” and “public lands” are mentioned in the same breath, and so much of the public discourse has relied on fire breathing critics like Laith Shbeilat and the likes, to fan the flames. This also come on the heels of that infamous tribal letter that was issued last February at the advent of the Arab Awakening, whereby 36 tribal leaders essentially accused the King of giving public land to HM Queen Rania and her family.

So it was a rather predictable move by the Royal Hashemite Court to call a press conference a few days ago to essentially tell everyone that everything is ok, and that nothing fishy is going on. Reading the Petra news press release tells you everything you need to know about how the state is attempting to tackle this story. Another press release seems to have mistakenly found its way in to the Jordan Times editorial section (someone should contact them about that), but is also a good indication of what the state’s approach is. Upon reading the Petra piece, one gets the feeling that they’ve been had. That some sort of magic trick has just occurred and everyone in the audience is expected to nod their heads and go on.

According to the Royal Court Chief, Abu Karaki, this whole move to come forward and present information to the masses about these lands is an attempt to be “transparent” and “open”. Never mind that we are talking about land registrations that took place between 2000 and 2003, roughly eight years ago, but first of all, coming forward simply because people are talking about it isn’t being transparent; it’s being reactive. In fact, marketing this as an attempt at being transparent makes me wonder if the state has its own definition of transparency. The process is what needs to be transparent; presenting the people with “facts” eight years later because you can’t shake the story is closer to a confession than anything else.

What this demonstrates, if anything, is that nothing has changed in this domain.

The state still waits until stories build up steam, remains quiet, allows that steam to manifest in anger, frustration, accusations and even violence sometimes – and then coming out saying: “Here’s the real story. See! We’re being transparent!”. This formula is one we’ve seen happen over and over and over again. In 2008, we saw accusations building up regarding the sale of public lands for “private investments”, which in Jordan is a euphemism for “corruption”. The issue was left unaddressed until it spiraled out of hand and the King spoke up in an interview with Petra news to clear things up, specifically about rumors of the sale of Medical City lands. I would even argue that the 2008 case laid the groundwork for the present day, even those regarding Queen Rania’s brother, who has been accused of public land deals for over a year now. All of the stories refuse to go away, and the state’s response has not changed. I’m not sure why that is. There’s a possibility that they think this approach is a winning strategy.

As for the specific lands and why they were registered in the King’s name in the first place, well, that’s where it gets interesting. According to the Royal Court, a total of 4,827 dunums were all registered in His Majesty’s name during the 2000-2003 period only, with the vast majority of those lands being located outside Amman.


The only reason to register those lands in His Majesty’s name was to expedite and facilitate implementation of development and service programmes and projects in the regions where those lands are located, and was not intended in any manner for material or personal benefit, but rather for national developmental projects, Adaileh stressed. Concerned officials at the Royal Hashemite Court during that period proposed to register those Treasury lands under His Majesty’s name in order to speed up implementation of projects to improve the level of public services and directly benefit citizens in those areas

The reason given, nearly eight years later after the fact, will no doubt polarize opinions. There will be those who reject it outright and those that accept it completely, with the truth lying some where in the middle. The problem is, when you’re not being transparent from the start, it’s hard to convince people you were doing something for the public good nearly a decade later.

But regardless of what people choose to believe, in my opinion, the holy grail of this answer lies really in the fact that it was given as a valid answer at all. What this answer says to me is basically: there is usually a process whereby public lands are developed for the public benefit or used for investments, but because that process is either broken, slow, bureaucratic or what have you, the country’s treasury thought that things could get done quicker if they just registered the land in the King’s name. That’s essentially what this offered reason boils down to. The lands that belong to the public were registered in the King’s name in order to get things done; in order to bypass process. In order to cut through red tape and procedures. This is the reason they’re choosing to go with. That to me is far more important and interesting than whether one believes their offered reason or not. The fact that they offered it is a bold and public declaration of how the state thinks about transparency.

And thus, eight years later, in the name of “transparency and openness”, the public is informed that these lands were registered in the King’s name, in order to bypass the conventional system, in a manner that is far from transparent or open. The irony is self-evident.

I am positive that this will do little to quell or curb criticism, or those who have used this issue as a reason to hold a witch-hunt in search of corruption. But for me, the issue that is more important and more worthy of debate is that of transparency. Indeed, if there’s anything this entire ordeal has demonstrated it is the disconnect between the state’s definition of transparency, and the actual meaning; the actual manifestation. Transparency must be a mechanism that is immersed in the process, and that process must be law; it must be adhered to, not bypassed in the name of “getting things done”. If there’s something wrong with that process, the solution isn’t to go around it, and it isn’t to dodge transparency: the solution is to fix it. Transparency is not the act of offering people information nearly a decade after an event, motivated solely by the fact that it has become a lingering controversial issue. Transparency is a pillar that comes naturally with the process the state chooses to pursue, or doesn’t.

I am positive that there are those in the state who understand this completely. But, based on this case and others, we have yet to see any evidence of it.

One can only hope that some place, some where, a shift will happen.


  • Well I agree with you that the main issue is how the state defines transparency and then how they use these in-transparent processes to give us lessons in transparency.

    If I follow the same logic used in Abu Karaki’s explanation, then we can easily argue that: Was it too difficult for the Royal court to write the government in every time they needed public lands for Royal Court led projects? Does the king with his unlimited authorities has problem to receive a quick respond from the government to his requests? Why the Royal court was not transparent with the government in the first place and clarified to them for what purpose these lands will be used for!

  • In order to preserve an appearance of intelligence the word “monarchy” is conspicuously absent from this piece, in its place we find “the state”. The fact of the matter is that, as I believe most Jordanians will recognize, this is transparent enough for a monarchy of this type. What the King’s actions have shown is the folly of vile, scandal-mongering that passes as reform activism in quarters of the Hashemite realm.

    And what this piece shows, trying as best it can to argue a point of transparency that is as weak as it is irrelevant to Jordan’s political structure (the King’s powers are comprehensive and invested in him, in part, for precisely the purpose it was claimed to have been used in this instance), is just how difficult it can be to effect “reform”, of the type being witnessed in other Arab lands at present, in a monarchy that is essentially moderate, fair, and astute.

  • I think that when HM said that he will be handing his son a different kind of monarchy he was well aware, or at least I hope he was, that many of the problems we are facing today and will face for time to come are inherent in the way authority and power are exercised as a result of how it was concentrated.

    Now to the press release or whatever that was. We can agree that it was halfhearted and the language used was loaded with the usual patronage/Makromeh-filled allusions. There were many contradictions and lame excuses. Taking things at face value: How successful was the transfer in translating into real “social development” projects? In other words, how was success, if any, measured?

    Anyway, I don’t want to get into the content of the “release” nor the timing.

    Here is what I care about at this stage:
    The king, constitutionally, is not “accountable”. However, everyone else who took part in this whole fiasco is. Amjad Adailah made that clear in his statements and that to me is the most significant part of the release, along with halfhearted attempt to take moral responsibility for what is clearly a behavior that doesn’t serve neither the country nor the king who must stay above such dealing at any cost.

    This move, I want to believe, is the start of a new era in fighting corruption. I want to believe that this was meant to be a signal and a green light to go after corrupt figures that have been untouchable for so long. The list of cases starts from Mawarid and does not end at Decent Housing for Decent Living.

    I will be looking out for developments in the coming few days. Abu Al Ragheb, Rawabdeh, and all the figures that worked at the royal court between 2000-2003 must be brought forth to face the court of public opinion. Their hiding of the truth while being “ashab Welayeh” has endangered Jordan and for that they must be held accountable to say the least.

    Many commentators have been arguing for a, Haffar Daffar approach(Rana Sabagh coined the term). The argument is: even if the king made mistakes and enabled some figures to wreak havoc in our social fabric and economic structure, he is the King. He is not to be held accountable. However, for that formula to work, the cover must be lift and a green light must be given to go after some big corrupt heads. All this must happen A structural reform, as it relates to power and accountability, should go hand in hand with this process so as we are not in the same position in the future.

    This has been the positive Mohanned.

    For the cynical Mohanned…press 2 😉

  • The claimed transparency, in my opinion, was not on announcing that public lands have been registered under the name of the King to serve the public interest. As you state in your article, making such announcement after 8 years of the fact is rather a reactive move than transparency. The transparency, from how I saw it, is the fact that the Royal Court decided at a long last to “admit making those lands transfers”, with a clear indication that all those lands will be returned back to the public. It is the transparency of the willingness to admit what seems to be a mistake, and the willingness to fix it. Regardless of the tone of the announcement, I believe that deciding to announce that 4,500 dunoms of public lands were transferred to the name of the King – wow – regardless of the intentions and reasons, is a very difficult and bold move. At least, they finally decided to break the ambiguity about the whole story. Is it reactive? – definitely. Was it wrong to make those lands transfers? – Yes.

    Clearly, many of our public policies and procedures are flawed, and we do suffer from a lack of transparency. We have many mistakes. But in the context of the Arab Spring, it is good to see a light at the end of the tunnel. That something is being done to improve and fix those problem – even if it was under pressure from the citizens. For my as a citizen, the biggest achievement of this announcement is that I felt that our government decided to stop bull******* us on those mistakes and what actually went wrong.

  • Why is funneling funds to the army supposedly an excuse for such appropriation although most major corruption cases have been associated with “army” projects. Whom are they trying to appease with such a lame excuse. And in any case, beyond the excuses and explanations, there is one solution for this situation given the fact that it involved violation of the law. PRESS UNDO. Now that the bureaucratic hurdles are overcome, let’s give things back to governments and let them do their work. Now that would be a testimony of transparency and good well.

  • or jordan should develop the category of “crown” estates, properties that belong to the crown for discretionary and development purposes that are inalienable and are not subject to the rules of private property. The history and categories of property in the british monarchy here would be instructive.

  • Nassem wants us to put the wagon in front of the horse .Transparency has no chance to survive under absolute power, just show one county that has transparency that is governed by absolute monarchy, the answer to my question there is non period..

  • Short-circuiting the governmental/developmental process was the name of the game for the past decade. Of course it has allure. Especially in the face of a deadening bureaucracy. And this short-short-cuircuiting has its precedences in the worlds of business and of course in places like Dubai which is run more like Dubai Inc.

    Several things get sacrificed. Transparency is among them. But also the willingness to confront problems on a governmental and societal level.

    That what has lead to today’s Jordan. Islands of modernity and very promising examples of entrepreneurship, cultural development and innovation, in a sea of resentment, conservatism and negativiity.

    I am afraid that we are still unwilling to confront the hard work of change and comprehensive development and we are still looking for the quick fixes.

  • Naseem, although I agree with you that our government needs to do more to improve transparency, but there’s a truly inspiring story missing here. In my opinion, the most important piece of information in the press release/statement (what ever you want to call it) is the King donating 700 dunums of prime Amman land (that was owned by the Royal Court since the 1970’s and bought at that time from private individuals) for the public good – today’s King Hussein Park! Basically the King donated the Monarchy’s crown jewels to his people. I cannot think of a more valuable (in size and location) privately-owned piece of real estate in Jordan. Moreover, I cannot think of any similar acts of generosity made by other wealthy Jordanians outside the Royal family.

    There is a very touching story of humility and care in the fact that the King did not make any effort in publicizing his donation of the King Hussein Park land 10 years ago. Indeed, up until the press release everyone thought the King Hussein Park was built on Amman Municipality land.

    His lack of transparency in “doing good” is honorable to the highest degree and fits beautifully within the norms of our religion and culture. It was actually quite sad that the King was forced to reveal a private act of generosity to fend off accusations of profiteering from land sales. It is sadder that you have not picked up on this aspect at all.

  • What happens to the public land registered to king Abdullah, if king Abdullah dies ?
    The land will be inherited by his family.

    The land registered in his name is twice the size of monaco country.What kind of projects need land that is bigger than the size of some countries?

    Registering the land to his majesty is an illegal act.The land must return to treasury.

  • In reply to Ahmad (12) above, let’s not forget that the land that used to be a park next to the Amra Hotel on 6th circle – was donated by citizens to the state. The ‘state’ – I believe the Amman Municipality, in its infinite wisdom, sold off that piece of land to private developers who went on to build the most ugliest of structures on Jordanian soil … our very own ‘twin towers’. Hence the need for ‘state’ lands to remain, precisely that – owned by the people for the people, to enjoy a bit of breathing space in our congested city, not develop.

    In reply to Naseem’s article – very well said.

  • I think you missed the part about ‘speeding up the implementation of projects’ which apparently has gone extremely well since I don’t see any projects now 8 years later. They did speed up the implementation alright… #FAIL

  • Naseem I agree with your point that this isnt really transperancy but its the best they could do of a bad situation. They should have been open about it to begin with.

  • I agree with you on the transparency part but I respectfully disagree with you that the transparency part is the holy grail. We are looking at a much bigger case.

    We can’t minimize what happened and pretend like it’s not that big of a deal. Thousands of Dunums were placed under HM’s name. There needs to be transparency and an investigation. Noticed how Adaileh “King’s Advisir” picked his words carefully when he said” according to our knowledge, the proceeds of the sales “which was in tens of millions” were deposited in the central bank “Khazeeneh”. According to our knowledge? The Royal Palace doesn’t have an accounting department? The Royal Palace can’t produce documents? The press and government should investigate this. This is a serious Flow …

    Few days later after the announcement, a news piece came up on a website talking about the same thing happening later in 2006 when the Diwan said these transactions happened in between 2000 and 2003. The news piece was about Ard il Maarid and how it was given to the King by order and a week after was sold to an Emarati investor for over 30M dinars. The documents are published, you can judge for yourself. So … how could this happen when the Diwan said it ONLY occured between 2000 and 2003. That’s another flow ..

    The King must come clean and put an end to this mess. This story has too many flaws and the King must make drastic measures or face a greater, more fierce opposition.

  • I think it’s hilarious, and preposterous. The entire episode shows the weakness of royal court.
    First of all, it’s rather sad that they are trying to pin it on officials who registered the land under the king’s name. If the land was registered under the king’s name, it was done by his order and under his consent. There’s no going around that. I doubt the king wouldn’t be informed or know if people are registering anything under his name. If he’s not, then that’s a serious problem inherently.

    My second concern is how they tried to play it off as using the land for developmental projects. There’s some magical thing that makes land owned by the king MUCH better for projects right ? it’s a ridiculous assertion and one that insults people’s intelligence (which is something they sadly do a lot). Is the government not capable of the same projects? or simply owning the lands on which the projects are to be built on?

    The only reason this is a problem is because the King allowed it to be a problem. A smart move would’ve been to never allow it to be discussed, since this sort of discussion promotes dissent. By opening the door to a discussion on the king’s possessions, the royal court inadvertently opened the door to discussion on all the royal family’s possessions. And let’s be honest, that discussion will definitely not end in favor of the royal court.

  • @ NO 11:
    Is “short-circuiting” some sort of preemptive justification?
    # Municipality Non-tender projects #Allegedly

  • What’s interesting and funny to me is: given that we all acknowledge that things need time and effort to get done through the regular official channels, y3ni is the royal court trying to convince us, that with royal will in place, the king can not give a verbal order let alone pick up the phone and have any development project pass through all beauracracy in no time? really? he needs to register lands under his name to be ABLE to act?! dude what’s that, a kingdom or a dokkanih?!

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