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The King’s birthday

Feb 04,2019 - Last updated at Feb 04,2019

His Majesty King Abdullah was born on January 30, 1962, making him 57 years young. At about the same time, I travelled that year to California to study at CAL POLY in Pomona. I flew with KLM from Amman, to Beirut to Ankara to Istanbul to Rome to Amsterdam to New York to Los Angeles and so on.

It took about 48 hours, including two stay-overs at Schiphol and Idlewild, now JFK, airports in Amsterdam and New York respectively. At least 40 carloads of relatives and friends accompanied me to Marka Airport to bid me farewell on the assumption that I may stay there for good.

Nowadays, you can fly there in 18 hours and come back to visit twice a year. What a difference! I had to wait for weekly letters from home. Now they can talk five times a day on their cell phones or iPads. People now play games with each other, while exchanging jabs over the Internet.

In the 57 years since King Abdullah was born, Jordan had gone through deep transformation that only old people, like me, can feel and touch. The King is the eyewitness to all of that. What I like most about him is his understanding of change and the deep impact it has exacted on our lives, even the simplest things that we take for granted.

King Abdullah is the heir to the Hashemite legacy and domain. In 1622, his great-grandparents, descendants of Prophet Mohammad, ruled Mecca and the Hijaz until 1924. They eventually became kings of Syria (1919), Iraq (1920 – 1958), Jordan and the West Bank (1950-1967) and, of course, Jordan (1921 – now and on). Had they maintained that vast terrain under their wing, the Arab world would be a place to marvel at. Yet, the rise of Israel, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and its never-ending aftermath and the regime changes in Egypt and Iraq have, inter alia, aborted that dream.

King Abdullah, the true vintage soldier, is daring in battle but patient and educating in running political affairs. He listens to theories, proposals and analyses with polite scrutiny, and thinks of the diagonally opposite view for comparison and evaluation.

His Majesty loves fun and enjoys surprising people. He wears a disguise and mingles with people who are unaware of his identity. If you make stand-up jokes, he laughs, but be careful because there is a good chance you might be “punk’d” by one of his tantalising pranks.

His Majesty’s ability to shuttle between the specific and the general is amazing. While talking about the macro dimensions of inadequate public transport in Amman, he can give you details about the specific traffic bottlenecks that need to be unclogged.

He is aware of Jordan’s need to become an ICT-savvy, knowledge-based economy with a smart system to run people’s affairs. His ambition is very high and in a casual conversation, he sends you into the future, where he has just been.

I am sure that by the time he reaches 60, the current tough conditions in Jordan would look like an allegory of the past, a passing memory from which we learn lessons.

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