Jordanians privately fume over Pandora Papers revelations, while local media stays quiet

Jordanians privately fume over Pandora Papers revelations, while local media stays quiet
Although local media did not cover the Pandora Papers revelations, Jordanians have quietly expressed anger over the content of the leaks.
3 min read
04 October, 2021
“There is a saying in Arabic: ‘The one who guards who the one who steals,' one Jordanian told The New Arab [Getty]

On Sunday night, a trove of secret files was released, detailing the offshore holdings of a host of world leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The documents, entitled the "Pandora Papers", showed that Abdullah had spent well over $100 million on real estate, the most expensive of which was a $33 million home in Malibu, California. He also held properties worth about $28 million in the UK.

The reaction to the leaks, in Jordan, was hard to judge as there was a virtual media blackout on the topic, save a statement from the Royal Court republished in local outlets. Privately though, some Jordanians expressed anger at the contents of the leaks.

"I'm frustrated to say the least. The king has asked the people to press from below while he presses down on his ministers, but apparently, that was all empty words," a Jordanian man in his late 20s told The New Arab, requesting anonymity.

According to the Royal Court, the purchases revealed in the documents were "personally funded" by Abdullah and "none have been funded by the state budget". The statement added that the media report "distorted and exaggerated the facts".

The king later said the documents were part of a "campaign against Jordan".

Publishing anything critical of the royal family is an imprisonable offence in Jordan under strict anti-defamation legislation. Local media tends not to touch matters relating to royal scandals, such as the Prince Hamzah affair in April 2020.

However, Jordanian journalists speaking to The New Arab voiced frustration with their inability to discuss and engage with the nationally important story.

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"It undermines us as journalists. Instead of having a counter-narrative that relies on professionalism and ethics, Jordanians are now hostage to the social media interpretation of these events," a journalist told The New Arab under the condition of anonymity.  

"If the international media has already published the story, then Jordanians are going to read the stories [anyway], so banning publishing on it is ridiculous, unless Jordan is going to ban the internet entirely," another Jordanian journalist who requested anonymity said.

It has not been confirmed yet if media have been instructed not to publish stories on the scandal, although there is a long-held taboo against publishing anything about the royal family.

The leak of the financial data, even if it does not implicate the king in any pilfering of state funds, is still shocking to many Jordanians who for years have weathered an increasingly dire economic situation.

Jordanian opposition figures have for years painted the king and Queen Rania as extravagant rulers, pointing to their swanky parties as evidence of rulers out of touch with a country with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the region.

Oftentimes these characterisations have come without evidence and instead relied on hearsay, particularly about the king and his alleged lavish lifestyle.

Some of his statements, such as calling tribal elders "dinosaurs" in a 2013 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, have only fueled this perception.

To have evidence of such spending then, has led some Jordanians to feel bitter about their monarch's wealth and speculate about its origins.

"There is a saying in Arabic: 'The one who guards is the one who steals.' This perfectly applies to him. Is he even aware of the scale of the problems the public is going through? I think not," the late-20s Jordanian said.

Other Jordanians were less willing to discuss the matter. "On this topic, we’re all cowards," another Jordanian said after declining to comment.