Soon after King Abdullah II ascended the throne of Jordan in 1999, he began using media and advertising campaigns to distinguish himself from his father King Husayn and to present his policies to his subjects. While for decades King Husayn’s picture appeared all over the country – garbed in bedouin, military, and Western costume – almost immediately, Abdullah trumped his father in sheer size of display by propping up an enormous poster of himself along University Road in Amman. He followed that act by erecting the largest flag pole in the world on a summit in the capital; the project seems to have been so successful a replica now dominates the skyline over the town of Aqaba. In the years since, he has plastered the country with multimillion dollar campaigns for “Jordan First” and “We Are All Jordan,” developed by the global ad agency Satchi and Satchi. Abdullah and Queen Rania have also used American television shows to sell themselves and their image of Jordan to American viewers. Gaining American support has now become a multimedia project, as the two seek to present themselves as moderate Middle Eastern leaders struggling to modernize their country and remain as allies of the US government.
The latest act in this scenario saw King Abdullah make a return appearance to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday night, 25 September, 2012. Stewart afforded Abdullah the rare honor of extending the interview through two segments of the on-air show and then posting nine additional minutes to the show’s website. In this three-act play, Abdullah presented a coherent thesis about his role in the Middle East in general and in Jordan specifically. In this performance, buttressed by Stewart’s startling acquiescence, Abdullah is the wise elder statesman guiding the young people of the region toward a democracy that mimics the successful one built in the United States. He is a father figure recognizing that his people will make mistakes as they proceed but willing to stand in to protect them from the extremists who could lead them astray. However, this story only makes sense if performed in front of a narrowly targeted audience: one made up of Americans who know little about Jordan and for whom the image of Abdullah has become familiar and comforting. Both his vocabulary and themes he outlined come straight from a simplified reading of American political history and play on frequent explanations of Arab behavior discussed in the American press.