Divided Kingdom: Jordan Shaken by Cut up Between King and Ex-Crown Prince

AMMAN, Jordan – The Kingdom of Jordan has long been considered an oasis of relative stability in the Middle East. As wars and insurrections flared up in neighboring Syria and Iraq, Jordan was for decades a safe and reliable ally of the United States, a buffer against attacks on Israel and an important interlocutor with Palestinians.

But this weekend that calm image was shaken when a long smoldering rift between King Abdullah II and a former Crown Prince, Hamzah bin Hussein, came out into the open.

On Sunday, the government accused Prince Hamzah, the king’s younger half-brother, of “destabilizing the security of Jordan” and made far more explicit allegations of his alleged involvement than the night before when it first disclosed the alleged conspiracy.

In a speech on Sunday afternoon, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi directly accused Prince Hamzah of collaborating with a former finance minister, Bassem Awadallah, and a younger member of the royal family, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, to achieve “security and stability” from the Nation.”

Mr Safadi hinted that all three were involved in a failed palace coup with foreign support. He disclosed details of intercepted communications between the Prince and Mr. Awadallah and announced the arrest of at least 14 other people.

Mr Safadi alleged that Prince Hamzah contacted Mr Awadallah later on Saturday accusing him of “inciting and trying to mobilize citizens against the state in ways that threaten national security”.

The allegations followed 41-year-old Prince Hamzah’s attempts to clear his name on Saturday night when he posted a video saying he had been placed under house arrest. The prince denied involvement in a conspiracy against King Abdullah. although he condemned the government as corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian.

His mother had entered the fight by Sunday. Queen Noor – also the king’s stepmother – made a combative statement in defense of her son, saying that he was the victim of “evil slander”.

For a royal house that normally hides disagreements, it was a showdown of unexpected and unusual intensity.

“The way it played out with arrests and videos was shocking,” Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and economist, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Despite the tensions, the royal family always presented the image of a united front. But yesterday’s events destroyed that picture, and the cracks broke out in broad daylight. “

Prince Hamzah’s father, King Hussein, ruled Jordan for four decades and forged a peace agreement with Israel. During King Hussein’s lifetime, his sons and four wives often fought for influence. But since King Abdullah succeeded Hussein in 1999, his control has never been so publicly controversial.

King Abdullah and Prince Hamzah had a similar upbringing and were taught in elite British and American schools and military colleges. But in his youth, Prince Hamzah was considered more academic – he graduated from Harvard in 2006 – and has long been considered the more likely future monarch. Prince Abdullah was appointed to succeed Hussein in the last few weeks of the king’s reign.

The two men also represent different branches of King Hussein’s family. Abdullah is the son of Hussein’s second wife, Princess Muna; Hamzah’s mother, American-born Queen Noor, was Hussein’s fourth wife.

As Brigadier General of the Jordanian Army, Prince Hamzah presents himself as an anti-corruption activist who would steer the country in a more dynamic and independent direction, according to his website.

The weekend’s crisis prompted the US and other Jordanian allies, who see King Abdullah as a key partner in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, to express their support for him.

Since Jordan borders Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the country is considered the fulcrum of regional security. And as home to millions of exiled Palestinians and formal administrators of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, it is important to any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States has troops and planes in the country, has close ties with Jordanian intelligence, and provided more than $ 1.5 billion to the Jordanian government last year, according to the State Department.

The rift seemed to be looming not only for the Jordanian audience, but also as a PR war against Washington. Prince Hamzah made a video in Arabic but also made sure to publish one in English.

For many international observers, the confrontation between the king and prince underscored the fragility of the social structures that lie beneath Jordan’s calm facade.

The country is in the middle of a particularly brutal coronavirus wave. The economy is struggling. With 600,000 refugees from Syria, it is one of the countries hardest hit by the aftermath of the war in Syria.

A significant proportion of Jordan’s nine million citizens are descended from Palestinians who fled to the country after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. The rest are native Jordanians whose tribes have been incorporated into the structure of the state and whose support is this, analysts say it is vital to King Abdullah’s legitimacy. This weekend’s imbroglio took place against the backdrop of the recent and very public attempts by Prince Hamzah to forge closer ties with these tribes.

The 59-year-old King Abdullah appointed the Hamzah Crown Prince in 1999. In 2004, however, he robbed him of the title and passed it on to his 26-year-old son Prince Hussein.

In recent years, Prince Hamzah seemed to be trying to rebuild his influence and brand.

He caused a stir in the kingdom at recent meetings with Jordanian tribal leaders. And he raised his eyebrows by publicly criticizing the government in 2018 when he called for “real action to be taken against the widespread corruption so that the corrupt are held accountable and trust between the state and the people is rebuilt”.

“Oh, my country,” he complained at the time.

But none of this prepared the Jordanians for the dramatic events on Saturday night.

The royal family seldom, if ever, moves publicly against their own. But on Saturday the government announced that Prince Hamzah had been approached by Jordanian officials, suggesting a failed coup attempt.

The Jordanians are shocked, said former minister Anani. “Anyone who tells you that they are not surprised by what happened in Jordan last day is probably not true,” he said.

Prince Hamzah later released the self-filmed video in which he said he was forbidden to leave his home.

“Some of the people I know – or my friends – have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the internet and phone lines have been cut,” he said. “This is my last form of communication, satellite internet, that I have, and I have been informed by the company that they have instructed them to cut it so that I can possibly communicate for the last time.”

Prince Hamzah said he was “not part of any conspiracy, vicious organization or foreign-backed group” and sharply criticized the Jordanian government, which he described as corrupt and intolerant of criticism.

“Even if a small aspect of a policy is criticized, it leads to arrest and abuse by the security services,” he said and threatened. “

Jordan often takes action against major political opposition. Hundreds of teachers were arrested in 2020 for organizing protests to demand better performance. Offending the king is forbidden.

Freedom House, an American organization that publishes an annual report on human rights around the world, recently said Jordan was no longer a free society after previously being classified as “partially free”. Jordan, among other things, banned Clubhouse, the new social media network, from gathering protesters last month to protest Jordan’s coronavirus strategy.

However, it is rare for the government to arrest senior Jordanian officials such as Awadallah, the former finance minister and advisor to the Saudi crown prince. and Mr. Zaid, the member of the royal family, a former envoy from Saudi Arabia.

To dispel speculation about whether it might have played a role in a conspiracy, Saudi Arabia quickly released a strong statement of support for King Abdullah. And on Sunday, Saudi state news media announced that Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken to King Abdullah by phone to show support.

On Sunday afternoon, the Jordanian government re-fueled rumors of foreign involvement.

“A person with ties to foreign intelligence services” offered to help Prince Hamzah’s wife escape Jordan by private plane, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a press conference. Roy Shaposhnik, an Israeli businessman living in Europe, later said in a statement that he made contact with the prince but never served in any intelligence agency.

Over the weekend, various factions of the royal family made a number of claims and counterclaims.

Queen Noor came first to defend the prince.

“The prayer that truth and justice may apply to all innocent victims of this evil slander,” she wrote on Twitter. “God bless and protect them.”

Then came the counter-speech from another wing of the family.

The “seemingly blind ambition” of “Queen Noor and her sons” is “delusional, futile, undeserved,” tweeted Princess Firyal, an aunt who was married to both the king and his half-brother.

Before deleting the tweet, she offered one piece of advice: “Grow up boys”.

Rana F. Sweis reported from Amman and Adam Rasgon and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem.