Divided Kingdom: Jordan separated by a king and a former heir to the throne

AMMAN, Jordan – The Kingdom of Jordan has long been considered an oasis of relative stability in the Middle East. As wars and riots flared up in neighboring Syria and Iraq, Jordan was seen for decades as a secure and reliable ally of the United States, a protector against attacks on Israel, and a key interlocutor for the Palestinians.

But this weekend, that serene image emerged as a long-smoldering rift between King Abdullah II and former heir to the throne Hamzah bin Hussein, erupted in the public eye.

On Sunday, the government accused Prince Hamzah, the king’s younger half-brother, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security”, making much more explicit allegations about his alleged involvement than the previous evening, when it first uncovered the alleged conspiracy.

In a speech Sunday afternoon, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi directly accused Prince Hamzah of working with former Finance Minister Bassem Awadallah and a younger member of the royal family, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, aiming at “the security and stability of the nation. “

Mr Safadi hinted that all three were involved in a failed state court that had foreign support. He offered details of intercepted communication between the prince and Mr Awadallah, and announced the arrest of at least 14 more people.

Mr Safadi claimed Prince Hamzah had linked up with Mr Awadallah throughout the day on Saturday, accusing him of “inciting and making efforts to mobilize citizens against the state in a way that threatens national security”.

The allegations followed an attempt by Prince Hamzah, 41, to erase his name on Saturday night, when he released a video in which he said he was placed under house arrest. The prince denied involvement in any conspiracy against King Abdullah, although he condemned the government as corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian.

By Sunday, his mother had stepped into battle. Queen Noor – also the king’s stepmother – issued a combat statement in defense of her son, saying that she was a victim of “evil slander”.

For the royal house, which usually keeps disagreements private, it was a showdown of unexpected and unusual intensity.

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

Prince Hamzah’s father, King Hussein, ruled Jordan for four decades and made a peace treaty with Israel. During the life of King Hussein, his sons and his four wives often joked about the influence. But since King Abdullah succeeded Hussein in 1999, his control has never been publicly challenged.

King Abdullah and Prince Hamzah had similar upbringings and were educated 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 was long considered a more likely future monarch. Prince Abdullah was appointed Hussein’s successor only in the last 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, Queen Noor of America, was Hussein’s fourth wife.

According to his website, Jordanian Army Brigadier General Prince Hamzah presents himself as an anti-corruption campaign that would take the country in a more dynamic and independent direction.

The crisis over the weekend prompted the United States and other Jordanian allies, who see King Abdullah as a key partner in fighting terrorism in the Middle East, to express support for him.

Because Jordan borders Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the country is seen as an opposition to regional security. And as the home of millions of exiled Palestinians and the formal guardian of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, it is important for any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

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

The rift seemed to be playing out not only for the Jordanian audience, but also as a public relations war aimed at Washington. Prince Hamzah recorded the video in Arabic, but he also took care of publishing it in English.

To many international observers, the conflict between the king and the prince highlighted the fragility of the social structures beneath Jordan’s peaceful façade.

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

A significant portion of Jordan’s nine million citizens come from Palestinians who fled the country after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. The rest are native Jordanians, whose tribes are absorbed into the state structure and whose support is crucial to King Abdullah’s legitimacy, analysts say. Imbroglio this weekend came amid recent and very public attempts by Prince Hamzah to build closer ties with those tribes.

King Abdullah, 59, appointed Hamzah heir to the throne in 1999, but in 2004 stripped him of the title and passed it on to his son, Prince Hussein, who is now 26 years old.

In recent years, Prince Hamzah seems to be trying to renew his influence and his brand.

He caused confusion in the kingdom by recent meetings with Jordanian tribal leaders. And he raised his eyebrows publicly criticizing the government in 2018, when he called for “real action against widespread corruption, for the corrupt to be responsible and to restore trust between the state and the people.”

“Oh, my land,” he lamented at the time.

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

The royal family rarely, if ever, moves publicly against their own. But on Saturday, the government announced that Jordanian officials were talking to Prince Hamzah, amid hints of a failed coup attempt.

The Jordanians were shocked, said Mr Anani, a former minister. “Anyone who tells you he’s not surprised by what happened in Jordan the past day is probably not being honest,” he said.

Prince Hamzah later published a self-recorded video in which he said that he was forbidden to leave the house.

“Numerous people I know – or my friends – have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the internet and telephone lines have been cut off,” he said. “This is my last form of communication, satellite internet, which I have and the company has informed me that they have been ordered to reduce it, so it may be the last time I can communicate.”

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

“Even criticizing a small aspect of politics leads to arrests and abuse by the security services,” he said, “and it has reached the point where no one can speak or express an opinion about anything without being harassed, arrested, harassed and threatened. “

Jordan often undertakes major political oppositions. In 2020, hundreds of teachers were arrested who organized protests demanding better benefits. Insulting the king is forbidden.

The American organization Freedom House, which publishes an annual report on human rights around the world, recently stated that Jordan is no longer a free society, having previously classified it as “partially free”. Among other measures against free expression, Jordan banned Clubhouse, a new social media network, and banned protesters from gathering last month to protest Jordan’s coronavirus strategy.

But it is rare for the government to arrest high-ranking Jordanian officials like Mr. Awadallah, a former finance minister and adviser to the Saudi heir to the throne; and g. Zaid, a member of the royal family, who is a former envoy to Saudi Arabia.

To dispel speculation about whether she could have played a role in any conspiracy, Saudi Arabia quickly issued a strong statement of support for King Abdullah. And on Sunday, Saudi state media reported that Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken by phone with King Abdullah to provide support.

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

“An individual with ties to foreign intelligence” has offered to help Prince Hamzah’s wife escape from Jordan by private plane, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told a news briefing. An Israeli businessman living in Europe, Roy Shaposhnik, said later in a statement that he was in contact with the prince, but that he had never served in any intelligence agency.

Over the weekend, various factions of the royal family filed a series of claims and counterclaims.

First Queen Noor came to the prince’s defense.

“Praying that truth and justice prevail over all the innocent victims of this vicious slander,” she said wrote on Twitter. “God bless and keep them.”

Then came the discord of the other family wing.

“The seemingly blind ambition of” Queen Noor and her sons “is” delusion, futility, undeservedness, “tweeted Princess Firyal, an aunt married to the king and his half-brother.

Before she deleted the tweet, she offered advice: “Grow up boys.”

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

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