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Jordan gov’t accuses ex-crown prince of ‘malicious plot’

Screenshot 2021-04-05 081254
Prince Hamzah (L) with his half brother King Abullah of Jordan (R) [File: Mike Nelson/EPA]

Jordan’s former crown prince, Prince Hamzah, had been liaising with foreign parties over a “malicious plot” to destabilise the country, the Jordanian deputy prime minister has said.

On Saturday the military said it had issued a warning to the prince over actions targeting “security and stability” in the kingdom. Prince Hamzah, King Abdullah’s half-brother, later said he was under house arrest. Several high-profile figures were detained.

“The investigations had monitored interferences and communications with foreign parties over the right timing to destabilise Jordan,” Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said on Sunday.

These included a foreign intelligence agency contacting Prince Hamzah’s wife to organise a plane for the couple to leave Jordan, he said.

“Initial investigations showed these activities and movements had reached a stage that directly affected the security and stability of the country, but his majesty decided it was best to talk directly to Prince Hamzah, to deal with it within the family to prevent it from being exploited,” he said.

Efforts were under way to resolve the crisis within the royal family, but Prince Hamzah was not cooperative, he added. “It’s a break from the traditions and values of the Hashemite family,” Safadi said.

Earlier, Hamzah’s mother Queen Noor, the widow of Jordan’s late king, defended her son.

“Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander,” she wrote on Twitter. “God bless and keep them safe.”

Safadi said the security services have asked for those involved in the plot be referred to the state security court. He said some 14-16 people were under arrest.

Jordan’s neighbours and allies expressed solidarity with King Abdullah over the security measures in the kingdom, an important ally of the United States.

Jordan is seen as one of the most stable countries in the Middle East.

Echoing statements of support by other allies and neighbours of Jordan, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI held a phone call with King Abdullah II in which he expressed solidarity and support for the country’s security measures, Morocco’s royal palace said on Sunday.

Others close to Prince Hamzah were arrested on Saturday, including Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah, a former head of the royal court in 2007-2008, according to the official Petra news agency.

Awadallah also previously served as finance and planning minister and has private business interests throughout the Gulf region. The agency did not provide further details or name the others who had been arrested.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Doha, Qatar, said that it remained unclear whether Prince Hamzah was being held under house arrest.

“What triggered the wave of arrests on Saturday was the fact they intercepted calls between Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah, who is a former minister of finance and former top aide in the royal court, talking about zero hour.

“At that point, according to the deputy prime minister, the chief of staff would have spoken to King Abdullah and King Abdullah gave the greenlight for those arrests to happen.

“What we don’t know is what happened to Prince Hamzah. He said he was under house arrest; the chief of staff issued a statement earlier today saying he was not under house arrest.”

Daoud Kuttab, director-general of the non-profit media organisation Community Media Network, suggested it was an “internal criticism” issue.

“The former Crown Prince Hamzah has been making the rounds, especially in tribal areas, and that is a kind of a red line for the government and for the king. These are the strongest supporters of the monarchy and the ones who are more courageous in standing up to government corruption. So I think that’s what has really upset people in the palace,” Kuttab told Al Jazeera.

He suggested there likely would not be further detentions. “I don’t think this is a serious case. No security people have been arrested. You can’t have a coup unless there are security people involved.”

‘Confidante of the king’

Middle East analyst Roxane Farmanfarmaian said while the situation is ambiguous, the arrests are a clear sign of turmoil in the upper echelons of Jordan’s ruling hierarchy.

“Bassem Awadallah was a longtime confidante of the king and was at one time a minister of finance and he has been arrested along with several others very close to the heart of the royal court,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It is not clear what role Prince Hamzah played in this, but clearly there has been a division in the court that has led the security forces to consider this an utmost danger to the stability of Jordan’s government.”

‘Not part of any conspiracy’

In a video sent to the BBC, Prince Hamzah said a number of his friends had been arrested, his security detail removed, and his internet and phone lines cut.

“I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption and the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse every year. I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in institutions, they are responsible,” the prince said in the video.

It is rare for a senior member of the ruling family to express such harsh criticism of the government.

Prince Hamzah said he had been informed he was being punished for taking part in meetings in which the king had been criticised, though he said he was not accused of joining in the criticism.

He then lashed out at the “ruling system” without mentioning the king by name, saying it had decided “that its personal interests, that its financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and futures of the 10 million people that live here”.

“I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organisation or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out,” he said. “There are members of this family who still love this country, who care for [its people] and will put them above all else.

“Apparently, that is a crime worthy of isolation, threats and now being cut off,” he added.

General Yousef Huneiti, the army chief of staff, denied reports that Prince Hamzah had been arrested. He said an investigation is still ongoing and its results will be made public “in a transparent and clear form”.

“No one is above the law and Jordan’s security and stability take precedence over any consideration,” Huneiti was quoted as saying by the Petra news agency.

King Abdullah stripped his half-brother Hamzah of his title as crown prince in 2004, saying he had decided to “free” him from the “constraints of the position” to allow him to take on other responsibilities.

The move was seen at the time as part of Abdullah’s consolidation of power five years after the succession.

The current crown prince is Abdullah’s oldest son, Hussein, 26. Abdullah and Hamzah have not displayed any open rivalry over the years.

Hamzah, who holds no official position, is the eldest son of late King Al Hussein bin Talal and his American wife Queen Noor. He is a popular figure close to tribal leaders.

‘Hurting economically’

Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science at Long Island University, said Jordan’s moribund economy was likely a driving force behind the political turmoil.  She noted the country’s foreign debt has reached $35bn – or 95 percent of Jordan’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“When you have a country that is hurting economically, opposition forces or opposition within the government can rise and say ‘we haven’t had political reform, especially since the Arab Spring’,” she said.

“The economic reforms are failing today … This [the arrests] is probably not going to lead anywhere, but what the king has to do is raise the austerity measures. It’s going to be very difficult because of the conditions the IMF has placed on him to reduce that debt-to-GDP ratio in order for the IMF loans to continue.

“So domestically, it is going to be a tough time for the king. In terms of international relations and where he stands in the region, there probably won’t be any changes,” Fahmy told Al Jazeera.

Security, stability a ‘red line’

Jordan’s state-run press warned on Sunday against attempts to harm the “security and stability” of the kingdom.

In a front-page editorial, official newspaper al-Rai said, “Yesterday’s security operation is an expression of a red line that must not be crossed or even approached, and which is linked to the supreme interests of the kingdom, its security and stability.”

“Some people are trying to create the illusion of an attempted coup in Jordan, and trying to implicate Prince Hamzah in their sick fantasies,” it continued. “All that happened was that some of the prince’s actions were used to target Jordan’s security and stability.”

Pro-government newspaper Ad-Dustour did not publish an editorial about Saturday’s events, but carried official statements and reported “moves to target Jordan’s security” had been “thwarted”.