Jordan accuses the former crown prince and senior officials of ‘promoting sedition’ with the assistance of foreign powers.
Jordan’s government charged former Crown Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein and some of his associates on Sunday with collaborating with international powers to carry out a long-term conspiracy to destabilize the country, a day after sweeping arrests of up to 20 high-ranking officials.
“There were attempts to undermine Jordan’s security and stability, which were thwarted,” Deputy Prime Minister Ayman al-Safadi said on Sunday.
After security forces determined that the men’s actions had reached a degree that “directly” affected the country’s security and stability, security forces recommended that the case be referred to the state security court, according to Safadi, but the king would discuss the matter directly with the detained prince.
To send a strong message that no opposition or criticism of the king will be tolerated, the head of parliament, Faysal al-Fayez, said earlier in the day that “the king is a red line” and that the country will stand against “any trembling traitorous hand that seeks to undermine our security and stability.”
Jordanians awoke Sunday with questions after many people were arrested — including a famous prince — in what appeared to be the crushing of a coup attempt.
Sharif Hasan, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadullah, a former senior official in Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court who also acted as the country’s special representative to the Saudi government, were among those arrested in the Saturday roundup.
The most dramatic development was the famous former crown prince Hamzeh’s apparent house arrest.
“Praying for the victory of truth and justice for all the innocent victims of this hideous smear. God bless and protect them,” his American-born mother, Queen Noor, tweeted on Sunday.
Nearly 20 people were detained Saturday in connection with an alleged plot against Jordan’s King Abdullah II, including Yasser Majali, the head of Hamzeh’s office, Sheikh Sameer Majali, and several other senior members of the powerful Majali tribe who hold prominent roles in the Jordanian government and military.
The Majali tribe described the arrests as “illegal” and the incident as a “dark day in Jordan’s history” in a statement released Sunday.
Hamzeh, 41, the reigning king’s half brother, served as Jordan’s crown prince for four years until the title was passed to the king’s eldest son, Hussein, in 2004.
Hamzeh has held a variety of positions within the monarchy, including brigadier general in the army. He has a devoted following in Amman and often refers to himself as his father, the late King Hussein, a revered figure in Jordan, with his trim mustache and checkered kaffiyeh headdress.
On Saturday evening, Jordanian army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti released a statement stating that Hamzeh had not been arrested but had been “asked to cease movements and activities aimed at Jordan’s protection and stability,” adding that “all procedures were carried out within the scope of the law and after thorough inquiries.”
Several hours later, Hamzeh sent the BBC a video in which he said he was barred from communicating with people or using Twitter after being informed that he had taken part in meetings critical of the king. The rare video accused the government of corruption, incompetence, and suppression of popular dissent, and was widely interpreted as a scathing criticism of the ruling monarch — while King Abdullah II was not named.
“I am not to blame for the breakdown of governance, corruption, and incompetence that have existed in our governing system for the last 15 to 20 years and have gotten worse… and I am not accountable for people’s lack of confidence in their institutions,” he said. “It has gotten to the point where no one can speak out or express an opinion without being bullied, arrested, harassed, or threatened.”
After Saturday’s news broke, #Prince Hamzeh has trended on Twitter, along with messages of support for the prince from Jordan’s and foreign followers.
Jordan’s regional neighbors were able to express their support for the king amid reports of “alien” involvement in the suspected plot.
“The kingdom reaffirms its unwavering support, to the full extent of its capabilities, for all decisions and steps taken by King Abdullah and His Highness Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, the Crown Prince, to maintain security and stability,” the Saudi royal court said in a statement.
According to Emirati official Anwar Gargash, Jordan’s stability is a priority for the region, and the country’s “smart policy of building bridges in a turbulent region was not an easy choice but was, and continues to be, the correct path.”
The US, which regards Jordan as a vital ally and has collaborated with the country on US-led counterterrorism operations for years, stated that Abdullah had its “complete support.”
Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, and other regional governments quickly expressed their support for Abdullah, which was interpreted as a demonstration of Jordan’s strategic importance in the region.
“A stable and secure Jordan is vital to Israel’s security and economic interests, and we must do everything possible to assist them,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday. “With regards to the internal developments in that country, that is a domestic matter.”
Jordan, which is currently subject to a nighttime curfew that will expire in mid-May, has been economically devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the fallout from large waves of refugees from neighboring Syria.
Jordan’s minister of health resigned last month following the death of seven covid-positive Jordanians due to a shortage of oxygen supplies in government hospitals.
The next day, demonstrators defied the curfew and took to the streets to demand the resignation of the government. They chanted, “Oh Hamzeh, son of Hussein, the country is lost without you,” referring to the former crown prince.
For activists who have long opposed systematic Jordanian corruption, this weekend’s events signaled the possibility of further repression.
“What was whispered in closed circles has come to light,” said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Amman-based community media network, adding that low-level demonstrations in the capital have been met with disproportionate punitive measures in recent months. “The official media has been completely quiet, and we are aware that there is much more to the story than we are seeing.”
Abdullah has controlled the country since 1999, when his father died. He has established close relations with many US administrations, but has recently clashed with former President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank and bypassing the Palestinians in a bid for normalization with the rest of the Arab world.
“If things spiral out of reach, it will be difficult for Israel to assist, particularly given Israel’s poor management of bilateral ties with Jordan, which has added entirely unnecessary tensions,” Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said.
In Jordan, the fact that news of the alleged coup has been conveyed to the public through brief statements and near-complete silence from the local press has led many political analysts to suspect that the coup could be a smokescreen for another political trick, according to Jordanian political analyst Amer Sabaileh.
“There is much consternation, but in Jordan, everyone is calling for change, not for the overthrow of the government. I don’t see the components of a plot,” Sabaileh said. “What we do know is that there are some mediocre people in charge of politics, and after yesterday, the government is under much greater pressure to appear credible.