April 11, 2021

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‘Utmost danger’: Jordan cracks down on ‘threat to stability’

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A Jordanian royal family member has lashed out at the ruling elite in rare criticism after several former high-level officials were arrested in what the military said are moves against a threat to national security.

Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein – a half brother of King Abdullah II and popular figure in Jordan – said he had been placed under house arrest, a claim the military denied.

Others close to Prince Hamzah were arrested, however, 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.

Queen Noor, widow of the late King Al Hussein of Jordan, denounced on Sunday the allegations by the authorities against her son Prince Hamzah.

“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.”

Doud Kuttab, director-general of the nonprofit media organization Community Media Network, said official media was not elaborating on what was happening on Sunday, but he 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 herring 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 is 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.”

Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian analyst, said Prince Hamzah crossed a red line by indicating he might be an alternative to the long-ruling King Abdullah.

“This is something the king does not accept or tolerate,” he said. “This is why we are now witnessing what has happened. This file is now more or less closed.”

‘Hurting economically’

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.

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.

Prince Hamzah arrives at the Roman Amphitheatre in Amman in 2015 [File: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Security, stability a ‘red line’

Jordan’s state-run press warned on Sunday, the day after the detentions, 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”.

‘Not part of any conspiracy’

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.

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