Smoke and shadows in Amman: What we know about the alleged Jordanian plot

News of security crackdown in Hashemite Kingdom cracked open tensions in the monarchy and raised questions about the source of the palace turmoil

Illustrative: A Jordanian honor guard stands for review at the Royal Palace, in Amman, Jordan, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
Illustrative: A Jordanian honor guard stands for review at the Royal Palace, in Amman, Jordan, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

AMMAN (AFP) — A plot and intrigue in the very heart of the Jordanian royal family — a spurned half-brother stripped of the title of crown prince allegedly involved in a conspiracy against the king.

The twists and turns of events in the Hashemite kingdom since news broke Saturday of a security crackdown have cracked open tensions in the monarchy, and raised many questions about what is behind the palace turmoil.

Who is involved?

Deputy prime minister and foreign minister Ayman Safadi has accused Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, a half-brother of King Abdullah II, and others of planning to “undermine the security” of the country.

Hamzah, the former crown prince, is now confined to his palace, while 14 to 16 people have been arrested.

Jordan’s Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein in a 2015 photo (KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Among those under arrest are a former close aide to the royal family, Bassem Awadallah, chief of the royal court in 2007-08, and Sherif Hassan bin Zaid, a former special envoy to Saudi Arabia.

What were their aims?

Even though the Washington Post quoting US intelligence sources said there had been an attempted coup, analysts say that seems unlikely.

“It is impossible to prepare a coup d’etat without the support of the main army units and the security and intelligence services. And all these forces are behind the king,” said Oraib Al-Rantawi, an analyst with the Al-Quds Centre for Policy Studies.

None of those alleged to be involved “have the profile or the capacity to lead a coup,” he added.

Safadi said in a Sunday press conference the security services had monitored “contacts with foreign parties aiming to destabilize Jordan’s security,” including an alleged offer to spirit Hamzah’s wife out of the country.

Jordan’s then-Crown Prince Hamzah and his wife Princess Noor, on a wooden bridge built over a small pond, walk past an arch of swords formed by 14 army officers, during their wedding ceremony at Zahran Palace in Amman, Jordan, Thursday May 27, 2004. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Academic Barah Mikail, at the Saint Louis University in Madrid, said the word “destabilization” was used to imply that “the people that are behind this attempt were looking” to capitalize on popular anger “to change the situation and so by extension to move the king of Jordan and get him replaced by someone else.”

Long-simmering tensions have grown in the cash-strapped country amid the global pandemic, which has added to the already serious unemployment situation, triggered the closure of schools, and led to a nightly curfew as well as at weekends.

Two weeks ago small protests broke out against the economic crisis.

What role did Hamzah play?

Hamzah was appointed crown prince in 1999 in line with his father’s wishes, but Abdullah stripped him of the title in 2004 and named his eldest son in Hamzah’s place.

According to a Jordanian analyst who asked not to be named, for Hamzah “there is certainly resentment on his part, because he has never digested losing his title of crown prince.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II laughs with his half-brother, then-crown prince Hamzah Bin Hussein, right, on April 2, 2001 (AP Photo/Yousef Allan)

Now 41, the prince “for some time had been singing from his own songsheet and had developed positions closer to the opposition than the official line,” said Rantawi. “This was posing a problem because you cannot be a member of the royal family and at the same time a symbol for the opposition.”

Hamzah has been highly critical of the ruling authorities and on Saturday accused them of corruption, incompetence and misrule.

“There are clear indications that Prince Hamzah was very popular among the youth and among the tribes which he used to visit regularly,” said another political analyst, Labib Kamhawi. “This was seen by the court as a bid to capture the regime’s base and endanger the regime’s stability.”

Is the king in danger?

No one thinks so.

“The king is not in any danger,” said Rantawi. “At the start of all this there were some fears among the people as no one knew what was going on, but once the affair was made public the anxiety disappeared.”

Women walk past a poster of Jordan’s King Abdullah II on a street in the capital Amman, on April 6, 2021, after a security crackdown revealed tensions in the monarchy. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

Kamhawi agreed: ” I don’t think the king is in any danger, as the army, police and the intelligence services are totally under the control of the king.”

Who could be behind this abroad?

Safadi accused Awadallah of unnamed and unspecified “foreign contacts” seeking to put in place “a wicked plot.”

But this is impossible to verify and, with the Jordanian authorities imposing a news blackout on reporting on the investigation, it will be hard to get fresh details.

Officially regional neighbors were quick to swing behind King Abdullah and offer their support.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II gives a speech during the inauguration of the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session, in Amman, Jordan, December 10, 2020. (Yousef Allan/The Royal Hashemite Court via AP)

On Tuesday, Safadi met with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, carrying a message from Saudi’s King Salman.

“If the Saudis have acted so fast, it is because two of the suspects under arrest have Saudi nationality and are close to the ruling family,” said Kamhawi.

The US administration of President Joe Biden has expressed its total support for the king, while Israel called it an “internal affair.”

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