Jordan’s king sends tough message on dissent in royal family

JERUSALEM (AP) — Jordanian authorities said on Sunday they foiled a “malicious plot” by a former Crown Prince to destabilise the kingdom with foreign support, contradicting the senior royal’s claims that he was being punished for speaking out against corruption and incompetence.

Faced with rival narratives, the United States and Arab governments quickly sided with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, reflecting the country’s strategic importance in a turbulent region.

Domestically, Prince Hamzah’s unprecedented criticism of the ruling class – without naming the king – could lend support to growing complaints about poor governance and human rights abuses in Jordan.

FILE – In this Nov. 28, 2006, file photo, Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein, right, and Prince Hashem Bin Al-Hussein, left, half brothers of King Abdullah II of Jordan, attend the opening of the parliament in Amman, Jordan. AP

At the same time, the king’s tough reaction – placing his popular half-brother under house arrest and accusing him of serious crimes – illustrated the limits on public dissent he is willing to tolerate.

“The kingdom’s stability and security transcend everything,” said Jordan’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi, as he accused Hamzah and two senior Jordanian officials of conspiring with foreign elements to destabilise the kingdom. “The plot is totally contained.” Yet Safadi’s news conference on Sunday did little to address questions surrounding the weekend’s dramatic events.

In the night from Saturday to Sunday, Hamzah had announced in a secretly recorded video leaked to the media that he had been placed under house arrest.

Hamzah’s mother, Noor, weighed in on Twitter, writing on Sunday: “Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.”

Abdullah and Hamzah are both sons of the late King Hussein, who remains a beloved figure two decades after his death.

Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, Abdullah named Hamzah as Crown Prince, only to revoke the title five years later. While the two are said to have generally good relations, Hamzah has at times spoken out against government policies, and more recently had forged ties with powerful tribal leaders in a move seen as a threat to the king.

In his video, Hamzah, 41, accused Jordan’s ruling class of corruption and stifling freedom of expression.

“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. He said his love for the country is seen as “a crime worthy of isolation, threats and now being cut off”.

Hamzah is a popular figure in Jordan, widely seen as pious and modest. But in his televised address, Safadi painted a far different picture, accusing the prince of engaging in a secret plot that would have harmed national security had it not been foiled at the last minute.

“When they (security services) intercepted certain communications speaking about a zero hour, then it was clear that they (the alleged plotters) moved from designs and planning to action,” Safadi said.

“As a result, it was necessary for the security and intelligence apparatuses to move to throttle at birth this malicious plot.”

Safadi did not provide specifics on the alleged plot or say what other countries were purported to have been involved.

But he said that some 14 to 16 associates of Hamzah had been arrested, in addition to two former senior officials, Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family.

Awadallah is a former Cabinet minister and one-time head of the royal court.