Palace turmoil, wave of arrests over plot to 'destabilize' Jordan

Amman, Jordan: Jordan said Sunday it had foiled a plot against the kingdom involving a half-brother of King Abdullah II, arresting at least 16 suspects it accused of "sedition" and alleging foreign complicity.

Hamzah bin Hussein -- a former crown prince stripped of that title by Abdullah in 2004 -- and the others had worked with foreign parties to "undermine the security" of Jordan, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi said.

Washington, Gulf allies, and the Arab League were quick to stress their support for Abdullah's pro-Western government, seen as an anchor of stability in the Middle East.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called the monarch to affirm Cairo's "full solidarity" with Jordan and express "complete support of the recent decisions (he) has taken to ensure the stability and security of the kingdom", according to a presidency statement.

Hamzah, 41, had Saturday released a video message via the BBC in which he accused Jordan's rulers of nepotism and corruption and charged that he had been placed under house arrest.

He lashed out at Jordan's "ruling system", saying several of his friends had been arrested, his security detail removed and his internet and phone lines cut.

He denied being part of "any conspiracy or nefarious organization", but said the country of 10 million people had "become stymied in corruption, in nepotism, and in misrule" and that no one was allowed to criticize the authorities.

State-run news agency Petra said among those arrested for "security reasons" were former close aides to the royal family Bassem Awadallah, chief of the royal court in 2007-08, and Sherif Hassan bin Zaid.

Safadi, who is also a foreign minister, said another 14 to 16 suspects had been arrested.

Security services monitored "contacts with foreign parties aiming to destabilize Jordan's security," including an alleged offer to spirit Hamzah's wife out of the country, he said.

Safadi declined to identify the alleged foreign parties or say what the charges were, but said authorities acted because the alleged conspirators were "talking about timing".

"This sedition was nipped in the bud," Safadi said.

US closely watching

Hamzah's mother, American-born Queen Noor, defended her son and the others, tweeting that she was "praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander."

Hamzah is the eldest son of Queen Noor and the late King Hussein.

Abdullah had appointed Hamzah, a popular figure close to tribal leaders, crown prince in 1999 in line with Hussein's dying wishes, but stripped him of the title in 2004 and gave it to his eldest son Hussein.

A Jordanian analyst, who declined to be named, said Hamzah had recently "stepped up his criticism of what he described as corruption within the government in front of his circle of friends.

"There is certainly resentment on his part because he has never digested losing his title of the crown prince."

Jordan's Joint Chiefs of Staff head Major General Yousef Huneiti said Hamzah had not been detained, but "asked to stop some activities that could be used to shake the stability and security of Jordan".

The Washington Post had first reported that the former crown prince was "placed under restriction" as part of a probe into an alleged plot to unseat the king.

It "included at least one other Jordanian royal as well as tribal leaders and members of the country's security establishment."

Upcoming centenary

Parliament speaker Abdul Monem Odat said, "Jordan has firmly and resolutely stopped any attempt to undermine its security and stability and sent a clear message to those who King Abdullah II describes as the opponents of Jordanian policies".

The US State Department said Washington was "closely following" the events, stressing that key partner Abdullah "has our full support".

Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman both phoned Jordan's king to express their support, Saudi state media said.

Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz said "Jordan is a neighbor and strategic-ally with whom we have peaceful relations. We need to do everything necessary to maintain that alliance."

Awadallah, US-educated former finance, and planning minister was close to the king but has also been a controversial figure in Jordan. Before becoming royal court chief in 2007, he was head of the king's cabinet.

He played a key role pushing for economic reforms before he resigned in 2008 amid criticism over alleged interference in sensitive political and economic issues.

Saturday's security sweep came as Jordan prepares to mark 100 years since the new kingdom, then named Transjordan, was established alongside Palestine under British mandate. It declared independence in 1946.

But Barah Mikail, an academic at Saint Louis University Madrid and director of consulting firm Stractegia, said the country "would come off well in the face of a plot hatched against it, particularly as the kingdom's anniversary approaches".

Jordan "is very well structured in terms of intelligence and national networks, and tight control, in particular of individuals suspected of being able to harm the monarchy, is a fact," he said.

Prince Hamzah sidelined former heir to throne

Jordan's Prince Hamzah, who says he is under house arrest in a dispute with the government, was once the crown prince but lost that title to the son of his half-brother King Abdullah II.

British and US-educated Hamzah bin Hussein, 41, is the youngest son of the late King Hussein and his fourth and last wife, the American-born Queen Noor.

In a video released by the BBC on Saturday, Hamzah says he has been confined to his home after several senior figures were detained in a security sweep amid reports of a coup plot.

He denied being part of "any conspiracy or nefarious organization" but charged that the Hashemite kingdom had "become stymied in corruption, in nepotism, and in misrule".

Joint Chiefs of Staff head Major General Yousef Huneiti denied the prince had been detained but said he was "asked to stop some activities that could be used to shake the stability and security of Jordan".

A Jordanian analyst who did not want to be named for security reasons said Hamzah had recently "stepped up his criticism of what he described as corruption within the government in front of his circle of friends".

According to the same source, "there is certainly resentment on his part because he has never digested losing his title of crown prince".

Soldier, pilot

Hamzah was born on March 29, 1980 to Hussein's fourth and last wife, Queen Noor.

Queen Noor, born Lisa Halaby, was only 24 when she arrived in Jordan in 1976.

She was married to Hussein within two years and widowed after two decades.

On Sunday, in the wake of the security sweep, she tweeted that she was "praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe."

Prince Hamzah attended school in London before studying at the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he excelled, similarly to Abdullah, who is 18 years his senior.

He embraced a military career and served in the former Yugoslavia in a Jordanian-Emirati unit before studying at Harvard.

An accomplished sportsman, he also became a skilled pilot, like his father.

'Sidelined, not jailed'

Hamzah has been popular among Jordanians in part because he looks and sounds like his late father.

At the time of the king's premature death from illness in February 1999, Hamzah was very young and Abdullah, the eldest son of Princess Muna, Hussein's second wife, acceded the throne.

In line with his father's dying wishes, Abdullah named Hamzah crown prince.

But Hamzah didn't hold that position long. Just five years later, in 2004, Abdullah stripped Hamzah of the succession in favor of his own son, Hussein.

In a letter to his half-brother at the time, the king said that the symbolic position of an heir "has restricted your freedom and prevented us from entrusting you with certain responsibilities that you are fully qualified to assume".

But Hamzah did not appear to see his disinheritance in the same way.

"The chance to become king escaped him twice: when his father died prematurely -- he was too young -- and when his brother withdrew his title" of heir, the Jordanian analyst said.

On July 2, 2009, Abdullah confirmed his eldest son Hussein as his successor.

Hamzah, a father of five daughters and a son, distanced himself gradually from the top circles of power.

Nevertheless, on Saturday, "his royal blood may have saved him from prison", the analyst said.

"Because in the royal family, you don't imprison a prince, you sideline him."

Key dates in Jordan's history

A Jordanian top former royal aide was among several suspects arrested Saturday, as the army warned a half-brother of King Abdullah II against damaging the country's security.

Here is a timeline of key events in the desert kingdom since independence in 1946.

Independence

On May 25, 1946, the Arab state of Transjordan declares its independence from Britain, with King Abdullah as its sovereign.

Two years later, Israel declares independence, and five Arab countries including Transjordan attack it.

The kingdom takes control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, formally annexing both in 1950.

King Hussein, Black September

After King Abdullah is assassinated and King Talal declared mentally unfit after a year on the throne, Abdullah's 17-year-old grandson Hussein is proclaimed king in August 1952.

He formally takes the throne the following year, starting a reign that will span 46 years.

In the Six-Day War of June 1967, Jordan loses the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel.

Some 200,000 Palestinians flee to Jordan, where more than half the country's population today is of Palestinian descent.

In 1970, King Hussein deploys 40,000 troops to crush the growing power of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The ten-day conflict, known as Black September, leaves several thousand dead.

On July 31, 1988, Jordan officially cuts administrative ties with the West Bank.

Peace with Israel

In 1989, after bloody demonstrations over high living costs, King Hussein agrees to democratic reforms.

Elections are held in 1993, with independents supportive of Hussein prevailing. The prime minister and cabinet are chosen by the king.

A year later, the United States oversees the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

King Hussein dies of cancer on February 7, 1999, leaving the throne to his son Abdullah II.

The early years of Abdullah's reign are marked by the war in neighboring Iraq, which sends a wave of Iraqi refugees into the kingdom.

Social unrest

In January 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, mainly Islamist opposition activists begin regular protests to demand reforms.

Later that year, thousands protest against an increase in energy prices, with some demanding the removal of the king -- a first.

The war in neighboring Syria sends hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Jordan.

In June 2018, prime minister Hani Mulki resigns after several days of popular protest against proposed tax reforms and energy price increases.

Protests continue under new premier Omar al-Razzaz and, a year later, Human Rights Watch condemns Jordan for repressing opposition.

IS horror

In September 2014, Jordan joins a Washington-led coalition against the Islamic State group in conflict-hit Syria.

Four months later, IS jihadists burn a captured Jordanian pilot alive in a cage, sparking widespread horror.

Amman hangs two jihadists and steps up its support for the anti-IS coalition to Iraq.

In June 2016, an IS suicide bomber kills seven Jordanian soldiers near the Syrian border.

Six months later, IS attacks a tourist site near Kerak, killing seven police officers, two Jordanians, and a Canadian tourist.

Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt another blow to Jordan, with over 625,000 cases and at least 7,130 deaths according to Ministry of Health figures on Saturday.

In March, at least seven Covid-19 patients died when a hospital in Salt, northwest of Amman, ran out of oxygen. The tragedy triggered protests and forced the health minister to resign.

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