Rift in royal family bursts Jordan's image as a calm oasis

US, allies declare support for king, a crucial partner in countering terrorism in Middle East

In this picture released by Jordanian news agency Petra in January 2012, King Abdullah (second from right) poses with (from left) his wife, Queen Rania; Princess Basma Otoum with her husband Prince Hamzah; and Queen Noor, widow of King Hussein. Princ
In this picture released by Jordanian news agency Petra in January 2012, King Abdullah (second from right) poses with (from left) his wife, Queen Rania; Princess Basma Otoum with her husband Prince Hamzah; and Queen Noor, widow of King Hussein. Prince Hamzah has denied involvement in any plot to overthrow the king and his mother, who is King Abdullah's stepmum, has issued a statement, saying her son is a victim of "wicked slander".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AMMAN (Jordan) • The kingdom of Jordan has long been considered an oasis of relative stability in the Middle East.

While wars and insurgencies flared in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, Jordan was for decades considered a secure and dependable ally of the United States, a buffer against attacks on Israel, and a key interlocutor with Palestinians.

But that placid image was upended as a long-simmering rift between King Abdullah II and a former crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein burst into the public eye.

On Sunday, the government accused Prince Hamzah, the king's younger half-brother, of "destabilising Jordan's security", making far more explicit claims about his alleged involvement than it did the evening before, when it first divulged the supposed conspiracy.

In a speech on Sunday afternoon, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi directly accused Prince Hamzah of working with a former finance minister, Mr Bassem Awadallah, and a junior member of the royal family, Mr Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, to target "the security and stability of the nation".

Mr Safadi hinted that all three were involved in a failed palace coup that had foreign backing.

He offered details about intercepted communications between the prince and Mr Awadallah, and announced the arrest of at least 14 other people.

Mr Safadi alleged that Prince Hamzah had liaised with Mr Awadallah last Saturday, accusing him of "incitement and efforts to mobilise citizens against the state in a manner that threatens national security".

The accusations followed attempts by Prince Hamzah, 41, to clear his name on Saturday night, when he released a video in which he said he had been placed under house arrest.

He denied involvement in any plot though he lambasted the government as corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian.

By Sunday, his mother had stepped into the fray. Queen Noor, also stepmother of the king, issued a combative statement in defence of her son, saying he is the victim of "wicked slander".

For a royal house that usually keeps disagreements private, it was a showdown of unexpected and unusual intensity.

"Despite the tensions, the royal family always presented the image of a united front. But yesterday's events shattered that image, and the rifts erupted in broad daylight," Mr Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister and economist, said in a phone interview on Sunday.

Prince Hamzah's father, King Hussein, ruled Jordan for four decades and forged a peace deal with Israel. During his lifetime, his sons and four wives often jockeyed for influence.

Prince Hamzah was long seen as the likelier future monarch. Prince Abdullah was appointed as King Hussein's successor only in the final weeks of the monarch's reign.

King Abdullah is the son of King Hussein's second wife, Princess Muna. Prince Hamzah's mother, the American-born Queen Noor, was King Hussein's fourth wife.

The crisis over the weekend prompted the United States and other allies, which view King Abdullah as a crucial partner in countering terrorism in the Middle East, to express support for him.

Jordan borders Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and is considered a linchpin of regional security.

And as the home of millions of exiled Palestinians, and formal custodian of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, it is important to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The rift seemed to be playing out not only for the Jordanian audience, but as a public relations war directed at Washington as well.

Prince Hamzah made a video in Arabic but also took care to release one in English.

"A number of the people I know - or my friends - have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the Internet and phone lines have been cut," he said.

"This is my last form of communication, satellite Internet, that I have, and I have been informed by the company that they are instructed to cut it so it may be the last time I am able to communicate."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2021, with the headline 'Rift in royal family bursts Jordan's image as a calm oasis'. Subscribe