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Former Crown Prince Hamzah acts as messenger for critical Jordanians

Former Crown Prince Hamzah released a video on April 3 in which he said he was put under “house arrest” by the country’s military. Officials accused Hamzah of being involved in a “malicious plot” that threatened national security. Meanwhile, the country’s security forces detained several high placed figures as part of an ongoing security investigation. The rumors of a coup quickly spread amid widespread dissent among Jordanian citizens. Several protests erupted over the last few weeks, which were cracked down by the government. The country is hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only worsened already existing economic problems. Several days later Hamzah officially declared in a letter his loyalty to King Abdullah II, but it is the video-message of Hamzah that most Jordanians will remember.

Prince Hamzah’s actions cause friction with King Abdullah II

The state of Jordan, which has been a haven of stability in the region, was shaken up by a video released by the widely popular Prince Hamzah. He is the half-brother of King Abdullah II and was Jordan’s Crown Prince until 2004. King Abdullah II initially respected his father former King Hussein’s wish to make Hamzah Crown Prince. Prince Hamzah was widely believed to be his father’s favorite child and reminds many in the country of beloved former King Hussein. However, in 2005 King Abdullah II decided to “free” him from the “constraints of the position”. There have been no open rifts between King Abdullah II and Prince Hamzah as a consequence, even though Prince Hamzah has continued to act like he is the King to be.

The current events should be seen in the light of last weeks, in which Prince Hamzah visited a hospital after COVID-19 patients had died due to an outage of oxygen and met with clan leaders who, in his presence, spoke critical of King Abdullah II and his government. The following outreach to the families of casualties were not appreciated by the Jordan authorities. Protests have erupted the day after the incident, despite the country’s tight COVID-19 restrictions. The government bears final responsibility for the hospital mismanagement. With the minister of health resigning while protests erupted, the issue has appeared to be sensitive. In addition, the meetings of Prince Hamzah with several clan leaders critical of the government felt like another sneer to the rule of King Abdullah II. Clan leaders are influential figures in Jordan and as strong supporters of the monarchy have proven key to the country’s stability.

Prince Hamzah put under house arrest amid arrests of high profile figures

On 3 April, in front of his beloved father’s picture on the wall, Prince Hamzah recorded a video, which he later managed to get transferred to the BBC. In the video he told that he was put under “house arrest” after a military official came to his house. He claimed he was not allowed to leave the house or be in contact with anyone via telephone or internet for that matter. He followed suit by presenting himself very critical to the regime of King Abdullah II and accused the “ruling system” of widespread corruption, incompetence and harassment. The words might have sounded appealing to other Jordanians, who might think similarly critical of the current government. Prince Hamzah claimed that the situation of the country had only worsened in the last 20 years, while critical voices were silenced.

On the same day Jordan’s military denied Prince Hamzah’s report of his arrest, but did say that he had been asked to “stop some movements and activities that are being used to target Jordan’s security and stability”. The following day Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told that a “malicious plot”, which was linked to Prince Hamzah, was prevented at “zero hour”. Naturally, Prince Hamzah claimed that he was ”not part of or aware of any conspiracy”. The move against Prince Hamzah was part of a broader ongoing security investigation. Among others, a former minister, junior member of the royal family and former head of the royal court, were all detained. In total about 14 to 16 people were arrested that night, but much remains unclear at this stage.

Dispute publicly appears to be resolved, but might linger on behind closed doors

The day after the video release and arrests, King Abdullah II appointed Prince Hasan, a Hashemite family elder, to mediate with Prince Hamzah. It took one day for an official letter from Prince Hamzah addressed to King Abdullah II was published. The letter read that Prince Hamzah: “will remain committed to the constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and will always be of help and support to his majesty the king and his crown prince”. On April 7 King Abdullah II addressed the country and commented on “the most painful” shock to Jordan’s stability, as it came both from within and outside of the Hashemite family. He also said that “Hamza today is with his family in his palace under my care”. Publicly the rift within the royal family seemed to have healed, but no one knows what happens behind closed doors.

On April 6 the prosecutor general banned any publication or news reporting on the alleged plot, in which Prince Hamzah might have been involved. As reason for the reporting ban authorities said that it was necessary to keep the security services’ investigation secret. This ban involves all audiovisual media and social networks. Prince Hamzah’s declaration of loyalty, the ban on any publication of the rift and the address to the nation of King Abdullah II have made sure that it appears as though stability has been restored. The broad international support for King Abdullah II further contributes to this image. However, the underlying problems in Jordan, some of which Prince Hamzah addressed in his video-message, have not disappeared.

Jordan appears stable again after declaration of loyalty and publication ban

It remains ironic that shortly after Prince Hamzah discussed the inability of Jordanians to speak out and be critical of governance, all publications on the inquiry were banned by the authorities. In his video message Prince Hamzah also spoke critically of this fact, stating that “what you hear from the official lines, is not what happens on the ground”. Moreover, he mentioned that it felt like he was punished for attending a gathering were other attendants spoke critical of the government of King Abdullah II. This despite that he did not even join their statements. Even though other Jordanians might share Prince Hamzah’s critical view of the country’s “ruling system”, such opinion can only be expressed behind closed doors.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and a struggling economy, with protesters defying curfews and taking to the streets, it is the words of Prince Hamzah that Jordanians will remember. By stating that the ruling system had put personal and financial interest above the wellbeing of 10 million Jordanians, he might have said what other Jordanians think too. It comes as no surprise that public discontent has grown in the last year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Jordan’s economy shrank by 5% in 2020, uncovering the underlying problems of its economy. Since the influx of large number of Syrian refugees, the country has only grown more dependent on international grants. This international reliance has its downsides, especially in times of crisis.

The country’s tight restrictions in the last year, to decrease the spread of COVID-19, have hit many Jordanians hard. Therefore, the widespread adoration of Prince Hamzah has arguably only increased after lashing out against the country’s “ruling system”. The efforts of King Abdullah II to make perfectly clear who is in charge will not have increased his popularity. It remains uncertain how genuine relations within the royal family are now, despite the public “make-up” between the royals. Meanwhile, Jordan appears to be stable again, as it has long considered to be. However, Jordan’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economy have been far from “rock-solid”. Public dissent is growing and that manifests itself in such a public royal dispute, something which never happens in “stable” Jordan.

Image: Wikimedia (Prince Hamzah Bin Husein, 2017)

Sources: Aljazeera1, Aljazeera2, Aljazeera3, Aljazeera4, Aljazeera5, BBC, MEE, Reuters1, Reuters2, Reuters3, Reuters4, Reuters5, NN1, NN2, NN3, NN4