Authorities said they had foiled a plot in which Hamzah was working in collusion with unnamed foreign entities to “destabilize” Jordan. The prince denied the claims and dismissed the arrest sweep as a bid to silence growing criticism of government corruption.
The crisis has thrust Jordan, one of the Middle East’s most stable countries, into uncharted waters. Here’s what we know.
On Saturday evening, reports circulated that Prince Hamzah had been placed under house arrest. The country’s military chief swiftly denied the statement. A few hours later, the prince released Arabic and English video recordings that stunned the nation.
With a portrait of his late father King Hussein in the backdrop, the 41-year-old prince claimed that he was told to stay home, stripped of his security, and cut off from his communications. He also claimed that several of his friends and acquaintances were arrested. He lashed out at the country’s leadership, airing grievances over living conditions, government corruption and mismanagement.
Never named in his scathing criticism was his half-brother, King Abdullah II. Yet his tirade posed the most explicit and high-profile challenge to the monarch’s authority in his 22-year reign.
Jordanians’ “well-being has been put second by a ruling system that has decided that its personal interests, financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and future of the ten million people who live here,” said the prince.
Jordanians are accustomed to hearing these complaints from ordinary citizens. To see them echoed by a prominent royal blindsided many.
Bassem Awadallah, who formerly headed King Abdullah’s royal court, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, were also detained on Saturday evening, along with other unnamed figures.
Awadallah’s arrest was perhaps the second most significant event of the night. An unpopular figure in Jordan because of widespread accusations of corruption levelled against him, Awadallah is also an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That fact fueled speculation about whether a foreign plot was at play.
On Sunday, deputy prime minister Ayman Safadi made it official — authorities believed that Hamzah was part of plan hatched by undisclosed foreign entities and opposition figures abroad to “destabilize” Jordan. The plot, said Safadi, was “nipped in the bud” and definitively thwarted.
Meanwhile, a second recording by Hamzah has since surfaced, in which the prince vows not to comply with the restrictions placed on him.
“Of course I’m not going to obey when they say you can’t go out, you can’t tweet, you can’t communicate with people, but you are allowed to see your family,” he said in the audio recording, which is believed to have been made on Saturday. CNN could not independently authenticate the veracity of the recording.
Hamzah also said in the audio that he had recorded a threat made by the military chief of staff. He said he shared this with his friends and relatives in case something was to happen to him.
Who is Hamzah bin Hussein?
Prince Hamzah is the younger half-brother of King Abdullah. He is the son of Jordan’s late King Hussein, who reigned for nearly 50 years, and his US-born wife Queen Noor. He was groomed to be monarch. The late king, who the nation continues to idolize, once described him as “the delight in his eye.”
On his death bed in 1999, King Hussein changed the country’s succession plan, removing his brother Prince Hassan as the heir apparent and naming Abdullah, his eldest son from his second marriage, as his successor.
Hamzah, who was 17 at the time, was named crown prince. In 2004, Abdullah removed Hamzah’s title. Five years later, he named his son, Prince al-Hussein, as his successor.
However, Prince Hamzah, known for his uncanny resemblance to his father, enjoys widespread support from Jordanian tribes. Those groups serve as the backbone of the monarchy, and the prince’s regular visits to them in recent months may have contributed to the royal tensions that have gripped the country.
What does the royal drama say about the stability of the country, and how does it affect the region?
For decades, Jordan has managed to emerge from the wars and unrest that surround it almost unscathed. Stability and constancy are the bedrocks of the state, which marks its centennial later this month.
Its ruling family, the Hashemites, is one of the world’s oldest dynasties, tracing its lineage to the Prophet Mohammed. Opposition to the country’s royalty is rare, bordering on being sacrilegious. Jordanians also typically shun the prospect of domestic unrest, with the political discord that is the hallmark of the region serving as a cautionary tale.
Western nations, especially the US, have relied on this strategic state as a diplomatic, military and counter-terrorism partner over the years. Jordan also has one of the longest-running peace treaties with Israel, with whom it coordinates closely on defense and intelligence.
If Jordan were to slip into turmoil, the foundational role it plays in regional security could quickly change.
This was evidenced by the outpouring of support from international and regional partners. Powerful Arab Gulf states were quick to reiterate their support for the king, who later fielded a flurry of phone calls from those leaders. They seemed intent to distance themselves from the alleged foreign plot, but the endorsement of King Abdullah as a key partner appeared largely sincere. There was a clear recognition of what was at stake — destabilizing a country like Jordan can mean trouble for many other countries in the region.
If Jordan’s monarch were to be deposed, it would create a transnational ripple effect that could threaten other monarchies in the region. Projecting an image of solidarity and an ironclad rejection of sedition appeared imperative.
Why is the timing of the developments important?
This could not have happened at a worse time in Jordan. Anger has been building among its youth — who account for most of the population — over the state of a deteriorating economy made worse by the pandemic. Unemployment and poverty rates have reached record highs. Alleged corruption and mismanagement are widely named as the culprit.
Discontent has driven Jordanians to the streets, but tolerance for protests has diminished significantly. Last month, at least eight people died after a disruption to the oxygen supply at a public hospital in the city of Salt. The incident was blamed on negligence and incompetence, something that has plagued the public sector.
Within hours of the incident, angry crowds began to gather around the hospital. In a rare move, King Abdullah, clad in his military fatigues, arrived at the facility. Visibly angry, he questioned hospital management. He later fired local health officials and the health minister. This was the clearest example of the country’s leadership acknowledging the gravity of the situation in the country and its potential to ignite civil unrest.
Still, small protests continued to erupt in several Jordanian cities. When Prince Hamzah appeared to publicly take up the mantle of anti-corruption protesters, he may have poured fuel on the fire.
Hamzah enjoys popular support, and many openly opposed his alleged detainment on social media. But King Abdullah is also popular — Jordanian Twitter and the audio-only app Clubhouse were awash with debates that pitted people with avatars of the king against those with images of the prince. Unlike the king, Hamzah has no discernible institutional backing, and it is unclear how he can tangibly rattle Jordan’s establishment.
Still, he has a touched a raw nerve. And while the country has shown an incredible ability to repeatedly walk back from the brink, the leadership has reason to be nervous.