Ambiguities surround Jordan’s move to defuse security crisis

Jordanian PM indicates foreign support to former Crown Prince Hamzah.
Monday 05/04/2021
An August 2019 file picture shows Jordanian King Abdullah II meeting with Major General Yousef Hunaiti, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF). (AFP)
An August 2019 file picture shows Jordanian King Abdullah II meeting with Major General Yousef Hunaiti, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF). (AFP)

AMMAN - The press conference held Sunday by Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi added to the mystery surrounding the circumstances that drove the Jordanian authorities to move quickly and contain what they saw as a major threat to their national security, as suspected hostile actions by former Crown Prince Prince Hamzah bin Al-Hussein and an important group of Jordanian figures, remain unclear.

Those arrested are said to include a member of the royal family, a former head of the royal court and other important names which the official statement avoided mentioning.

However a major Jordanian tribe has said that it was the primary target of the authorities’ move.

In a statement that he read to journalists, Safadi talked of foreign involvement in the plot, which was turned around Prince Hamzah, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and the former head of the royal court and director of the king’s office Basem Awadallah.

Safadi revealed that Awadallah was about to leave the country when he was arrested and that a foreign party had offered to send a special plane to take Prince Hamzah’s family out of the country.

An earlier statement on the matter was issued on Saturday evening by the Jordanian Chief of Staff, Yusef al-Hunaiti, after meeting Prince Hamzah.

This statement gave strong indications that the suspected group was in the process of making a move through surrogate officers in the Jordanian Armed Forces known for their absolute loyalty to the royal family.

Jordanians read local newspapers with headlines about the latest events in his country, in front of a kiosk in the capital Amman, on April 4, 2021. (AFP)
Jordanians read local newspapers with headlines about the latest events in his country, in front of a kiosk in the capital Amman, on April 4, 2021. (AFP)

Safadi indicated that measures were taken against the group as it was moving to set its plan in motion . He did not however disclose the nature of the scheme.

Reactions in the Arab world have reflected remarkable solidarity with Jordan’s King Abdullah II as most Arab leaders put out official statements expressing their support for the measures taken by Amman to ensure the security and stability of Jordan.

There was however sharp criticism from two sources that felt directly targeted by the Jordanian measures.

Queen Noor, the mother of Prince Hamzah, expressed her shock at these measures, describing them as “fabrications”. She said she “prays for truth and justice to prevail for all innocent victims.”

But the harshest reaction came from the influential Majali clan whose leaders were targeted by arrests.

The clan put out a statement describing what had  happened as a “black day” in Jordan’s history.

It carried on to protest, “the dignity and freedom of some of our clan’s finest men, who had served the country with utmost dedication and sincerity and in its darkest hours, were assailed, as Sheikh Samir Abdel Wahhab al- Majali was arrested … The house of Sheikh Suleiman Rafifan al-Majali … was raided, with the aim of arresting our son Yasser Suleiman al-Majali, in his capacity as director of the office of his highness Prince Hamzah.”

The statement called for the release of the detainees and hinted at some kind of response saying that “arrangements will be announced later in coordination with all family members, the people of Karak governorate, the detainees’ clans and the free sons of the homeland.”

After being placed under house arrest, Prince Hamzah recorded a video that was sent by his lawyer to the British Broadcasting corporation (BBC), in which he strongly and in an unprecedented manner criticised the “corrupt” rule in his country and the “repressive” measures taken by the authorities.

Arab analysts said that the announcement of the “plot” and of the subsequent government measures deepened the multi-faceted crisis which the Hashemite kingdom faces.

Arab political sources said a lot of ambiguity still surrounds what is happening in Jordan especially since there is no evidence of a connection of any kind between Prince Hamzah, on the one hand, and Basem Awadallah, who is of Palestinian origin, on the other hand.

These sources indicated that the quickly unfolding events came against a background of popular discontent due to the worsening economic crisis, which was made more acute by anti-COVID lockdown in place in Jordan for more than a year.

In this tense atmosphere, social media have boosted the popularity of Prince Hamzah as he occasionally expressed critical political opinions.

Arab sources believe the Jordanian crisis had domestic and regional dimensions.

In addition to the deteriorating economic situation, King Abdullah II, has focused on shoring up the position of Crown Prince Prince Hussein. He has  dispensed with the power centres that in the past played a buffer role sparing the royal palace the need to directly get involved in crises.

The centres in question are the presidency of the royal cabinet, the prime minister’s office and the intelligence directorate. These, the sources pointed out, have in the past served as a shield for the royal palace. They were led by prominent personalities who dealt daily with the Jordanian street and its concerns, especially the eastern Jordanian tribes.

The sources added that the military-trained King Abdullah II preferred to abolish the political roles of the chief of staff, the prime minister, and the director of intelligence. He instead placed in these positions regular civil servants who would not second guess any decision he took.

This, added the sources, forced the monarch to go himself with the crown prince to Salt Hospital last month, after an oxygen shortage caused the death of seven coronavirus patients being treated there.

On the regional level, Arab sources say Jordan has suffered seriously from the loss of its old role as a key route into and refuge from Iraq, for which it received large quantities of heavily-discounted Iraqi oil.

They add that Jordan’s role as intermediary was no longer needed by Gulf countries as they opened up to Israel. Also, Israel has showed disinterest in Jordan’s plight despite the existence of a peace agreement between the two countries.​

The attitude of the Jewish state towards Amman is partly explained by the sour relationship between Abdullah II and Benjamin Netanyahu.