Jordan rushes to limit damage after very public royal feud
AMMAN – Both Jordan’s Palace and a confidant of a senior royal issued statements Monday, saying that mediation has successfully resolved an unprecedented public feud between King Abdullah II and Prince Hamzah, his half-brother.
In the statements, published by the Associated Press, Malik Dahlan, the principal of the Institution Quraysh for Law & Policy, with which Prince Hamzah is associated, said, “Mediation by Prince el-Hassan bin Talal, the Dean of the Hashemite Royal Family today has been successful and I expect a resolution shortly.”
“This regrettable incident was the result of the clumsy actions of a senior security official and misrepresentation by a government official. It should have remained a family matter,” Dahlan said.
“The Royal Hashemite family has a long history and tradition of mediation, which is one of the many reasons for its formidable resilience and popularity.
“This moment can be seen as a pressure valve moment, and the King, in his wisdom, is using this opportunity to bring the family together, uphold the rule of law and resolve this matter with the dignity and the symbolism that it deserves,” Dahlan added.
“It is also a reminder for the international community to stand by the Hashemites and commend their honourable stance to address the dire economic situation of the Jordanian people and vulnerable refugee communities during these difficult circumstances.”
Meanwhile, the royal palace released excerpts from a statement signed by Prince Hamzah.
“The national interest must remain above all else, and we must all stand behind His Majesty the King in his efforts to safeguard Jordan and its national interests, and ensure the best for the Jordanian people, in accordance with the Hashemite legacy of dedication to serving the nation and supporting the head of the family and the leader of the homeland, may God protect him,” the statement said.
“In light of the developments over the past two days, I put myself at the disposal of His Majesty the King, and I reaffirm that I will always remain committed to the covenant of the ancestors, loyal to their legacy, following in their footsteps, devoted to their path and mission, and to His Majesty the King; and committed to the Constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. And I will always remain the supporter of His Majesty the King and his Crown Prince,” Prince Hamzah said in the statement.
However, a few hours after the news about mediation, Jordan imposed a sweeping gagging order on coverage of its palace feud. This came after a recording indicated that authorities tried to silence the former crown prince over his meetings with critics, a sign that officials are increasingly nervous about how the rare public rift in the royal family is being perceived.
The recording appears to capture Saturday’s explosive meeting between King Abdullah II’s half brother, Prince Hamzah and the military chief of staff that set off the current political crisis.
In the wake of that meeting, officials accused Hamzah of being part of a foreign plot to destabilise the kingdom — but no such conspiracy is referenced on the recording.
On the recording, General Yousef Hunaiti, the military chief of staff, says the prince is being placed under a form of house arrest because of meetings he had with individuals who “started talking more than they should.”
The prince raises his voice in anger, accusing the general of threatening him and saying he has no right to issue orders to a member of the royal family.
“You come to me and tell me in my house what to do and who to meet with in my country and from my people? Are you threatening me? … You come to my house and tell me you and security leaders are threatening me? Not to leave your house, only go to your family and don’t tweet?”
“The bad performance of the state is because of me? The failure is because of me? Forgive me but the mistakes are my fault?” he says.
Huneiti, speaking in a calm voice, denies threatening him and says he is simply delivering a message from the heads of intelligence and general security. But by then, Hamzah is shouting over him. “Get in your car, sir!” he says. Neither man mentions the king or a foreign plot.
The recording is consistent with the prince’s earlier description of the encounter.
— Bastion of stability —
Jordan, which borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, has long been seen as a bastion of stability in a turbulent region. But the coronavirus pandemic has battered its economy, and Hamzah’s unprecedented criticism of the ruling class — without naming the king — could lend support to growing complaints about poor governance and human rights abuses.
Reflecting concerns about any sign of instability there, several allies, including the United States, have expressed their strong backing for the king.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Jordan on Tuesday in support of Abdullah, according to Saudi state television.
Bin Farhan delivered a message reaffirming Saudi support for Jordan, the Jordanian foreign ministry said, amid the frictions between the king and his half brother .
The Saudi minister met his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, the ministry added.
Jordanian analyst Amer Sabaileh, speaking before the publication ban was imposed, said the dispute “puts more pressure on Jordan’s king” to reform the system. He noted that the feud had also divided Jordanians, with many on social media expressing support for Hamzah.
The king “needs to go for fast action that saves the image of the family and the monarchy and the unity of society,” Sabaileh said.
Instead, Jordanian authorities levelled accusations against Hamzah. On the day after the prince’s meeting with the military chief of staff, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced that authorities had arrested more than a dozen people and foiled a foreign plot, without saying which country was involved.
Hamzah, in a video statement, denied being part of any such conspiracy and lashed out at authorities for what he said were years of corruption and incompetence. He said they were trying to silence him because of his criticism. There has been no word since on his status or that of those who were arrested.
Some analysts have raised doubts about the suggestion of a foreign plot.
“Among the countries whose names have been bandied about — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel — none have an interest in stoking instability in Jordan or could have believed that an amateurish plot built around a disaffected prince and a handful of acolytes might possibly have overthrown the well-entrenched Abdullah,” GhaithOmari and Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute, a US think tank, wrote in a policy briefing.
Abdullah and Hamzah are both sons of King Hussein, who remains a beloved figure two decades after his death. Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, Abdullah named Hamzah as crown prince, only to revoke the title five years later and give it to his oldest son.
While Abdullah and Hamzah are said to have good relations generally, Hamzah has at times spoken out against government policies, and more recently had forged ties with powerful tribal leaders in a move seen as a threat to the king.
The gagging order — which Jordan’s attorney general said was needed to preserve the confidentiality of an ongoing investigation — highlights how restrictions on speech have been tightened in recent years, something the prince alluded to in his statements.
“They always impose gag orders on controversial issues,” said Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “The only surprising thing is that it wasn’t imposed on Sunday.”
“There’s been a real slide in terms of respect for basic rights like free expression,” he said. “The scope of free media reporting has shrunk to almost nothing. There’s almost no critical coverage in the local press, it’s not really allowed.”