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Jordan arrests officials as royal family row erupts

Former crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein says he is under house arrest

Jordanian security forces have arrested prominent figures and warned King Abdullah’s half-brother to stop “activities” used to target the western ally’s security and stability as divisions within the ruling family erupted into the open.

These kinds of arrests are highly unusual in the normally stable country that has been a steadfast ally of the west.

Major General Yousef Huneiti, the army chief, said the warning to Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, crown prince and heir apparent before being dismissed in 2004, was “part of joint comprehensive investigations undertaken by security agencies”, according to Petra, the state news agency.

The general denied that the former crown prince had been detained. But Prince Hamzah released a video, obtained by the Financial Times, in which he claimed he was under house arrest and launched an attack against the ruling system, accusing it of corruption, nepotism and misrule. 

Prince Hamzah said he was visited by the army chief and told he was not allowed to leave his house or communicate with people because there had been criticism of the government or King Abdullah at meetings at which Prince Hamzah had been present, or on social media relating to visits he had made.

He said he was not accused of making the criticisms, but added that a number of people he knew, including friends, had been arrested. He said his internet and phone lines had been cut.

Those arrested include Bassem Awadallah, a former finance minister and chief of staff to King Abdullah, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a distant member of the royal family, Petra said. Awadallah has in recent years been an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A street vendor in Amman reads a local newspaper with a headline on its front page about the latest events in Jordan
A street vendor in Amman reads a local newspaper on Sunday with a headline on its front page about the latest events in Jordan © AFP via Getty Images

Prince Hamzah said he made the recording to make it clear that he was not part of any “conspiracy or nefarious organisation or foreign-backed group”. 

“What you see and hear in terms of the official line is not a reflection of the realities on the ground,” he said. “I’m not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years, and has been getting worse by the year.”

In further sign of tensions within the royal family, Queen Noor, Prince Hamzah’s mother, on Sunday took to Twitter to describe the allegations against her son as “wicked slander”.

The extraordinary events will raise concerns about the stability of Jordan, long regarded as an important western partner bordering Israel, Iraq and Syria. King Abdullah, who is feted in Washington and London, is also seen as an important voice of moderation in the Middle East. 

King Abdullah
King Abdullah is seen as an important voice of moderation in the Middle East © AP

King Abdullah, who has ruled since the death of his father in 1999, is generally perceived to enjoy strong support among Jordanians. Blame for the country’s myriad social and economic problems tends to be directed towards the government. The monarch appoints the prime minister and has executive powers. 

Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East programme at Chatham House, said Saturday’s events appeared to be related to a power struggle within the royal family rather than anything to do with corruption and poor governance. 

“In western policy circles there have been concerns about political stability in Jordan and this appears to confirm that tensions within the regime and the royal family have been going on for some time,” she said. “The west views King Abdullah as a reliable ally and it’s not in their interests to see instability in Jordan.”

A spokesman for the US state department said Washington was closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials.

Regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, were swift to express their support for King Abdullah. Shortly after the arrests were announced, the Saudi royal court released a statement saying it affirmed its full support to the “decisions” and “measures” taken by King Abdullah to “maintain security and stability”. The Islamic republic in Tehran said on Sunday that it backed “peace and stability” in Jordan and warned such domestic tensions only benefited Israel.

Asked about the situation in Jordan and its implications for Israel, defence minister Benny Gantz said: “This is an internal Jordanian issue. Jordan is a neighbour with whom we have peace and a strategic ally, and we must do everything to preserve this alliance that has existed for over 30 years.”

The crisis in the ruling family has erupted as Jordan faces increasing economic and social pressures, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jordan has long depended on financial support from western and Gulf states and it is grappling with declining revenues and debts that have soared to about 100 per cent of gross domestic project.

Additional reporting by Neri Zilber in Tel Aviv and Katrina Manson in Washington

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