2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jordan’s King Abdullah II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg 2/2
(This story has been republished to add the word omitted in paragraph 14) By Suleiman Al-Khalidi AMMAN (Reuters) – The unprecedented public criticism of the Jordanian monarchy by a royal who has been put under house arrest has shaken the country’s image as an island of stability in the Middle East. On Saturday, the Jordanian military told King Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Hamza bin Hussein, to halt actions aimed at “security and stability” in America’s key ally. In unusually harsh language recorded in a video transmitted by his lawyer to the BBC, Prince Hamza, 41, said he had been placed under house arrest and criticized Jordanian leaders as a corrupt few who have put their interests in favor of above those of the public. “There has been damage. For the first time we have someone who bears the image of that peaceful and stable kingdom,” said a former minister. King Abdullah, 59, removed Hamza from his post as crown prince in 2004, thwarting the ambitions of his stepmother, Queen Noor, who had groomed her eldest son for the throne since childhood. Stripped of all power, Hamza was subsequently marginalized. King Abdullah consolidated his power by making his son Hussein the heir apparent and last year seemed to be intensively preparing him for his future role as king. Meanwhile, Hamza has been forging ties with disgruntled tribal leaders at the forefront of an anti-government protest movement called Herak, which in recent weeks has renewed its calls to protest against corruption. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to Jordan’s economy, pushing unemployment to record highs and deepening poverty. “The king is a red line … we will firmly confront any shaking hand that seeks to disrupt the security of the country,” former prime minister Faisal al Fayez told parliament in an indirect reference to Hamza. It is not clear why the kingdom decided to crack down on Prince Hamza at this time, but political sources say he put himself at risk with frequent visits to tribal gatherings where people openly criticize the king. Hamza does not appear to have any real influence and those detained as part of what the military said was an ongoing security investigation are mostly his close associates. “He is allowing himself to be part of a critical machine against the ruling system, when he went to tribal meetings that criticized the ruling establishment even when he did not say anything,” said a high-ranking politician. “When he spoke about the deterioration of governance and the silencing of critics, he was very controversial,” he added, referring to the video. Although unprecedented, Hamza’s overt dissent is unlikely to pose a serious threat to the monarchy, especially without the support of the powerful Jordanian army, where the king enjoys widespread loyalty, analysts and political sources said. “You cannot carry out a coup in a country like Jordan without the involvement of the armed forces. For now, there is no such indication,” said Oded Eran, former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and now principal investigator at Tel Aviv University. . Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), he told Israel Army Radio. “This is the only force with any kind of importance, with the ability to take over the government ministries, the centers of power. With all due respect to the prince, it does not have this ability. A former US official with knowledge of the events in Jordan said it was not a coup. Rather, he said, the participants were planning to launch protests that appeared to be a “popular uprising with masses in the street” with tribal support. Any attempt to seize power would likely have failed without the support of the United States and regional powers, who expressed their support for King Abdullah and any measures necessary to ensure Jordan’s security. Yet the Jordanians are trying to make sense of the palace’s intrigue. “I don’t see anything local that triggered this, so there could be a foreign element,” the former minister said. The senior politician said Prince Hamza was out of his league. “A goofy and troublesome prince who hasn’t thought things through, seeking comfort in this little flirtation with angry tribal elements,” he said.