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April 5, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1569

Jordan's Prince Hamzah Bin Hussein Is Caught Between Accusations That He Was Planning A Coup And Ongoing Regime Attempts To Marginalize Him

April 5, 2021 | By H. Varulkar and Z. Harel
Jordan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1569


 

Introduction

Over the weekend, Jordanian authorities arrested a number of top establishment officials and royal family members, among them King 'Abdullah's cousin Al-Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, and the former head of the royal court and former treasury secretary Basem Awadallah.[1] According to The Washington Post, the arrests were aimed at thwarting a coup attempt against the king, in which the king's half brother Prince Hamzah bin Hussein was involved. According to the Post and other reports on social media, the prince has been placed under house arrest and others arrested include close associates such as the head of his office, the administrator of his palace, and his security guards.[2] 

On the night of April 3, 2021, through his attorney, Prince Hamzah released a video clip in which he stated that he was under house arrest and unable to communicate with the rest of the world because he had attended meetings in which the government and the king had been disparaged. He denied the accusations against him, and criticized the rampant corruption in the kingdom and how it was impinging on freedom, underlining that "even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services."[3] In an audio recording released via social media on April 4, he stressed that he did not intend to abide by the restrictions placed on him.[4]

Even before the release of Prince Hamza's video, the chairman of Jordan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Yousuf Ahmed Al-Hunaiti – who had been tasked with carrying out the measures against Prince Hamzah and his associates – denied that Prince Hamzah had been arrested but hinted at displeasure regarding his political involvement, stating: "He has been required to stop his moves and activities, which are being exploited in order to harm Jordan's security and stability."[5]

At an April 4 press conference that he convened, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi revealed additional details about the alleged coup attempt. Stating that a comprehensive investigation of Prince Hamzah's and other individuals' activity aimed at harming state security and stability had been underway for some time, he added that there had been monitoring of contacts between them and foreign elements about deciding on an appropriate time to undermine Jordanian state security.

He also said that people close to the prince had conveyed messages to foreign elements, including "the so-called overseas opposition," who were enlisted to undermine Jordan's security and to distort facts. Prince Hamzah had acted with leading members of society in an attempt to incite them to harm national security, he  said, adding that a short time after the Prince had been warned to stop these activities he had attempted to escalate the situation. He stated further that the Jordanian security apparatuses had been monitoring contacts between Prince Hamzah's wife and an individual with connections to foreign security apparatuses which included a suggestion to provide her with an airplane to leave Jordan for a foreign country.[6]

Despite the Jordanian establishment's attempts to lend credibility to its narrative – i.e. that Prince Hamzah had been planning a coup – it appears that this narrative is not actually true, since besides the prince's security team, no members of the military or top security elements were among those arrested.[7] It cannot be ruled out that these are also attempts to silence him and to harm his great popularity among various elements in Jordanian society. These elements include the tribes and protest elements, both inside and outside Jordan.

Prince Hamzah has on numerous occasions criticized the king's policy and the Jordanian establishment, which is in deep economic crisis. Hamzah's criticism has apparently been perceived by King 'Abdullah – who in 2004 removed Hamzah from his position as crown prince and replaced him with his son Hussein– as subversion aimed at undermining the stability of his rule. This perception is heightened in light of the fact that opposition elements outside Jordan are depicting Prince Hamzah as an alternative to King 'Abdullah and his regime.

In recent years, the Jordanian royal house has worked to sideline Prince Hamzah, to the point where his absence from major royal events is conspicuous. It may be that the allegations of a coup planned by Hamzah are aimed at removing him from the stage once and for all.

This report will present Prince Hamzah's criticism of King 'Abdullah and the Jordanian establishment in recent years, the establishment's moves to keep him out of the spotlight, and shows of support for him.

In Recent Years Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein Has Been Critical Of The King's Policy

King 'Abdullah's concern about the possible threat posed by his half-brother, who was crown prince in 1999–2004, is not unfounded. Numerous reports over the years indicate that Hamzah is very popular with the Jordanian public, which sees in him a considerable resemblance to his father Hussein. Like his father, Hamzah has made a point of visiting the Jordanian tribes and maintaining warm relations with them over the years.

The reports about an alleged coup attempt led by Hamzah come as no surprise. In the last three years – as the economic situation in Jordan worsened and protests against the king, as well as demands for political and economic reform, increased – Hamzah began joining the criticism against 'Abdullah's policies and gaining support among opposition circles in the country. For example, in an August 2018 speech at the Al-Yubil School, Hamzah spoke against the economic and administrative corruption in Jordan and the absence of social justice and equal opportunity, and lamented the citizens' suffering due to the economic crisis.  He said: "I witness the frustration and fear of the young generation and their sense that the homeland [no longer] belongs to them, but rather to a small group that has access [to everything] thanks to its wealth, connections and cliques. This is not the way it used to be. We were raised on different values." He added: "Do not let fear control you… This is a free country; its sons are lovers of freedom. Thanks to your ambition and determination we will change the situation." This speech triggered many responses on social media, especially since it came against the backdrop of the economic crisis in the country, the demands for political and economic reform and a long absence of the king from Jordan.[8]

In September 2018, about one month after this speech and two months after the Jordanian government passed a controversial income-tax law that sparked protests and demonstrations, Hamzah again criticized the regime's economic policy. In a tweet, he called to enact economic reforms instead of taking money out of the citizens' pockets, lest the country face disaster. He wrote: "Perhaps we should start by fixing the mismanagement of the public sector, taking serious measures to fight the rampant corruption, seriously holding the corrupt to account, and rebuilding the trust between the citizens and the state – not by repeatedly [taking money out of] the citizens' pockets in order to fix the accumulating mistakes. Unless the goal is to push the country into the abyss."[9]


Prince Hamzah's September 25, 2018 tweet

This criticism was also echoed by Hamzah's and King 'Abdullah's half-brother, Prince 'Ali bin Hussein, who tweeted a sequence from an American TV show that castigated third-world countries for imposing heavy taxes on their citizens and stated that any country that wants to improve its economy must lift taxes, rather than impose them. [10] 

These two tweets, by Hamzah's and 'Ali, were perceived as explicit criticism against the economic policy led by King 'Abdullah and against the tax law. Hamzah's tweet sparked many responses on social media, and some citizens even called on him to seize the reins of leadership.[11] About one week later, in early October 2018, King 'Abduallah met with princes Hamzah, 'Ali and Hashim bin Hussein, in the presence of his son, Crown Prince Hussein bin 'Abdullah, apparently in order to clear the air and perhaps also to convince them to retract their criticism or silence them.  Indeed, in a tweet after the meeting, Hamzah took a conciliatory tone and expressed support for the king, writing: "A meeting is a powerful thing when it is anchored in love for the people and the homeland and its objective is to serve our beloved Jordan and its honorable people." He added: "Allah preserve Jordan under the leadership of the honorable king."[12]  Prince 'Ali tweeted a picture of himself and Hamzah with the king and crown prince, in an attempt to convey business as usual and as a show of loyalty to 'Abdullah.[13]


The picture posted by Prince 'Ali

However, Hamzah's absence from the king's speech at the opening session of Parliament about two weeks later sparked speculation that the reconciliation had only been for show and that the tensions between them persisted.[14] Indeed, one month later, in November 2018, Hamzah resumed criticizing the regime's economic policy and specifically the tax law. In a tweet posted on November 18, 2018, hours after parliament approved the law,  he wrote: "Oh, my homeland." Although the tweet was vague, the message of disapproval was clear.[15]

In March 2019 Hamzah again posted a series of tweets expressing grave concern for the future of the homeland and its people. He claimed there were plots to undermine the kingdom's unity, and clarified that "our strength lies in our unity… and our determination to bring about positive change." In another tweet he warned that, due to the disagreements within the Jordanian public and the harm done to the social fabric, "we may lose the homeland, leave the fold of the [Arab and Islamic] nation and fail to defend our cause, thereby playing into the hands of those who wish to weaken us."[16]

Prince Hamzah Disappears From Public Eye Following Reports On Coup Attempt In 2019

On April 19, 2019, about one month after these tweets were posted, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas claimed in a front-page report that a coup attempt had been foiled in Jordan. The report said: "Jordan has been saved from a dangerous plot, aimed at destabilizing it by promoting a well-known figure close to King 'Abdullah II in order to sway public opinion and incite the masses." It added that the plot – which was to be implemented during the king's summer vacation or during one of his trips abroad – involved raising doubts about the king's  ability to select prime ministers and thereby weaken the status of then-prime minister 'Omar Al-Razzaz. In addition, unemployed Jordanians from among the tribal circles would be enlisted to stage a sit-in in front of the Royal Court offices, in order to create "an unprecedented state of alarm [and spark] negative feelings and popular opposition to the regime."[17]

According the Al-Qabas report, among the conspirators were a businessman, the husband of the king's aunt, who was accused of corruption; a senior security officer, MPs, politicians, and media figures living in Jordan and abroad.[18]  It should be mentioned that a Jordanian news website called the report false,[19] but no official Jordanian source denied its content.

Several days after the publication of the Al-Qabas report, King 'Abdullah made a major reshuffle in his court, dismissing his security advisor Faisal Al-Shubaki, among others.[20] Two weeks later, in early May, he also replaced the commander of the General Intelligence Department, 'Adnan Al-Jundi, with Ahmad Husni.[21] Upon assuming office, the latter replaced several  other senior officers in the department, including deputy-commander Fahed Al-'Amoush – who had been tasked, inter alia, with handling the popular protests that had been ongoing in Jordan since 2018[22] – and 20 others.[23] On May 9, 2019, a cabinet reshuffle took place as well, which included the dismissal of two ministers close to security figures who had already been fired by the king,[24] and on May 12 the commander of the Special Royal Guard was replaced.[25] The proximity of this wave of dismissals to the publication of Al-Qabas report indicates a possible connection between them. [26] 

Although Prince Hamzah's name was never mentioned in connection with the alleged coup attempt reported by Al-Qabas, in May 2019, concurrently with the wave of dismissals in Jordan, it was reported that changes had been made to Hamzah's personal security arrangements.[27]  Furthermore, since the publication of the Al-Qabas report, Prince Hamzah has largely been absent from the public eye.  In May 2019, on the first day of Ramadan, the royal family held a festive iftar (fast-breaking) meal, clearly meant to convey a message of unity around the king and the crown prince,  Hussein bin 'Abdullah. The Crown Prince was indeed at the center of attention, whereas princes Hamzah, 'Ali, Hashim and their wives were conspicuously absent.[28] Since then, Price Hamzah has hardly appeared in public, with the exception of a visit he made in July 2019,  without a retinue or security guards, to dignitaries of the Bani Sakhr tribe and to the southern city of Karak, where he met with city officials and sheikhs.[29]

In November 2019, Hamzah was again absent from the king's speech at the opening session of Parliament, in which the king declared, inter alia, the restoration of the enclaves along the Jordan-Israel border, which had been leased to Israel, to Jordanian rule. According to report, he had been absent from family events for over a year.[30] In February 2020, the London-based online daily Raialyoum.com reported that he had not attended the reception held for the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani, upon the latter's arrival for a visit in Jordan, although most of the royal princes were present, and despite Hamzah's personal aquiantance with the Emir, who went to school with him.[31]

Moreover, Hamzah's Twitter account has been inactive since October 2020, and almost no media reports about him have appeared.

Expressions Of Support For Hamzah By Jordanians On Social Media

Despite the attempts to eliminate him from the public sphere, Prince Hamzah's popularity in Jordan does not appear to have waned. Following the reports on the attempted coup and the video posted by Hamzah himself, in which he confirmed he was under house arrest, there were extensive expressions of support for him on social media. Many users shared Hamzah's video and wrote under hashtags like "we are all Prince Hamzah," and "King Hamzah bin Hussein." It should be mentioned that many of the accounts that posted supportive messages appear to be associated with Jordanian tribes, although they are not official accounts and their reliability is unclear.

A Facebook account identified with Jordan's largest tribe, the Bani Hassan Tribe, which previously served as a platform for this tribe's protest movement against King 'Abdullah, [32] changed its profile picture to a photo of Prince Hamzah. It also posted a picture of Hamzah with the king, accompanied by the text: "Allah, remove from Jordan and its people the internal strife, overt and covert."[33]  

A Facebook account identified with the Al-Huwaitat Tribe, which is divided between Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Sinai, also posted a statement of support for Hamzah and called for his release. It said: "Not much can be expected from a state that incarcerates a loyal prince on allegations of being close to the people, holding ties with them and showing sensitivity towards them. [The members of the Jordanian regime treat] Jordan like their private estate, and corruption is eroding the homeland… Prince Hamzah is a son of the Al-Huwaitat [Tribe] and a son of all Jordanians. Oh commander of the [Jordanian] army, [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Yousuf Hunaiti], we demand to release him immediately and point the compass towards [Walid] Al-Kurdi, [the king's brother-in-law, who embezzled state funds and fled the county] or towards all the ministers and officials who failed in their service of the homeland. Do not expect much [sympathy] from the Jordanian people, after you have destroyed every good thing in this country. Enough with the restrictions on freedoms and enough with the arrests. Anyone who speaks out about corruption and robbery is thrown in jail. Wake up and defend Jordan and the homeland, for it deserves better. God preserve the homeland and its leader, His Majesty King 'Abdullah II."[34]

Luay Al-Rahahleh, a Jordanian oppositionist residing in the Netherlands, expresses support for Hamzah on a regular basis and advocates on social media for considering Hamzah as an alternative to King Hussein in the framework of a constitutional monarchy that will be established in Jordan. For example, on June 9, 2019, the 20th anniversary of  King 'Abdullah's ascent to the throne, Al-Rahahleh  tweeted, "King Hamzah bin Hussein is my leader and head of state; he is the legitimate king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan…"[35] Al-Rahahleh  has also tweeted extensively in Hamzah's defense since the latter was placed under house arrest. [36]


Al-Rahahleh's June 6, 2019 tweet

 

* H. Varulkar is Director of Research at MEMRI; Z. Harel is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Petra.gov.jo, April 3, 2021.

[2] The Washington Post (U.S.), April 3, 2021; ;Facebook.com/AlnizamiOmarKa, April 2, 2021; Facebook.com/ikhkas.abuhammad, Facebook.com/A.alfazza2, April 3, 2021.

[3] Bbc.com, April 4, 2021.

[4] Facebook.com/Zbboun.bh, April 4, 2021.

[5] Petra.gov.jo, April 3, 2021.

[6] Al-Ghad (Jordan), April 5, 2021.

[7] Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Al-Safadi stressed at the press conference that no members of the military had been arrested. Al-Ghad (Jordan), April 5, 2021.

[8] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), August 1, 2018.

[9] Twitter.com/HamzahHKJ, September 25, 2018.

[10] Arabi21.com, September 25, 2018.

[11] Arabi21.com, September 25, 2018; Elaph.com, October 4, 2018.

[12] Twitter.com/HamzahHKJ, October 4, 2018.

[13] Twitter.com/AliBinAlHussein, October 5, 2018.

[14] Alqubbahnews.com, October 18, 2018.

[15] Twitter.com/HamzahHKJ, raialyoum.com, November 18, 2018. 

[16] Twitter.com/HamzahHKJ, March 10, 2019.

[17] The sit-in indeed took place, in February-March 2019. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1445 - Ongoing Protests In Jordan Threaten To Destabilize The Regime – March 11, 2019.

[18] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), April 19, 2019.

[19] Khaberni.com, April 20, 2019.

[20]  Al-Ghad (Jordan), April 23, 2019; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 24, 2019.

[21] Al-Rai (Jordan), May 2, 2019.

[22]  On the popular protests in Jordan, see MEMRI reports: Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1376 - Protests In Jordan Following Austerity Measures – Including Elimination Of Bread Subsidy – February 21, 2018; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1403 - In Light Of IMF Pressure And Diminishing Foreign Aid, Jordan Seeks To End Economic, Political Dependence On Its Allies – June 25, 2018; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1427 - Growing Calls In Jordan To Enact Political Reforms, Limit King's Powers – December 10, 2018; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1445 - Ongoing Protests In Jordan Threaten To Destabilize The Regime – March 11, 2019.

[23] Daraj.com, May 17, 2019.

[24]  AL-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 10, 2019.

[25]  Amonnews.net, May 12, 2019.

[26] Raialyoum.com, May 1, 2019; daraj.com, May 17, 2019. This possibility is strengthened by vague remarks made by King Hussein in a letter to the commander of the General Intelligence Department, in which he wrote: "A handful [of officials] have strayed from the path of loyal service to the kingdom and have preferred personal interests over the public good… forgetting that power and [public] office, at all levels, is necessarily accompanied by responsibility and accountability." Al-Rai (Jordan), May 2, 2019. Concurrently with these dismissals there was a wave of arrests of prominent activists in the protest movement, and activists arrested earlier were convicted of insulting the royal family. Raialyoum.com, May 11, 2019.

[27] In response to these reports, knowledgeable Jordanian sources clarified that the security arrangements of all the princes and princesses was reviewed on a regular basis. Ammonnews.net, raialyoum.com, May 11, 2019.

[28]  Raialyoum.com, May 8, 2019.

[29] Raialyoum.com, July 21, 27, 2019.

[30] Raialyoum.com, November 10, 2019.

[31] Raialyoum.com, February 24, 2020.

[32]  See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1445 - Ongoing Protests In Jordan Threaten To Destabilize The Regime – March 11, 2019.

[33] Facebook.com/Zbboun.bh, April 4, 2021.

[34]  Facebook.com/alhowaitat1, April 4, 2021.

[35] Facebook.com/Luay.heart, June 9, 2019.

[36] Facebook.com/Luay-alrahahleh-101845651889624, April 4, 2021.

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