The Irish Times view on palace intrigue in Jordan: a royal rift ripples

A row in the ruling elite in Amman has alarmed Jordan’s allies in the Middle East

Women walk past a poster of Jordan’s King Abdullah II on a street in the capital Amman on April Tuesday, after a security crackdown revealed tensions in the monarchy. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/ AFP via Getty Images

Women walk past a poster of Jordan’s King Abdullah II on a street in the capital Amman on April Tuesday, after a security crackdown revealed tensions in the monarchy. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/ AFP via Getty Images

 

It appears that Prince Hamzah’s chief offence was attending social gatherings at which Jordan’s King Abdullah II’s government was criticised. Accused of being part of a “foreign-backed” conspiracy, the prince and close allies were locked up.

The rift in the royal household reflects underlying social tensions in a country that, while seemingly stable, has seen difficult times

Now he is free – or freer, apparently under house arrest – though his associates remain in custody. He has published a statement pledging his commitment to the king, although a leaked tape gives an alternative sense of the prince’s feelings: “I’m making this recording to make it clear that I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organisation or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out. Unfortunately, this country has become stymied in corruption, in nepotism and in misrule”.

Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein raised the suspicions of Jordan’s security forces by taking part in meetings where Herak tribesmen have criticised the king. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP via Getty Images
Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein raised the suspicions of Jordan’s security forces by taking part in meetings where Herak tribesmen have criticised the king. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP via Getty Images

The royal household rift is not new. Prince Hamzah’s father, King Hussein, ruled Jordan for four decades, and the prince had been widely expected to succeed him. During the late king’s lifetime, his sons and his four wives often jockeyed for influence. But since Abdullah, the son of Hussein’s second wife, succeeded in 1999, the inter-family rivalry has been largely kept in-house.

Hamzah, son of the fourth wife, presents himself as an anti-corruption campaigner who wants to take the country in a more dynamic direction. Personal ambition apart, the rift in the royal household reflects underlying social tensions in a country that, while seemingly stable, has seen difficult times. There are few outlets for criticism – the kingdom is no democracy. Protests against its coronavirus strategy have been suppressed, as have strikes by teachers over conditions. Social media networks have been closed. But the ranks of the ruling elite have rarely been touched.

The royal row has alarmed allies like the US and Saudi Arabia who rushed to express support for the king. Because Jordan borders Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank – it is home to millions of exiled Palestinians, and the formal custodian of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque – it is a linchpin of regional security and key to any future deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

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