by Khaled Abu Toameh
"No one expected the controversy to escalate to a point where the king would order the army and the mukhabarat to raid Prince Hamzah’s palace and place him under house arrest."
Was Jordan’s former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein placed under house arrest on trumped-up charges because of a personal dispute with his half-brother King Abdullah, or was he indeed plotting to stage a coup with the backing of foreign parties?
Many Jordanians were still grappling for answers on Sunday in the aftermath of reports that Jordanian security forces foiled an attempt by Hamzah and some of his associates to topple the regime of King Abdullah.
Several Jordanians expressed disappointment with their government for not sharing enough information about the security crackdown. “We have to rely on the foreign media to learn about events in Jordan,” complained Amman-based journalist Ahmed Suleiman.
The official media in Jordan has stopped short of calling the dramatic developments in the kingdom an attempted coup. Instead, the media and government officials continued to talk about the thwarting of a plot to “undermine Jordan’s security.”
The crisis will not have any impact on the kingdom’s relations with Israel, a former Jordanian government official told The Jerusalem Post.
“This is an internal Jordanian affair that has nothing to do with Israel,” the official said. He confirmed that senior Jordanian security officials contacted their Israeli counterparts over the weekend to assure them that the situation in Jordan was “stable and under control.”
The official denied rumors that the crackdown on Hamzah and his friends was the result of a tip-off by Israel and the US.
People around Hamzah communicated with entities calling themselves “external opposition,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Sunday. He did not provide details about the “external opposition.”
Sixteen Jordanians have been detained in connection with the case, including Bassem Awadallah, a former head of the royal court, and Sharif bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, Safadi said. He accused the detainees of planning to “undermine the security” of Jordan.
Safadi accused Hamzah of sending out a video message on Saturday night as part of an attempt to “distort the facts and gain local and foreign sympathy.”
A person with links to “foreign intelligence agencies” contacted Hamzah’s wife and offered to send a plane to help her and her family leave the country, he added, without elaborating.
Jordanian officials, meanwhile, expressed satisfaction with the support the king has received from many countries.
Abdullah received phone calls on Sunday from the kings of Morocco and Bahrain and the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait, who expressed their countries’ “full solidarity” with Jordan.
The leaders also voiced support for all measures and decisions taken by Abdullah to safeguard Jordan’s security and stability, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf Cooperation Council also voiced full support for Abdullah in maintaining security and stability in Jordan.
The dispute between King Abdullah and Hamzah has been an open secret in many circles in Amman over the past few years.
“This is a personal dispute between the son of an English queen and the son of an American queen,” said a Jordanian political analyst. “It’s just a normal dispute between the king and his half-brother. But no one expected the controversy to escalate to a point where the king would order the army and the Mukhabarat [General Intelligence Directorate] to raid Prince Hamzah’s palace and place him under house arrest.”
King Abdullah’s mother is Princess Muna al-Hussein, the second wife of the late King Hussein. She is British by birth, born Toni Avril Gardner in Chelmondiston, Suffolk. She married King Hussein in 1961. The couple divorced 10 years later.
Hamzah’s mother is American-born Queen Noor. Born Lisa Najeeb Halaby to a Syrian-American family, she was the fourth wife of King Hussein.
After the death of King Hussein in 1999, Abdullah became king, and Hamzah became crown prince.
In 2004, Hamzah was stripped of his status as heir designate. Five years later, Abdullah named his eldest son, Hussein, as crown prince.
In a letter to Hamzah informing him of the decision to remove him from his post, Abdullah wrote: “Your holding this symbolic position has restrained your freedom and hindered our entrusting you with certain responsibilities that you are fully qualified to undertake.”
Despite the affectionate letter, the removal of Hamzah from his status as crown prince marked the beginning of a bitter dispute with Abdullah.
Since then, Hamzah and Queen Noor have criticized Abdullah and accused him of betraying his father’s wish that Hamzah become the future king of Jordan.
King Hussein used to refer to Hamzah as “the delight of my eye.”
On the instructions of Abdullah, the Jordanian security authorities have kept a close watch on Hamzah over the past few years. Hamzah’s meetings with tribal leaders, politicians and businessmen aroused suspicions in the royal palace that the estranged prince was up to no good.
According to conspiracy theories on Arab social media, some of Hamzah’s close friends were directly linked to the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hamzah’s supporters, however, have vehemently denied the allegation that he was plotting to overthrow the regime.
Many of them took to social media to voice their support for Hamzah, arguing that he was the victim of a smear campaign waged by the king and his son, Crown Prince Hussein, to silence critics and cover up for rampant corruption in the kingdom. Some described Hamzah as the “prince of hearts” and called on the king to stop harassing him.
On her Twitter account, Queen Noor wrote in the first comment on the news of her son’s house arrest: “Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe.”
Khaled Abu Toameh