Jordan’s Discord Points to Wider Crisis

What may appear to be just a squabble in Jordan’s royal family in fact represents the seeds of a broader regional crisis. Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the 41-year-old half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, is being detained and censured on grounds of questionable “activities and movements.” This internal domestic schism within Jordan has roots in a regional transformation in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords, normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. These new Arab ties with Israel threaten long-held Jordanian prerogatives in managing Jerusalem’s holy sites. They also point to a growing disconnect between the policies of King Abdullah’s government and the Jordanian people, placing the issue of Palestinian statehood at the forefront of Middle East stability.

The announcement by Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, that investigations by Jordan’s army and intelligence services had uncovered evidence that Prince Hamzah had helped incite prominent Jordanian figures and conferred with foreign entities abroad in a conspiracy to undermine the authority of the king came as a shock to many long-time Middle East observers.

While Safadi avoided using the term “coup” in his announcement, the reaction of Jordanian security services in confronting Prince Hamzah had all the trappings of a countercoup response. According to the Jordanian Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti, Prince Hamzah had not been arrested, but rather had been asked to “limit his movements.” In response, Prince Hamzah issued two videos openly criticizing the king and his inner circle, specifically calling them out for a pattern of corruption, nepotism, and an inability to tolerate dissent. “It has reached the point,” Prince Hamzah said, “where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened. I am making this recording to make it clear that I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out.”

Prince Hamzah’s statements were intended to counter accusations by Safadi that the prince was colluding with “someone with links to foreign security services” who had, among other things, offered to provide an airplane to fly Prince Hamzah’s wife and children to safety in an undisclosed country. Safadi cited this specific incident as evidence that Prince Hamzah was engaged in “suspicious activities” involving “outside groups” designed to destabilize Jordan.

The spy-versus-spy aspect of Safadi’s narrative gained more credence when Roy Shaposhnik, an Israeli citizen based in the UK, acknowledged that he had offered to transport Prince Hamzah’s wife and children to his home in the UK, acting as a “close personal friend” of the prince. Shaposhnik operates a company, Global Mission Support Services, which, according to his LinkedIn page, operates “in the seam between the political and commercial realms,” enabling “governmental and corporate entities to pursue opportunities in some of the world’s most challenging regions.”

But the picture painted by Safadi of a frustrated royal pursuing his personal ambition at the expense of Jordanian stability seems at odds with the public persona of Prince Hamzah. As the eldest son of King Hussein’s marriage to Queen Noor, Prince Hamzah was appointed crown prince when King Abdullah came to the throne in 2004. However, King Abdullah later revoked this appointment, selecting his own eldest son, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, as crown prince instead.

While the machinations of the Jordan’s royal court provide a convenient narrative to paint Prince Hamzah as a spurned royal seeking revenge, the reality is much different. By all accounts, Prince Hamzah accepted the naming of Prince Hussein to crown prince with grace, and, instead of preparing to succeed King Abdullah, he focused on trying to better the lives of average Jordanian citizens. This work made him extremely popular with the various tribes in Jordan that serve as the traditional power base for the ruling Hashemite dynasty.

While the allegations against Prince Hamzah fall short of actual conspiracy against the king, the same cannot be said for at least two other members of the royal inner circle — Hassan bin Zaid, a cousin of the king, and Basem Awadallah, the former head of the royal court. Both men were arrested for unspecified “security reasons” at the same time Prince Hamzah was ordered to limit his movements.

In the aftermath of Prince Hamzah’s de facto house arrest, several nations spoke out, offering their support for King Abdullah. These nations included the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But these public statements of support belie underlying tensions that suggest relations between Jordan and its ostensible friends and allies are not as calm as they seem.

New Tensions

At the center of this discord are the Abraham Accords, the controversial agreement brokered in 2020 by the administration of President Donald Trump to “promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity” by encouraging the restoration of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab states. It is also linked to a controversial US-Israeli peace plan of the Trump administration.

While the Gulf Arab states have taken a relatively positive approach toward the US-Israeli peace plan, Jordan rejects it outright as an existential threat. King Abdullah, in consultations with a council of Jordanian tribal leaders, noted that he would never accept the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, which would turn Jordan into an alternative homeland for up to 2.5 million Palestinians who could be uprooted if Israel were to follow through with the annexation of the Jordan Valley. The Jordanian people overwhelmingly oppose the US-Israeli peace plan, a domestic political dynamic that King Abdullah cannot ignore. The tribes in particular reject outright any absorption of Palestinians by Jordan, which would dilute their authority and influence.

Another grave threat to Jordan emerged in August 2020, when Trump, together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, issued a statement that appeared to threaten Jordan’s long-standing status as the sole custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located in Jerusalem. The statement said that “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths.” This ambiguous statement caught the attention of Jordan’s foreign ministry, which quickly reiterated Jordan’s position that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was “exclusively for Muslims,” and that Jordan alone had the right to make such rules.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have since begun conspiring with Israel to use the issue of the custodianship of the Al-Aqsa Mosque as pressure on Jordan to soften its stance on Palestine and the US-Israeli peace plan. The extent to which their campaign crossed over into discussions about replacing King Abdullah with a more compliant ruler, such as Prince Hamza, is not yet publicly known, but it is clearly at the heart of the investigation in Jordan.

One theory is that Prince Hamza’s name was promoted as a potential successor — without his knowledge — by the king’s cousin Hassan bin Zaid, who used Basem Awadallah as an intermediary with the Saudi government, which was operating in concert with both the UAE and Israel. The Israeli businessman, Shaposhnik, may have served as a facilitator for these discussions. Awadallah previously served as King Abdullah’s special envoy to Saudi Arabia, and currently serves as special adviser to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Following Awadallah’s arrest, a high-level Saudi delegation arrived in Jordan, demanding his release.

To date, Jordan has not named the “foreign entities” involved in the plot against the king, despite having what appears to be clear evidence that this was in fact occurring. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are host to thousands of Jordanian workers, who would likely be expelled should Jordan go public with its information. The loss of income sent home to families in Jordan by these workers, would be devastating to Jordan’s economy. It is clear that the Jordanian government is seeking to resolve this issue in a way that strengthens the rule of King Abdullah while preserving the diplomatic status quo between Jordan and the Israeli-Saudi Arabian-UAE collective.

King Abdullah is caught between a rock and a hard place. He cannot endorse the US-Israeli peace plan without losing the support of the tribes he relies on for legitimacy and support. But he cannot reject it for fear that he may turn his erstwhile Gulf Arab “allies” against him. Jordan has long sold itself as the linchpin of Middle Eastern stability. In the aftermath of the Abraham Accords, this is no longer the case. As a result, King Abdullah may find that he is a disposable monarch.

0 thoughts on “Jordan’s Discord Points to Wider Crisis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *