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Jordanian Royals In Turmoil: Is Prince Hamzah Plotting A Coup? – Analysis

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By Anchal Vohra

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been known as an oasis of calm and stability in a region ridden with conflicts. But last month, as King Abdullah II placed his half-brother, Prince Hamzah, under house arrest along with 18 others, the kingdom’s many vulnerabilities were exposed.

There have been succession rows before but never have the royals of Jordan fought it out publicly. The latest round of the family feud, however, revealed mounting troubles in the dynasty’s hold over power including the palace’s crumbling relations with the Bedouin tribes and an authoritarian streak of the king hitherto seen as the most westernised in the Arab world.

On April 3, Maj Gen Yousef Huneiti, the Head of the Jordanian Army, met with Prince Hamzah and accused him of “crossing red lines” by attending gatherings where the king was criticised. The general asked him to stop meeting anyone other than family and not even tweet. The palace alleged that the arrests had been made to prevent a coup and accused the prince along with co-conspirators, two of whom were linked to Saudi Arabia, of sedition and trying to foment unrest in the country.

An indignant prince responded with shock at the audacity of the general, a mere employee of the kingdom, whilst indirectly accusing the king of corruption, a common complaint against the governing authorities. “You ask me that I do not go out of my house, nor meet anyone but my family, and also that I do not tweet. Sir, get in your car and get out the door,” Prince Hamzah said to the General in the conversation that the royal later leaked. “I am a free Jordanian, the son of my father. I have the right to interact with anyone in my country and serve my country as I promised him.”

Prince Hamzah bears an uncanny resemblance to his father, King Hussein bin-Talal, a former beloved King of Jordan who had anointed Hamzah as crown prince and reportedly preferred him to be king. But Abdullah II was the eldest son and inherited the crown. Tensions between the brothers came to the fore in 2004 when King Abdullah II replaced Hamzah as the crown prince with his own son. The prince did not get any important responsibilities and felt jilted. Over the last few years, he has used his looks and his charm to mingle with the tribes whose support has been essential for the Hashemites.

“You come now, sir, forgive me, where were you twenty years ago? I was the crown prince of this country by order of my father, may God have mercy on him. I swore that I would serve my country and my people as long as I lived,” said Prince Hamzah to General Huneiti in the leaked recording. “The mismanagement is not because of me and I have nothing to do with it. You come and tell me to comply and stay home?”

Prince Hamzah voiced the concerns of the powerful Jordanian tribes to win them over and his popularity has, indeed, risen since. Jordan’s tribes control the security services and have lately felt disaffected because of King Abdullah II’s neo-liberal economic policies. The king privatised many state-run industries, which in effect cut down jobs and perks that were claimed by the tribal elite. There was corruption too and the tribals linked the privatisation drive with it.

A worsening economic situation in the country has been a source of discontent among all Jordanians for at least over a decade. In addition, a lack of political reform has led people to the streets even though the protests have been short of a full-blown uprising.

Jordan is devoid of resources, has given shelter to millions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. It relies in a big way on aid from the West as well as the Gulf. It provides a security buffer against attacks on Israel and has traditionally played the role of a mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But since the rise of Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, aid from the Gulf has reduced drastically and Jordan’s role in the Israel-Palestine conflict sidelined.

While 16 of those arrested were subsequently released, two people linked to Saudi Arabia were still in custody. A month after the allegations, the palace has not provided any concrete evidence of Saudi Arabia meddling and has revealed nothing that suggested a coup was in the works. Reports in the American press, quoting unnamed sources in the intelligence community, said that Hamzah was probably colluding with Bassem Awadallah, who is  close to the Saudi prince, to plan more protests against the king.

Meanwhile, Prince Hamzah has made at least one public appearance with his elder half-brother and king. He has pledged his allegiance in a show of unity, but only a few buy that the troubles in the dynasty are over. The Biden administration has backed the king without inquiring much about increasing authoritarianism under him. For now, it seems King Abdullah II may have managed to mitigate the damage but the episode has granted Prince Hamzah the very stature he craved. Prince Hamzah is now an option to be king in Jordanian minds.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

One thought on “Jordanian Royals In Turmoil: Is Prince Hamzah Plotting A Coup? – Analysis

  • May 11, 2021 at 2:00 pm
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    The Hashemite family, who have ruled in the Transjordan region of eastern Palestine, have been a third combatant in a tripartite struggle for land and statehood for the last century. But the Hashemite family was not originally from eastern Palestine. They were instead transplanted by the British after being ousted from the Hijaz region of Arabia by the Saudi family in the 1920s. In fact, the geographic designation of the word “Palestine” has absolutely zero significance as a distinct region in either the Koran or as a historic Arabic term. The term “Palestine” was a linguistic invention of the Roman Empire and then later the Catholic Church. It was used in Western Christian parlance as a replacement for the historic designations — Judea and Israel — from this very same land. The Romans did this as a form of punishment toward the Jews for their rebellions and protests against pagan practices. Later, the Church maintained the same designation (Palestine) as a way of erasing any Jewish connection to the land. The Arabic speaking people who conquered the land in the 7th century CE never referred to themselves as “Palestinians” until well into the 20th century. And that was decades after the term was adopted by the League of Nations as a Mandate for the Jewish People to establish a state on all the land both east and west of the Jordan River. This Palestinian Mandate was later formally amended only to include the territories of what is now the West Bank and Israel as designated for title under international law. The modern State of Israel came about legally through the original League of Nation’s Mandate system and later through Article 80 of the United Nations Charter. The very same process is true for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Hashemite family hold title, under international law, to all the Mandated territory east of the Jordan River. And while the Jewish State recognizes its right of title on the West Bank, it has never formally annexed the territory or brought its residence under Israeli law. However in 1948, during the Arab-Israeli War, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan occupied the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, made these territories free of Jews, and designated all the Arabs residing in these same territories — citizens of Jordan. However under international law such action was an illegal occupation because Jordan never held legal title to the West Bank or Jerusalem. And neither have the Palestinian Arabs who also reside in the land but who have never identified with the Hashemite family, Jordanian citizenship, or the rights of the Jews, under international law, to establish a state. In this tripartite struggle, the non-Hashemite Arabs of modern Palestine have been the losers. But they could have very easily had their own state in 1947 when the UN General Assembly proposed to partition all the land west of the Jordan River into two states, one for the Jews and the other for the Palestinian Arabs. And while Jews accepted the UN partition, the Arab Palestinians rejected the legal concept of a Jewish state and decided instead on war. It was during the fog of this war that Jordan came to occupy the West Bank. And they held it for eighteen years until 1967, when the Hashemites participated in another attempt to eliminate the Jewish state. This is how Israel came to legally occupy the West Bank; a territory they hold legal title to; and a territory that was captured from the Hashemites, who do not hold legal title. However in Jordan proper, the largest community is that of the Palestinians who do not identify with the Hashemites or their tribal backers. These two groups have been historically hostile toward each other. In fact, in 1970 they fought a civil war against each other called Black September. And when the Syrian Army threatened to enter the civil war on the side of the Palestinians, it was Israel which blocked the move and in the process saved the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan has been a moderate, pro-Western monarchy since its inception. It has also been a crucial buffer state for Israel from the extreme danger of a militant Iraq, Syria, and now Iran. But Jordan is fast becoming a failed state. And such a development does not bode well for a region embroiled in chaos, and constantly in turmoil. However, the question of the future of Palestine simply cannot be addressed without the realization that the region of the Transjordan (eastern Palestine) must play some essential role in any democratic outcome to the Palestinian-Israeli-Hashemite Conflict. It is in the totality of the entire originally mandated region — eastern, central and western Palestine, i.e., Jordan, the West Bank. and Israel — that a peaceful solution rests. It is crucial that Jordan be included. And it is also crucial that in any eventual settlement that democracy must triumph. Because it is only under the conditions of moderation and democracy that the Palestinian people will be able to achieve the self-determination they seek. Not Palestinian liberation, but moderation and democracy are the keys to a fruitful future.

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