Jordan prince ‘under house arrest’ amid security crackdown

Jordanian authorities deny reports that former Crown Prince Hamzah was detained, but say he has been asked to stop ‘destabilising activities’.

King Abdullah had chosen Hamzah as his crown prince hours after their father died of cancer in February 1999, but stripped him of the title in 2004 [File: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

The half-brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II says he has been placed under house arrest and accused the kingdom’s “ruling system” of corruption, incompetence and harassment.

Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein’s videotaped statement on Saturday came after Jordan’s military denied reports of the former crown prince’s arrest, but said he had been asked to “stop some movements and activities that are being used to target Jordan’s security and stability”.

The military said the warning to Prince Hamza was part of a broader, continuing security investigation in which a former minister, a junior member of the royal family and unnamed others were detained.

The prince, however, insisted he was not part of any conspiracy and said in a video passed to the BBC by his lawyer that he “was not allowed to go out, to communicate with people or to meet with them”.

Prince Hamzah said he had been informed he was being punished for taking part in meetings in which the king had been criticised, though he said he was not accused of joining in the criticism.

People were no longer allowed to criticise the authorities or express an opinion “without being bullied, harassed or threatened,” he said, adding that the well being of Jordanians “has been put second by a ruling system that has decided that its personal interests, financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and future of the 10 million people who live here”.

Earlier, army chief Yousef Huneiti denied reports the prince had been arrested but said he was told to “stop activities that are being exploited to target Jordan’s security and stability”.

He said an investigation is continuing and its results will be made public “in a transparent and clear form”.

“No one is above the law and Jordan’s security and stability are above all,” he told the official Petra news agency.

Two people familiar with the situation told the Reuters news agency that security forces had arrived at the prince’s small palace and begun an investigation. King Abdullah dismissed Prince Hamza as heir to the throne in 2004 in a move that consolidated his power.

Ex-minister, royal family member arrested

Petra had earlier reported that Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah, a former head of the royal court, were detained. Awadallah also previously served as planning minister and finance minister and has private business interests throughout the Gulf region.

The agency did not provide further details or name the others who were arrested.

The Washington Post, citing a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official, said as many as 20 people were arrested. The detentions were part of an investigation into an alleged plot to unseat King Abdullah, it said.

A former United States official with knowledge of events in Jordan told Reuters the plot, which he described as credible and broad-based but not imminent, did not involve a “physical coup”. Rather, he said, those involved were planning to push for protests that would appear to be a “popular uprising with masses on the street” with tribal support.

Known as the Herak, the tribal figures have in recent weeks called for protests against corruption in a country hit hard by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, pushing unemployment to record levels and deepening poverty. The authorities had cracked down on several demonstrations, detaining dozens.

Jordan would investigate whether there was a foreign hand in the plot, said the former US official.

‘Internal rift’

Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science at the US-based Long Island University, said the developments in Jordan were “reflective of a domestic internal rift”.

“The statement by the former crown prince about corruption really is reflective of what’s been happening economically in Jordan,” Fahmy told Al Jazeera. “When you have a country that’s hurting economically, there comes a point when opposition within the government can rise … This is probably not going to go anywhere. But what the king has to do is lift some of the austerity measures.”

She added, “Domestically, it’s going to be a tough time for the king.”

King Abdullah had chosen Hamzah as his crown prince hours after their father, King Hussein, died of cancer in February 1999, but stripped the young prince of the title in 2004, saying he had decided to “free” him “from the constraints of the position of crown prince in order to give [him] the freedom to work and undertake any mission or responsibility I entrust [him] with”.

The current crown prince is Abdullah’s oldest son, Prince Hussein, aged 26.

The king has cultivated close relations with US and other Western leaders across the years, and Jordan was a key ally in the war against the ISIL (ISIS) group.

The country – which hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees – borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The US and several Arab countries voiced support for King Abdullah on Saturday.

“We are closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”

The Saudi royal court voiced its “full support” for King Abdullah and all decisions taken by him to maintain security and stability, while a spokesman for Egypt’s presidency wrote on Facebook that Cairo backed the king’s efforts “to maintain the security and stability of the kingdom against any attempts to undermine it”.

The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, as well as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council also said they stood by King Abdullah.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II laughs with his brother Crown Prince Hamzah, right, in 2001 [Yousef Allan/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies