In an unprecedented attempt to control the messaging on a simmering feud embroiling the Jordanian monarchy, Amman’s prosecutor general on Tuesday banned the publication of any information about the royal rift.
“In order to keep the security services’ investigation into Prince Hamzah and the others secret, [it is decided] to ban the publication of anything related to this inquiry at this stage,” prosecutor Hassan al-Abdallat said on state television. “The ban on publication involves all audiovisual media and social networks, as well as the publication of all images or video clips relating to this subject on pain of legal action.”
The kingdom-wide gag order came within hours after a secret recording of Hamzah and Gen. Yousef Huneiti, the military chief of staff, was released. In the recording, Huneiti can be heard accusing the former crown prince of conspiring with those critical of the ruling class, who he says “started talking more than they should.”
Hamzah can be heard becoming irate, raising his voice and accusing the general of threatening him.
“You come to me and tell me in my house what to do and who to meet with in my country and from my people? Are you threatening me?… You come to my house and tell me you and security leaders are threatening me? Not to leave your house, only go to your family and don’t tweet?” Hamzah says, according to the Associated Press account of the recording. “The bad performance of the state is because of me? The failure is because of me? Forgive me, but the mistakes are my fault?”
Huneiti then appears to try to calm the situation, telling the prince he is only a messenger, delivering the news of the house arrest from the heads of intelligence and general security. Hamzah interrupts, according to the AP, commanding him to leave. “Get in your car, sir!” he says.
At no time is there a mention of a foreign plot or Hamzah’s alleged conspiring with foreign powers.
Over the weekend, Hamzah, the half-brother of ruling King Abdullah and first son of American-born Queen Noor, released a series of cryptic messages to the BBC and others about what he called house arrest. At least 16 of his close associates were also reportedly taken into custody. Representatives of the kingdom denied that he was being detained in any way.
Prince Hamzah’s mother, the last wife of the late King Hussein, who died in 1999, tweeted support for her son on April 4. “Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe,” she wrote.
Hamzah was essentially dethroned and stripped of his crown prince status in 2004 when his half-brother King Abdullah II, the first son of King Hussein, tried to consolidate power. Hamzah is accused of becoming increasingly highly critical of his step-brother’s rule, and over the weekend was accused of orchestrating what the government called a “malicious plot” involving foreign powers to “destabilize the kingdom’s security.”
After the accusations, wild conspiracy theories swirled while major allies of Jordan in the Gulf region quickly expressed support for the kingdom, lest they be accused of being part of the foreign involvement.
Daoud Kuttab, director-general of the nonprofit media organization Community Media Network, told Al Jazeera that the problem was an “internal criticism” issue. “Former Crown Prince Hamzah has been making the rounds, especially in tribal areas, and that is a kind of a red line for the government and for the king,” Kuttab told Al Jazeera. “These are the strongest supporters of the monarchy and the ones who are more courageous in standing up to government corruption. So I think that’s what has really upset people in the palace.”
On Monday, Hamzah suddenly appeared to change tack, pledging his allegiance to Abdullah, just hours after publicly declaring he would not be silenced. “I don’t want to make moves and escalate now, but of course I’m not going to obey when they say you can’t go out, you can’t tweet, you can’t communicate with people, you’re only allowed to see your family,” Hamzah said through a voice message early Monday.
Then, after what is reported as a “mediation” between the former crown prince and his half-brother’s representatives, he issued a letter vowing his obedience. “I place myself in the hands of His Majesty the King,” he wrote in a letter released by the kingdom. “I will remain committed to the constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and I will always be of help and support to His Majesty the King and his Crown Prince.”
The letter went on to say, “The interests of the homeland must remain above every consideration. We must all stand behind the king in his efforts to protect Jordan and its national interests.”
A few hours later, the prosecutor general banned any further public discussion of the matter, making it illegal to report on what happens next inside the kingdom.