The palace intrigue rocking Jordan took a mysterious turn on Monday when the former crown prince, who claimed he was under house arrest after being accused of plotting a coup against his half-brother the king, vowed to “escalate” the situation—only to have the royal family later release a statement suggesting he had acquiesced.
In the voice recording released Monday, a defiant Prince Hamzah bin Hussein said that he “won’t obey” government orders to remain silent and isolated—the most confrontational display of dissent Jordan has seen from a royal in recent years.
But by evening time in Jordan, the situation had become even murkier. Jordan’s Royal Court released a letter purported to be from Hamzah in which he sounded contrite.
“I place myself in the hands of his majesty the king... I will remain committed to the constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” it read.
It was the latest confusing turn in a drama that began Saturday when The Washington Post had reported that Hamzah, along with roughly 20 other high-ranking Jordanian officials, had been detained for plotting to unseat the sitting monarch—Hamzah’s half-brother—King Abdullah II. Senior intelligence and palace officials had told the Post that the alleged plot was elaborate and backed by foreign entities, threatening the kingdom’s stability and security.
Initially, palace officials had denied reports that Hamzah’s movements had been restricted. But then Hamzah blew apart the royal family’s decades-old golden rule—to keep infighting behind closed doors—by recording and leaking to the BBC a video of himself explaining what had taken place. In it, he described a visit from a top military official who had ordered him not to leave his house or communicate with anyone outside of his family.
“It may be the last time I am able to communicate,” said the 41-year-old prince, who claimed that he had effectively been placed under house arrest. “I have spoken with people and tried to remain connected to people in the hope that they realize that there are members of this family who still love this country… apparently that is a crime worthy of isolation, threats, and now being cut off.”
In the video, the prince denied being part of a larger conspiracy with foreign ties, but lambasted Jordan’s “ruling system” for being “stymied in corruption, in nepotism and in misrule.”
“It has reached the point where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened,” he said, adding that his phone and internet lines were getting cut off. “I pray that all Jordanians will remember that I have always tried to serve them to the best of my ability with what limited resources I have had, that I always will.”
It wasn’t the first sign of tension between Hamzah and the rest of the royal family. Hamzah had been named crown prince in 1999, making him next in line for the throne—but in 2004, the king transferred the title to his eldest son, 26-year-old Prince Hussein. In Jordan’s Arab Spring demonstrations a decade ago, protesters had called for Hamzah to take King Abdullah’s place as the sitting monarch—the mere suggestion of which had landed some people in prison.
Hamzah’s video prompted the government to dispense with niceties and issue an unabashed accusation against the former crown prince. They lumped him in with one of Jordan’s most notoriously corrupt public figures, suggested he was backed by an Israeli operative, and associated his name with all the necessary buzzwords required to quash any support he may have garnered from the general public.
In a press conference Sunday, Jordan’s deputy prime minister announced that the activities the prince and his associates had engaged in had met the threshold of “promoting sedition.” He stated that the prince had been plotting in coordination with Bassem Awadallah, a highly unpopular Jordan government official who served as an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and whose reputation is mired in corruption scandals. A Jordanian state news agency also reported that a former Mossad intelligence agency officer had worked in cahoots with the prince to smuggle his family out of the country.
“Awadallah’s arrest was an intended distraction, and a necessary one,” Waterloo professor Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, told The Daily Beast.
“His name conjures up everything you would think about corruption in Jordan. But there’s another intended purpose in bringing Awadallah into this narrative: It’s a way of signaling that there is a foreign dimension,” said Momani, pointing to Awadallah’s Saudi Arabia ties.
The “Mossad agent” in question, Roy Shaposhnik, released a statement explaining that, while he did offer his personal friend, Hamzah, a place to stay, “he has never served in any capacity with any intelligence branch in Israel or any other country for that matter” despite the “salacious reporting” indicating otherwise.
Hamzah has publicly called out the government’s corruption in the past, and in the weeks leading up to the crackdown, had met with tribal leaders known to be his staunch supporters. While the veracity and extent of this alleged plot remains unclear, many in Jordan are doubtful of the carefully crafted narrative projected by the government, which seems to paint the prince as a foreign-backed traitor who had long been scheming to unseat the king, and alleges that the government had thwarted the plot at what it called the “zero hour” mark.
In a Sunday tweet, his American-born mother, Queen Noor, referred to the accusations made against Hamzah as “wicker slander.”
Momani explained that despite the “usual tropes” used by the government to steer the prince’s narrative into a certain direction, the majority of Jordanians are extremely averse to any unrest, especially considering Jordan’s struggling economy in the pandemic. “I think the vast majority is the silent majority. Those are the ones that just don’t want unrest. They don’t want disintegration.”
Still, speech and press freedom restrictions in Jordan are hard to deny—with most Jordanians first hearing of the incident through social platforms or Western media outlets rather than their local news agencies. The U.S. has largely turned a blind eye to the kingdom’s stifling of free speech, viewing Jordan—which borders Israel, Iraq, and Syria—as a key strategic ally, and any risks to its security as potentially destabilizing for the entire region.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price was straightforward about where the U.S. stands in the royal clash, tweeting Saturday that “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.” Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and a dozen other allies issued similar statements.
The future for Hamzah is unclear, but the statement put out by the Royal Court on Monday is a far cry from the unrelenting defiance he showed over the weekend. It also came after Hamzah offered a preemptive warning about “the official line” issued by the kingdom.
“It is clear to the world,” he said in his leaked video statement, “that what you see and hear, in terms of the official line, is not a reflection of the realities on the ground.”