TEL AVIV - The government of Jordan on Sunday accused former crown prince Hamzeh bin Hussein and several of his associates of cooperating with foreign entities to pursue a long-term plot to destabilize the kingdom, a day after arrests targeted up to 20 high-level officials.
"These were efforts that threatened Jordan's security and stability, and these efforts were foiled," Deputy Prime Minister Ayman al-Safadi said.
In the televised news conference, he said extensive investigations carried out by Jordan's security forces concluded that Hamzeh, along with Sharif Hasan, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadullah, a former senior official in the royal court and special Jordanian representative to the Saudi government, had engaged in activities that amounted to "promoting sedition."
They included cultivating relationships with members of the Jordanian opposition abroad as well as evidence of a person with foreign ties offering services to Hamzeh's wife, including the immediate use of a private jet to leave Jordan.
Safadi said that King Abdullah attempted to resolve the issue through a request by the joint chiefs of staff but that Hamzeh refused to cooperate.
The government proposed that the cases be referred to the state's security courts, though it also announced that Abdullah would first discuss the matter directly with the prince, under house arrest in his Amman palace since Saturday, to deal with the issue "within the framework of the family," Safadi said.
In a clear message that no dissent or criticism against the king would be tolerated, the head of the Jordanian parliament, Faysal al-Fayez, said earlier in the day that the "the king is a red line" and the country would stand against 'any trembling traitorous hand that aims to mess with out security and stability."
But the monarch is taking a risk in pitting itself against the widely popular Hamzeh, whose Twitter hashtag has been trending since Saturday, and his American-born mother, Queen Noor.
"Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe," Noor tweeted Sunday.
Yasser Majali, the head of Hamzeh's office; Sheikh Sameer Majali; and several other senior members of the influential Majali tribe who serve in prominent positions in the government and military, also were detained Saturday.
In a statement released Sunday, the Majali tribe described the arrests as "unlawful" and the event as a "black day in the history of Jordan."
Hamzeh, 41, the king's half brother, served as Jordan's crown prince for four years until 2004, when the title was transferred to Abdullah's eldest son, Hussein.
Hamzeh has held multiple positions within the monarchy and holds the rank of brigadier general. He is widely popular in Amman and, with his trim mustache and checkered kaffiyeh headdress, is often likened to his father, the late King Hussein.
On Saturday evening, Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti, the chief of staff of the Jordanian army, issued a statement saying that Hamzeh had not been detained but was "asked to stop movements and activities that were being employed to target Jordan's security and stability," adding that "all the procedures were conducted within the framework of the law and after extensive investigations."
Several hours later, Hamzeh sent a video to the BBC in which he said he was forbidden from communicating with people or using Twitter after being told that he had participated in meetings in which the king was criticized. The video accused the government of corruption, incompetence and intolerance for dissent and was viewed as a scathing critique of the monarch - though Abdullah was not mentioned by name.
"I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse . . . and I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in their institutions," Hamzeh says in the video. "It has reached a point where no one is able to speak or express opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened."
Amid rumors of "foreign" involvement in the alleged plot, Jordan's neighbors were quick to voice support for the monarch.
"The kingdom affirms its full support, with all its capabilities, to all decisions and measures taken by King Abdullah and His Highness Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, the Crown Prince, to maintain security and stability," the Saudi royal court said in a statement.
Emirati official Anwar Gargash said on Twitter that Jordan's stability was a priority for the region and that the country's "wise policy of building bridges in a turbulent region was not an easy choice but was, and remains, the necessary direction."
The United States, which considers Jordan a critical ally and has partnered with the country for years on U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, said Abdullah had its "full support."
Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and other regional governments also quickly expressed support for Abdullah in what was seen in part as a testament to Jordan's strategic significance in the region.
"A strong, thriving Jordan is an Israeli security and economic interest and we need to do everything we can to assist them," Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement on Sunday. "As far as the internal developments there are concerned, that is a domestic issue."
Jordan, which is under a nightly coronavirus-related curfew that is set to expire in mid-May, has been hit hard economically by the coronavirus pandemic as well as the fallout from massive waves of refugees from neighboring Syria.
Last month, the Jordanian health minister resigned after seven covid deaths due to a shortage of oxygen supplies at government hospitals.
The following day, protesters defied the nighttime curfew and took to the streets to call on the government to resign. "Oh Hamzeh, son of Hussein, the country is lost, where are you?" they chanted, referring to the former crown prince.
For activists who have long protested systemic corruption, the events of this weekend signaled more repression ahead. "What was whispered in closed circles is now out in the open," said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Amman-based Community Media Network, who said low-level protests in the capital have been met with outsize punitive measures in recent months. "The official media is totally silent, and we know that there is much more to the story that we are not seeing."
Abdullah has ruled the country since his father's death in 1999. He has cultivated strong ties with several U.S. administrations, but, in recent years, sparred with President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over proposed Israeli plans to annex the West Bank and bypass the Palestinians in a bid for normalizing Israeli ties with the rest of the Arab world.
"If things spin out of control, it will be difficult for Israel to contribute to helping that, especially since Israel has not managed its bilateral relations with Jordan very well and has, in fact, added completely unnecessary tensions," said Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
In Jordan, that news of the alleged coup has gone public by way of brief statements and virtual silence from the local press has spurred speculation that the coup may be a cover story for another political maneuver, said Jordanian political analyst Amer Sabaileh.
"There is a lot of confusion, but in Jordan everyone is asking for reform, not to topple the government. I don't see the elements for a plot," Sabaileh said. "What we do know is that there are some mediocre people who are running the show when it comes to politics, and, after yesterday, the government is under even more pressure to make themselves seem credible."
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Dadouch reported from Beirut and Luck from Amman.