Rift in Jordan’s royal leadership is soothed, palace says

By Patrick Kingsley and Rana F. Sweis

A rare public rift within the Jordanian ruling family seemed to edge toward resolution late Monday, as the royal house first announced that King Abdullah II and his estranged half brother, Prince Hamzah, had agreed to mediation measures, and then released a statement in which the prince was quoted as pledging loyalty to the king.

The royal court said Prince Hassan — an uncle of the two men, and brother of former King Hussein — had helped settle their long-simmering dispute, which exploded into public view Saturday when Prince Hamzah was accused of having plotted to undermine the country’s security.

The uncle’s intervention seemed to quickly de-escalate a standoff that had sent jitters through Jordan’s foreign allies who value the kingdom as an oasis of relative calm in a tense region; as a key partner in military efforts to curb Islamist extremism; and as an important player in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Within hours of the mediation announcement, the palace released a second statement, bearing Prince Hamzah’s signature, in which he was quoted as praising the king and confirming his fealty.

“The interest of the nation comes above all else and we all should stand behind His Majesty in his efforts to protect Jordan and its interests of the nation,” the prince was quoted as saying.

The statement added, “In light of the developments of the past two days I put myself in the hands of the king, following the steps of my forefathers.”

Questions, however, hung over the apparent easing of the rift, which seemed as abrupt as the exposure of it two days earlier. The prince’s whereabouts Monday night, for example, remained undisclosed. He has not been seen in public since he claimed on Saturday to have been placed under house arrest.

Tensions between the two men boiled over Saturday, when the Jordanian government hinted that the prince, aided by unidentified foreigners, had been involved in a botched coup attempt.

The prince then fired back with a pair of self-filmed videos, in which he made an unusually forceful criticism of the country’s leadership but denied links to any putsch and said he had been placed under house arrest.

The prince’s apparent reconciliation statement Monday was a stark change from a tone of defiance in an audio recording released earlier by his supporters, which had suggested the prince would not be easily silenced.

The feud shocked both Jordanians and foreign observers. The Jordanian royal family has historically managed to keep its disagreements behind closed doors, a skill that contributed to the kingdom’s image as a bulwark of stability in a turbulent neighborhood.

The reconciliation signals should allow Jordan to return to the status quo, analysts said.

“The worst is behind us,” said Jawad Anani, a former chief of the royal court and an ex-foreign minister. “I’m sure the process will lead to some conciliatory decision where they will go back to one unified family.”

When King Abdullah succeeded their father, King Hussein, in 1999, he appeared to have a good working relationship with his half brother — quickly appointing Prince Hamzah as his crown prince.

King Abdullah, 59, is the son of Hussein’s second wife, Princess Muna, while Prince Hamzah, 41, is the son of Hussein’s fourth wife, the American-born Queen Noor.

Their disagreement seems to date back to 2004, when the king removed the prince from his role as crown prince, later replacing Hamzah with his young son, Hussein.

Any resulting animosity was initially kept away from the public eye. But in recent years, Prince Hamzah became less cautious in his public pronouncements, criticizing Jordan’s governance and alleging widespread corruption among its political leadership.

In 2018, he demanded “real action against the rife corruption taking place, for the corrupt to be accountable and to build back trust between the state and the people.”

But none of this prepared Jordanians for the drama that unfolded over the weekend, when the government accused Prince Hamzah of involvement in a conspiracy to undermine the security of the state and arrested several of his aides.

The Jordanian foreign minister said the prince had been working with Bassem Awadallah, a former chief of the royal court who later became an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

To clear his name, Prince Hamzah released two videos in which he denied any involvement in a conspiracy and claimed that he was held under house arrest — a charge the government denied. He also denounced the government for corruption, incompetence and authoritarian behavior, in an unusually strident condemnation.

“Even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services, and it’s 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.

Freedom House, an American monitoring group that makes an annual report about each country’s rights record, recently downgraded its assessment of Jordanian democracy — from “partly free” to “not free.”

To many Jordanians, the allegations against Prince Hamzah seemed odd — even before his announced reconciliation with the king Monday evening. On public policy, Prince Hamzah and Awadallah do not share much common ground.

The prince presents himself as a campaigner for good governance, whereas Awadallah was often a target of government critics during his time in office. And while Prince Hamzah has taken care to present himself as a representative of Jordan’s native tribes, Awadallah is one of the many Jordanian citizens descended from families of Palestinian origin.

“The two did not have much in common,” said Anani, the former minister. “I don’t think it was a meeting of minds.”