JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Jordanian official on Sunday accused the country’s former crown prince of conspiring with foreign elements in a “malicious plot” that threatened national security.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters that the plot had been foiled at the “zero hour.”
“Then it was clear they moved from design and planning into action,” Safadi said. He said some 14-16 people are under arrest, in addition to two senior officials close to Prince Hamzah.
Safadi spoke a day after Hamzah, a half brother of King Abdullah II, was placed under house arrest, in a rare public clash between top members of the long-ruling family.
The unprecedented incident has raised concerns about stability in a country seen as a key Western ally in a volatile region and drawn an outpouring of support for Abdullah.
In a videotaped statement from house arrest, Hamzah accused the country’s leadership of corruption and incompetence.
Safadi, who also holds the title of deputy prime minister, said intelligence agents had been observing the plotters for some time and raised their concerns with the king. He said Hamzah was asked to “stop all these activities and movements that threaten Jordan and its stability,” but he refused.
Safadi did not identify the foreign countries allegedly involved in the plot. But he said a longtime senior official who has business ties in several Gulf Arab states, Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah, was involved and had been planning on leaving the country. He also said Awadallah had been trying to secure a plane for Hamzah’s wife to flee. Awadallah and a second senior official, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, are among the suspects in custody.
“There is a joint coordination between Awadallah and the prince but I will not go into the details,” Safadi said. He declined to say whether the prince would be charged with any crime.
Asked whether Hamzah could face charges, Safadi said that for the time being there were “amicable” attempts to deal with him, but added that “the kingdom’s stability and security transcends” everything.
The plot is totally contained. Our security and stability are not shaken.”
The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Arab countries across the Middle East issued strong statements in favor of Abdullah.
The swift show of support underscored Jordan’s strategic importance as an island of relative stability in the turbulent region. While the harsh criticism from a popular member of the ruling family could lend support to growing complaints about the kingdom’s poor governance, the king’s tough reaction also illustrated the limits to which he will accept public dissent.
Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian analyst, said Hamzah had crossed a red line by indicating he might be an alternative to the long-ruling king.
“This is something the king does not accept or tolerate,” he said. “This is why we are now witnessing what has happened. This file is now more or less closed.”
Early on Sunday, Hamzah’s mother, Queen Noor, expressed sympathy for “innocent victims.”
“Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe,” she tweeted.
In his video, Hamzah said he was visited early Saturday by the kingdom’s military chief and told he could not go out, communicate with people or meet with them. He said his phone and internet service were cut and his satellite internet, used to record the message, was being cut off as well.
He said he was told he was being punished for taking part in meetings in which the king had been criticized, though he said he was not accused of joining in the criticism.
Hamzah then lashed out at the “ruling system” without mentioning the king by name, saying it had decided “that its personal interests, that its financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and futures of the 10 million people that live here.”
“I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out,” he said. “There are members of this family who still love this country, who care for (its people) and will put them above all else.”
“Apparently, that is a crime worthy of isolation, threats and now being cut off,” he added.
Hamzah is a former crown prince who was stripped of that title by Abdullah in 2004, five years after becoming king following the death of their father, the late King Hussein.
Hamzah is a popular figure in Jordan, widely seen as pious and modest. It is extremely rare for senior members of the ruling family to clash so publicly.
Whatever damage the crisis might have inside Jordan, however, appeared to have little immediate effect on outside support for Abdullah.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”
The U.S. considers Jordan a major ally, granting it access to military equipment and assistance. U.S. special forces and other troops routinely train with the Jordanians. The kingdom hosts some 3,000 American troops.
Pro-U.S. Gulf Arab countries, which have many Jordanians working across public sector jobs, also immediately issued statements backing the king and his government.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said the kingdom’s royal court supported King Abdullah’s efforts “to maintain security and stability and defuse every attempt to influence them.”
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates similarly issued statements supporting Abdullah.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called Jordan a “strategic ally” and dismissed the turmoil as an “internal Jordanian matter.”
Stability in Jordan and the status of the king have long been matters of concern throughout the region, particularly during the Trump administration, which gave unprecedented support to Israel and sought to isolate the Palestinians, including by slashing funding for Palestinian refugees.
That placed Jordan, which serves as the custodian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem and is home to a large Palestinian population in a delicate position.
Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994. The countries maintain close security ties, but relations have otherwise been tense in recent years, largely due to differences linked to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
In early 2018, as then-President Donald Trump was threatening to cut aid to countries that did not support U.S. policies, the administration boosted assistance to Jordan by more than $1 billion over five years.
With Hamzah remaining under house arrest Sunday, it was unclear how long the standoff could continue without threatening Abdullah’s international standing.
Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch, said there has been a slow but steady slide in personal freedoms in Jordan in recent years.
“There’s no question that there’s been a real degradation in the space for critical political conversation and in terms of basic freedoms,” he said. “We’ve reached a real low point.”
Coogle cited the rise of the Islamic State group and the threat it posed to the Jordanian regime and the warming of ties between Israel and Gulf Arab countries during the Trump era, often at Jordan’s expense. He also pointed to the decline in Jordan’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has skyrocketed to some 25%, while the country has been saddled with an influx of some 1 million Syrian refugees.
AP correspondents Jon Gambrell in Dubai, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed reporting.