April 9, 2021
IntelBrief: Instability in Jordan? Palace Intrigue in the Hashemite Kingdom
The recent dustup in Jordan occurred as a result of longstanding tensions between King Abdullah II, and his half-brother, Prince Hamza bin Hussein, the former crown prince. King Abdullah II has led Jordan since succeeding his father, King Hussein, in 1999, who had ruled Jordan for four decades. Prince Hamza was removed as crown prince in 2004, with King Abdullah II installing his son as the new crown prince. Prince Hamza was linked to Bassem Awadallah, a former finance minister who recently worked for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the Jordanian royal family. In a speech last weekend, Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi suggested that there could be an element of foreign interference with the alleged coup. Prince Hamza denied accusations of foreign linkages, and to date, no evidence has been offered to suggest a foreign connection. Still, there has been speculation of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, with regional actors potentially seeking to destabilize Jordan and elevate other countries in the region at the same time, and seeking to assume Jordan’s role as a principal US ally. To this end, Prince Hamza may just have been used as an unwitting cog in a more complicated plot, exposed before it could generate meaningful consequences.
Nearly two dozen people were rounded up as the investigation continues into whether this was an attempted coup, though the incident has been widely presented as just a familial disagreement that spilled out into the public. At no point was there a concern that members of Jordan’s military or intelligence were involved. Although Prince Hamza was outspoken in launching accusations of corruption against the current government, he subsequently reaffirmed his commitment to the king and the Jordanian constitution in a letter. Several analysts construed his remarks as reflecting widespread discontent among the population, not something he did individually as political activism, a point underscored by reports he had conferred with some tribal leaders before making his accusations. In recent years, Hamza has attempted to firm up support among politically influential tribes that maintain close relations with Jordan’s monarchy. With this week’s events, the crown prince was accused of harming national security and as such, King Abdullah II has started the process of bringing in mediators to help mend the situation. There is a strong desire by nearly all involved to keep this as an internal family matter, and King Abdullah II reached out to his uncle, Prince Hasan, to deal with the matter, in keeping with tribal custom among the Hashemites in Jordan.
Jordan has always been viewed as an island of stability in an otherwise volatile neighborhood, bordered by Syria, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia. Jordan mostly remained steady during the Arab Spring protests though a large-scale protest did erupt in 2018, which led to the resignation of the prime minister. The demonstrations convinced King Abdullah II of the severity of the impact of the price increases slated to affect the cost of fuel and electricity. Grievances commonly voiced amongst the Jordanian population include allegations of poor governance, corruption, and growing inequality. Last summer, the country’s teacher’s union was shut down and some of its leadership detained. There are concerns that following recent events, King Abdullah II may be tempted to crack down on any dissent, leading to an overcorrection and spurring blowback that could destabilize the country.
King Abdullah II has long been held in high regard in the United States, as Washington has relied on his steadying influence and views him as a highly reliable partner. U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price clarified Washington’s position, noting “the king has our full support, and that is in large part because Jordan is a close friend, it is an invaluable strategic partner.” The United States has troops and aircraft stationed in Jordan and has long worked closely with Jordanian intelligence, operating together to disrupt Salafi-jihadist terror networks. Especially during the Global War on Terror, Jordan served as an essential ally to the U.S. in counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which retaliated against the kingdom with the horrific video of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive. Jordan is also viewed as a crucial interlocutor between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2020, the U.S. provided Jordan with more than $1.5 billion worth of aid. Jordan has been one of the countries most directly impacted by the civil war in Syria. The country is home to over 660,000 Syrian refugees, and has long supported a large community of Palestinian refugees. Jordan has been hard hit by the coronavirus, and its economy has been a growing concern for some time. The unemployment rate reached 24.7%, and Jordan ranks among the highest COVID-19 infection and death rates per capita in the region. Global policymakers and diplomats now anxiously await the results of Jordan’s political mediation efforts to assess any lasting impacts of this dispute.