Jordan’s Prince Hamza defies the military in new recording

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    AMMAN — Jordan’s estranged Prince Hamza said in a voice recording released on Monday that he would disobey orders by the army not to communicate with the outside world after he was put under house arrest and accused of trying to destabilize the country.

    The half-brother of King Abdullah and former heir to the throne said in the recording released by the country’s opposition that he would not comply after being barred from any activity and told to keep quiet.

    While Prince Hamza is not seen as a direct threat to the king, his actions suggest he is keen to shore up his position with ordinary Jordanians after he was removed from the royal succession.

    “For sure I won’t obey when they tell you that you cannot go out or tweet or reach out to people but are only allowed to see the family. I expect this talk is not acceptable in any way,” he said in the recording he circulated to friends and contacts.

    On Saturday the military warned the prince over actions it said were undermining “security and stability” in Jordan. Prince Hamza later said he was under house arrest. Several high-profile figures were also detained.

    “The situation is difficult … and the chief of staff came to me warning me and I taped his words and distributed it to friends abroad and my family in case something happens and now I am waiting to see what they will do,” Hamza said in the recording, which appeared shortly after the visit by the head of the armed forces.

    Officials announced on Sunday that Prince Hamza had liaised with people who had contacts with foreign parties in a plot to destabilize Jordan and he had been under investigation for some time.

    The intrigue is likely to shake Jordan’s image as a haven of stability in the unpredictable Middle East.

    It is unclear why the kingdom decided to crack down on Prince Hamza now, but he put himself at growing risk by stepping up visits in recent weeks to tribal gatherings where the king and his government have been criticized more openly.

    Public anger has also increased since nine COVID-19 patients died when oxygen ran out in a newly-built state hospital, exposing negligence blamed on official mismanagement and corruption. Protests were broken up with tear gas, further fueling tension.

    A populist, Hamza went to the homes of those killed to pay condolences in an attempt to upstage the monarch who had earlier gone to the hospital to defuse anger, officials say.

    Officials said efforts were underway to resolve the crisis within the royal family, the first such open rift in many years, but Prince Hamza was not cooperative.

    King Abdullah removed Prince Hamza from his position as heir to the throne in 2004, in a move that consolidated his power.

    In a video passed to the BBC by his lawyer on Saturday, Prince Hamza accused Jordan’s leaders of corruption, in an apparent attempt to tap into the public’s frustrations.

    Prince Hamza is not seen as a threat to the monarchy, which enjoys the full support of the army and security services but has gained sympathy among Jordanians skeptical of the government’s accusations about his foreign links, saying it was a campaign to defame him.

    “This is character assassination without evidence,” said Ali R. al Tarawneh in a tweet.

    Others felt he was only driven by revenge at being sidelined after he was sacked as heir to the throne and was trying to win popularity in tribal gatherings by emulating in tone and language his late father, who is revered by many of his countrymen.

    His wife, Queen Noor, had groomed him as a future king.

    Prince Hamza angered the royal palace by his efforts to endear himself to a poor tribal constituency that has in recent years felt the impact of a shrinking economy and the inability of the state to continue to create state jobs that have long absorbed tribesmen in rural and Bedouin areas.

    Officials said between 14 and 16 people had been arrested in connection with the plot.

    The state news agency said on Saturday that Bassem Awadallah, a US-educated confidant of the king who later became minister of finance and adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and royal family member Sharif Hassan Ben Zaid were among those detained.

    Jordan’s neighbors and allies expressed solidarity with King Abdullah over the security measures in the kingdom, an important ally of the United States. — Reuters