Jordanian authorities raided the palace of the kingdom’s former crown prince on Saturday and arrested two senior aides after uncovering what intelligence officials believe was an attempted coup against the ruling monarch, King Abdullah.
The arrests focused on a network allegedly connected to Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, a half-brother of King Abdullah, who was removed from his post 16 years ago.
Prince Hamzah said in a video recording he was under house arrest and had been told to stay at home and not contact anyone.
Speaking in English in the video, passed by his lawyer to the BBC, he said he was not part of any foreign conspiracy and denounced the ruling system as corrupt.
“(Jordanians’) well being has been put second by a ruling system that has decided that its personal interests, financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and future of the 10 million people who live here,” he said.
Jordan’s military leadership denied reports that Prince Hamzah had been arrested. However, intelligence officials in the region and in Europe said they believed the prominent royal had in effect been placed under house arrest.
Roads near Prince Hamzah’s palace in the Jordanian capital Amman were blocked by military units late on Saturday, and police patrolled all entrances to the city and highways to other parts of the country.
Military chief Yusef Ahmed al-Hunait said in a statement that he had been “asked to stop movements and activities that were used to target the security and stability of Jordan”.
The arrested aides were named by state media as Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah. Bin Zaid had previously served as Jordanian envoy to Saudi Arabia and is the brother of a senior Jordanian intelligence officer who was assassinated in 2009 by an al-Qaida double agent in Afghanistan. The suicide attack also killed five CIA officers.
Awadallah, meanwhile, had served as head of the royal court and was considered by western officials to have been particularly close to King Abdullah. A government statement described the alleged plot as “advanced” and claimed it had regional links.
Turki al-Sheikh, an adviser to the Saudi royal court, later tweeted a series of photographs of King Abdullah and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, with the accompanying remark “No comment, the pictures speak (for themselves)”. Riyadh also released a brief statement saying: “We stand by Jordan and support the decisions of King Abdullah II to preserve the security of his country.”
Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine also all backed King Abdullah, as did the Arab League.
The US state department said King Abdullah was a “key partner” and had its full backing.
Queen Noor, widow of King Abdullah and Prince Hamzah’s father, the late King Hussein, described the allegation against Hamzah as “wicked slander” and sent prayers for “truth and justice”.
Arrests of top officials and royal family members are rare in Jordan, seen as one of the Arab world’s most stable countries.
Abdullah, who has ruled the kingdom since the death King Hussein in 1999, had not been thought to have faced serious organised opposition throughout his two-decade reign. Balancing the country’s powerful tribes alongside dwindling revenues, a combustible parliament and a series of fragile governments had been especially challenging since the Covid-19 pandemic struck. But the kingdom had widely been viewed as a bastion of stability in an otherwise turbulent region.
One point of friction has been Jordan’s relationship with its powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, which has historically backed the kingdom financially, but whose stance towards Amman had shifted under Prince Mohammed.
Jordan feared it had grown increasingly marginalised in the region as Bin Salman’s influence over Saudi foreign policy has grown. Amman once drew power from its status as the Arab world’s key interlocutor with Israel, but as ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel have warmed and the Jewish state has signed “peace deals” with Saudi allies, that role has waned.
Bin Salman is also thought to be less concerned about pushing for the creation of a viable Palestinian state, increasing the possibility that Jordan may have to fully regularise its own significant Palestinian population or absorb parts of the neighbouring West Bank – both possibilities that are seen as existential threats to the Jordanian monarchy.
Reports of Saudi meddling in Jordanian offers have been common, part of a decades-long struggle for influence between the two royal houses. The Hashemites who rule Jordan also controlled holy sites including Mecca and Medina until they were captured by the House of Saud nearly a century ago.
Amman last year issued a statement heading off suggestions of a threat to Abdullah’s custodianship of the Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and a key plank of his family’s legitimacy, amid rumours that Israel might recognise Saudi control of the site as part of a wider diplomatic accord between the pair.