A Jordanian royal family member has lashed out at the ruling elite in rare criticism after several former high-level officials were arrested in what the military said was a threat against national security.
Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein â€“ a half brother of King Abdullah II and popular figure in Jordan â€“ said he had been placed under house arrest, a claim the military denied.
Others close to Hamzah were arrested, however, including Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah, a former head of the royal court in 2007-08, according to the official Petra news agency.
Awadallah also previously served as finance and planning minister and has private business interests throughout the Gulf region. The agency did not provide further details or name of the others who were arrested.
Queen Noor, widow of the late King Hussein of Jordan, denounced on Sunday the allegations by the authorities against her son Prince Hamza.
â€œPraying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander,â€ she wrote on Twitter. â€œGod bless and keep them safe.â€
Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander. God bless and keep them safe.
â€” Noor Al Hussein (@QueenNoor) April 4, 2021
Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East analyst, said while the situation is ambiguous, the arrests are a clear sign of turmoil in the upper echelons of Jordanâ€™s ruling hierarchy.
â€œBassem Awadallah was a longtime confidante of the king and was at one time a minister of finance and he has been arrested along with several others very close to the heart of the royal court,â€ she told Al Jazeera.
â€œIt is not clear what the role Prince Hamzah played in this, but clearly there has been a division in the court that has led the security forces to consider this an utmost danger to the stability of Jordanâ€™s government.â€
In a video sent to the BBC, Prince Hamzah said a number of his friends had been arrested, his security detail removed, and his internet and phone lines cut.
â€œI am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption and the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years, and has been getting worse every year. I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in institutions, they are responsible,â€ the prince said in the video.
Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science atÂ Long Island University, said Jordanâ€™s moribund economy was likely a driving force behind the political turmoil. Â She noted the countryâ€™s foreign debt has reached $35bn â€“ or 95 percent of Jordanâ€™s gross domestic product (GDP).
â€œWhen you have a country that is hurting economically, opposition forces or opposition within the government can rise and say â€˜we havenâ€™t had political reform, especially since the Arab Springâ€™,â€ she said.
â€œThe economic reforms are failing today â€¦ This [the arrests] is probably not going to lead anywhere, but what the king has to do is raise the austerity measures. Itâ€™s going to be very difficult because of the conditions the IMF has placed on him to reduce that debt-to-GDP ratio in order for the IMF loans to continue.
â€œSo domestically, it is going to be a tough time for the king. In terms of international relations and where he stands in the region, there probably wonâ€™t be any changes,â€ Fahmy told Al Jazeera.
Security, stability a â€˜red lineâ€™
Jordanâ€™s state-run press warned on Sunday against attempts to harm the â€œsecurity and stabilityâ€ of the kingdom, the day after the detentions.
In a front-page editorial, official newspaper Al-Rai said, â€œYesterdayâ€™s security operation is an expression of a red line that must not be crossed or even approached, and which is linked to the supreme interests of the kingdom, its security and stability.â€
â€œSome people are trying to create the illusion of an attempted coup in Jordan, and trying to implicate Prince Hamzah in their sick fantasies,â€ it continued. â€œAll that happened was that some of the princeâ€™s actions were used to target Jordanâ€™s security and stability.â€
Pro-government newspaper Addustour did not publish an editorial about Saturdayâ€™s events, but carried official statements and reported â€œmoves to target Jordanâ€™s securityâ€ had been â€œthwartedâ€.
â€˜Not part of any conspiracyâ€™
It is rare for a senior member of the ruling family to express such harsh criticism of the government.
Hamzah said he had been informed he was being punished for taking part in meetings in which the king had been criticised, though he said he was not accused of joining in the criticism.
He then lashed out at the â€œruling systemâ€ without mentioning the king by name, saying it had decided â€œthat 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 hereâ€.
â€œIâ€™m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out,â€ he said. â€œThere are members of this family who still love this country, who care for [its people] and will put them above all else.
â€œApparently, that is a crime worthy of isolation, threats and now being cut off,â€ he added.
General Yousef Huneiti, the army chief of staff, denied reports that Prince Hamzah had been arrested. He said an investigation is still ongoing and its results will be made public â€œin a transparent and clear formâ€.
â€œNo one is above the law and Jordanâ€™s security and stability take precedence over any consideration,â€ Huneiti was quoted as saying by the Petra news agency.
King Abdullah stripped his half-brother Hamzah of his title as crown prince in 2004, saying he had decided to â€œfreeâ€ him from the â€œconstraints of the positionâ€ to allow him to take on other responsibilities.
The move was seen at the time as part of Abdullahâ€™s consolidation of power five years after the succession.
The current crown prince is Abdullahâ€™s oldest son, Hussein, 26. Abdullah and Hamzah have not displayed any open rivalry over the years.
Hamzah, who holds no official position, is the eldest son of late King Al Hussein bin Talal and his American wife Queen Noor. He is a popular figure close to tribal leaders.