Jordan arrests high-profile figures, including a royal, for ‘security’ reasons

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By Rana F. Sweis, Isabel Kershner and Nicholas Kulish

AMMAN — The Jordanian government has arrested high-profile figures in the kingdom, including a member of the royal family and a former chief of the royal court, with officials citing “the security and stability of Jordan” as intrigue consumed the country Saturday (3).

Bassem Awadallah, a long-time confidant of King Abdullah II who later became minister of finance, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family who was the former royal envoy to Saudi Arabia, were detained along with other unnamed figures.

Awadallah helped spearhead economic reforms before leaving as head of the royal court in 2008. More recently, he was an adviser to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and he was accused in a corruption case.

The fate of the former crown prince of Jordan, Hamzah bin Hussein, a half brother of the king, was unclear. In a statement published Saturday night by the Petra news agency, the Jordanian army and security services denied reports that Hamzah had been arrested. It said that he had been ordered to cease activities and movements aimed at undermining “the security and stability of Jordan.”

But in a dramatic video, apparently filmed Saturday as he was under house arrest, the former crown prince described how he had been ordered to remain in his home incommunicado with his wife and children as part of the crackdown by security services.

“Since then, a number of the people I know or my friends have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the internet and phone lines have been cut,” Hamzah said. “This is my last form of communication, satellite internet, that I have, and I have been informed by the company that they are instructed to cut it, so it may be the last time I am able to communicate.”

Malik Dahlan, an international lawyer, confirmed that the video was of Hamzah, who serves on the board of his Institution Quraysh for Law & Policy in London, and expressed concern about “the escalation of the situation.”

Hamzah said in the video that he was “making this recording to make it clear that 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.”

Arrests of top officials and royal family members are unusual in Jordan, a normally stable Arab kingdom that has been a stalwart ally of the West, particularly when it comes to counterterrorism cooperation in the Middle East. It borders Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Syria and Iraq.

“We are closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said in a statement. “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”

King Abdullah II, 59, has reigned since 1999, when he took the throne after the death of his father, King Hussein. The current crown prince is Abdullah’s son, Hussein bin Abdullah, 26.

Hamzah is the eldest son of King Hussein and Queen Noor, his fourth wife and widow, who was born to a Syrian American family. Hamzah was named crown prince of Jordan in 1999, but his half brother, Abdullah, transferred the title to his son in 2004.

Hamzah is often photographed meeting with tribal figures and is known to be popular, especially among tribal and East Bank Jordanians, for his uncanny resemblance to his father, who was beloved by many in the kingdom.

His recent meetings with tribal leaders across Jordan and posts on Twitter in 2018 that included the rousing words, “Oh my country”,  caused a stir in the kingdom. His close ties with tribal figures and his visits to tribal elders at their invitation were broadly viewed as his way of showing his relevance and closeness to people.

Jordan has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic: more than 600,000 confirmed cases overall, more than 7,000 deaths in a population of about 11 million, and new daily cases averaging about 6,500 over the past week.

Although its government largely escaped the turmoil of the popular uprisings across the Middle East that began a decade ago in what became known as the Arab Spring, Jordan has absorbed a massive influx of about 650,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war that raged across its northern border, further stretching its already limited resources.

The situation in Jordan was being watched closely in neighbouring Israel, which signed a peace treaty with the kingdom in 1994 and maintains close security ties with it.

In his video, Hamzah said he had been visited by the chief of the military’s general staff, who told him there had been criticism of the king or the government at meetings where the prince was present.

“I asked him if I was the one criticizing, and he said no,” he said. “He said but this was a warning from him, from the chief of police and from the chief of the security services, the mukhabarat, that I should not leave my house, that I could only visit family, that I could not tweet and that I could not communicate with people,” Hamzah said.

He described Jordan as corrupt, incompetent and intolerant of any criticism.

“Even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services, and it’s reached the point where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened,” he said.

Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said that while the situation in Jordan was still unclear, “It doesn’t seem to be threatening the leadership for now,” adding that authorities had “dealt with it quickly and apparently efficiently.”

The Saudi royal court voiced its support for King Abdullah on Saturday.

“The kingdom affirms its full support, with all its capabilities, to all decisions and measures taken by King Abdullah and His Highness Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, the crown prince, to maintain security and stability,” said a statement from the Saudi royal court published by Reuters.

-New York Times

 

 

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