Jordan’s royal row deepens as recording of defiant prince emerges

Jordan’s royal row deepens as recording of defiant prince emerges

Jordan’s royal row deepens as recording of defiant prince emerges

A bitter dispute at the heart of Jordan’s royal family deepened on Monday after a defiant recording of the prince accused of plotting to destabilise the kingdom emerged, sending shockwaves across the Middle East.

The recording, which circulated on social media and which the FT was unable to authenticate, suggests that Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, a half-brother of 59-year-old King Abdullah, might not be ready to abide by orders not to go out, use Twitter or communicate with people.

The Associated Press said the authenticity of the recording was confirmed by “an individual close to the prince, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns”.

Prince Hamzah, 41, who was dismissed as heir apparent by his older brother in 2004 and has been a vocal critic of corruption within Jordan’s ruling system, has been at the centre of intrigue since the military warned him on Saturday to stop “activities” threatening the nation’s security and stability. He said he had been placed under house arrest, which the military has denied. 

Bassem Awadallah, former chief of staff to King Abdullah, was said by the Jordanian foreign minister to be among those arrested © AFP via Getty Images

A day later, Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister, accused Prince Hamzah of being part of a conspiracy to destabilise Jordan, a longtime partner of the west, in a plot that involved Jordanians, “foreign parties” and “external opposition”. In unusually public ructions among the elite, he said 16 to 18 people had been arrested, including Bassem Awadallah, a former finance minister and chief of staff to King Abdullah, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a minor member of the royal family.

Safadi said there had been contact between Awadallah and Sharif Hassan, and between the pair and Prince Hamzah.

“There was an effort targeting Jordan, its security and stability. Such [an] effort was thwarted and dealt with according to the law,” Safadi said. King Abdullah wants to deal with the issues related to Prince Hamzah privately, he added.

The extraordinary events in a country regarded as a haven of stability in the region, point to a rare public power struggle among the royal family, analysts based in Jordan said.

King of Jordan Abdullah II © REUTERS

Prince Hamzah has been one of the few people to criticise state corruption and poor governance publicly at a time when the authorities have become increasingly intolerant of dissent, the analysts said. The crackdown on criticism and protest has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safadi said on Sunday that a man linked to a foreign security service had contacted Prince Hamzah’s wife to offer a plane to fly them out of the kingdom.

Roy Shaposhnik, an Israeli defence consultant residing in Europe, said in a statement released on Sunday that he made the offer as a “humanitarian gesture” between friends. He rejected allegations he was involved in a plot against King Abdullah. According to a person close to Shaposhnik, the 41-year-old has lived outside Israel for over a decade.

Roy Shaposhnik said he had ‘never served in any capacity with any intelligence branch in Israel or any other country’

Shaposhnik in a statement posted on Facebook said that after Prince Hamzah expressed concern for the safety of his family he offered to let them stay at his European home. A Jordanian online news outlet later released Shaposhnik’s name and described him as being an agent of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, before deleting the report.

Shaposhnik said he had “never served in any capacity with any intelligence branch in Israel or any other country”.

After Prince Hamzah, Awadallah is the highest-ranking Jordanian alleged to be at the centre of the plot. He was an adviser to King Abdullah. In recent years, he has been an adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Additional reporting by Heba Saleh in Cairo