Analysis |

Jordan's Royal Family Feud Might Still Rock the Kingdom's Fragile Stability

Try as he may, the Jordanian king learns he can't really keep a lid on this 'family affair'

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Jordan's King Abdullah II in Washington, earlier this month.
Jordan's King Abdullah II in Washington, earlier this month.Credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The elders of Amman can’t recall ever hearing a rhetorical flood as insulting and accusatory as the one King Abdullah poured out on his brother, Prince Hamzah. Last Thursday, the Jordanian royal palace issued a long and unusual official statement about the king’s decision to restrict Hamzah’s movements and communications, and effectively to imprison him in his palace.

Hamzah “claims to live by the example of our ancestors in his words, but flouts their legacy with his deeds,” Abdullah wrote in the statement, according to the official English translation. “The prince is living in the fantasy created by those around him that he alone has inherited this great legacy, despite his young age and limited experience. How I have wished that he had spent more years with our father Al Hussein, may his soul rest in peace, to learn from him the values of leadership and the unwavering principles that he instilled in us – but this was not God’s will …

“He has never offered anything of substance beyond complaints and populist slogans, and he has not once come to me with a solution or a practical proposal to deal with any of the problems facing our beloved nation. The only proposal that Prince Hamzah ever presented was to unify the intelligence arms of our Armed Forces under his command, despite the irrationality of this suggestion and the fact that it completely contradicts with the way our Armed Forces operate.”

This family conflict isn’t new. Last year, Hamzah was arrested together with 25 senior Jordanian officials and put under house arrest because Jordanian intelligence, apparently relying on information received from foreign intelligence agencies, concluded that he was planning a coup against the king – a plot foiled “at the last moment.” Two of the senior officials who were arrested and tried were Bassem Awadallah, who was the king’s chief of staff before being ousted in 2010, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, the king’s cousin.

But even before this affair, which shook the kingdom, came to light, it was clear that the late King Hussein’s two sons weren’t models of brotherly love. In 2004, Abdullah ousted Hamzah from his position as crown prince. Five years later, he appointed his son Hussein to the position in Hamzah’s place. Ever since, Abdullah has been promoting Hussein, appearing with him at public events and presenting him as his heir.

In March 2021, after several people died of the coronavirus at a hospital in the town of Al-Salt due to a lack of oxygen, Abdullah sent his son to visit the hospital. But Hamzah had visited six days earlier, and the king interpreted that visit as being intended to steal the limelight from his son. Moreover, just a few hours before the king himself visited the hospital, Hamzah met with relatives of the patients who died. Less than a month later, Hamzah was arrested on conspiracy charges.

A few months prior, Hamzah went on some visits and meetings with tribal leaders, where he voiced criticism about the way the country was being run – and in one case even said that his father would not have let things get to this state. The 40-year-old Hamzah, who took the time to learn the Bedouin dialects and imitates his father’s dress and mannerisms, is popular among some of these tribes, to an extent concerning to the king and the intelligence community. The king sent army Chief of Staff Yusuf al-Huneiti to make it clear to Hamzah that “meetings with tribal leaders are a red line.” In a recording of the meeting, which was leaked online, Hamzah replied to the military commander: “Excuse me, sir, where were you twenty years ago? I was heir-apparent of this country by order of my father, may he rest in peace. I have sworn that I shall serve my country and my people as long as I live.”

The king had hoped to bury that affair within the family. He recruited his uncle, Prince Hassan – who himself had hoped to inherit the crown after the death of his brother, King Hussein, but was immediately removed on Abdallah’s order from all political activity – to calm Hamzah down and warn him in plain language against continuing his “subversive” activities. While these efforts did yield an apology letter from Hamzah in March, voicing contrition and offering the king a “new page and a fresh start to our relations,” a month later it seemed that the public reconciliation did not really heal the family wounds. Hamzah announced that he was relinquishing his royal title, and the explanation he gave for this step infuriated the king. “I cannot reconcile my principles and beliefs with the methods, the policies, and the attitudes prevalent at state institutions,” Hamzah wrote with royal venom, aimed directly at his brother. The revelation of the “Pandora Papers” in October, detailing King Abdallah’s many assets around the world, including villas and luxury condos in London, Florida and Washington D.C. – while unemployment in Jordan reaches 24 percent, and prices of fuel and staples have skyrocketed – have fed the alienation and criticism toward the court, and accelerated the king’s move against his brother.

The severe restrictions imposed by the king upon Prince Hamzah are unlikely to draw public protest. While over the weekend new pro-Hamzah Twitter accounts have popped up, and his mother, Queen Nour, King Hussein’s fourth wife, also contributed her rage to one of them – it still seems a while off before Hamzah’s name reappears in Jordanian media, which is subject to tight state control. But ending what the royal court wishes to portray as a “family affair” will not solve the kingdom’s true problems.

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