Jordan's King Abdullah and Estranged Prince Hamza Make First Joint Appearance Since Rift

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Jordanian King Abdullah II (R), Prince Hassan Bin Talal (L) and Prince Hamzah (C), today
Jordanian King Abdullah II (R), Prince Hassan Bin Talal (L) and Prince Hamzah (C), todayCredit: Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP

Jordan's King Abdullah and former crown prince and half-brother Prince Hamzah made their first joint appearance since a rift shook the country, attending a ceremony on Sunday marking 100 years of independence.

State media showed the monarch and other members of the royal family laying wreaths at the memorial to the unknown soldier and tombs of royalty in the Raghdan palace in Amman.

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Despite the attempted show of unity on a major Jordanian holiday, it remained unclear whether the king and his popular half brother had put aside the differences that escalated last week into the most serious public rift in the ruling family in decades.

It was the first time that Hamzah was seen in public since he was placed under a form of house arrest on April 3 following accusations that he was involved in a “malicious plot” to destabilize the kingdom. In statements leaked to the media, Hamzah denied the accusations and accused the country's government of corruption and incompetence.

Hamzah pledged allegiance to King Abdullah late on Monday following mediation by the royal family, two days after the military warned him over actions that it said were undermining Jordan's security and stability.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, center, Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein, second left, and others during a visit to the tomb of the late King Hussein, todayCredit: Royal Court Twitter Account via AP

On Wednesday, in the first statement since the affair came to light, King Jordan said sedition had been quashed and Hamzah was "under my care" with his family at his palace.

The monarch said the crisis was "the most painful" because it came from both inside the royal family and outside it.

Authorities have imposed a sweeping gag order on any coverage of the royal dispute in a sign of how sensitive they are to how it is perceived. The gag order and the king’s willingness to sanction his own brother also reaffirmed what Jordanians understand as their “red line” — an absolute ban on criticizing the monarch or the royal family.

Hamzah's absence after he appeared in a video on April 3 saying he had been ordered to stay at home and accused the country's rulers of corruption and authoritarian rule led to speculation about his whereabouts.

The appearance by Hamzah indicated that he was safe, but it remained unclear whether he had come voluntarily or truly been released from the restrictions on his movement. Hamzah, wearing a suit, traditional headdress and blue surgical mask, joined his relatives in prayers but did not comment.

Jordan's King Abdullah II chairing a meeting with armed forces' commanders, including his son Crown Prince Hussein, February 2021.Credit: YOUSEF ALLAN - AFP

In announcing last week that the military had warned Hamzah over his actions, the government said that Hamzah had liaised with people linked to foreign parties seeking to destabilize Jordan and that he had been under investigation for some time.

There also has been no sign that authorities have released up to 18 other detainees, including members of one of the powerful tribes on which the monarchy has historically relied.

Hamzah had been widely expected to succeed Abdullah as Jordan's next king, until the monarch made his own son, Prince Hussein, heir instead in 2004, in line with family tradition.

While Hamzah and Abdullah have publicly buried the hatchet, the dramatic events of the last week exposed fault lines within a royal family that has helped shield Jordan from the turmoil that has consumed neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The rift within the monarchy has shaken the country's reputation as a stable country in a volatile region.

Jordan's estranged Prince Hamza, file photo from 2004.Credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

Even before the palace drama, Jordan was grappling with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with one in four people out of work. Longstanding complaints about corruption and misrule have fueled scattered protests in recent months.

At the same time, the region’s strategic landscape is shifting as powerful Gulf states pursue closer ties with Israel, potentially undermining Jordan’s role in the Middle East peace process.

The United States, along with regional allies, have all rallied behind the king. Jordan has long been seen as a relatively stable western ally in the Middle East in a turbulent region. But the past year of the coronavirus has rocked the country’s largely tourism-dependent economy.

Jordan has a large Palestinian population, including more than 2 million refugees from past wars with Israel and their descendants. The monarchy has granted most of them full citizenship but has historically viewed them with suspicion. Its main base of support is powerful tribes from east of the Jordan River, who dominate the security forces.

For decades, the monarchy has cultivated close ties with the U.S. and other Western nations, which it has used to press for the creation of a Palestinian state including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
That strategy has hit a wall in recent years as the peace process has ground to a halt. Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have soured amid a series of recent diplomatic spats.

At the same time, Gulf countries have been cultivating closer ties with Israel over their shared antipathy toward Iran, relations made public last year when the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize relations with Israel in a U.S.-brokered deal. Saudi Arabia has at times appeared to be weighing a similar move.

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