Hamzah of Jordan with his mother Queen Noor (photos: AP)
A Few days after his return from an official visit to Washington, Jordanian Monarch King Abdullah II issued a Royal Decree putting his half-brother Prince Hamzah under a kind of house arrest. The younger prince would continue to live in a royal palace but his activities and communication with the outside world would be curtailed. In a lengthy, strongly worded letter the king explained the matter to the Jordanian people, excoriating his half-brother using the words “arrogant” and “erratic” and bluntly calling him “seditious”. Yet the king said, “we will provide Hamzah with all that he requires to live a comfortable life, but he will not have the space he once abused to offend the nation, its institutions, and his family, nor to undermine Jordan’s stability.”
The decree was the result of a royal investigation by the Family Council into Hamzah’s role in a thwarted plot to unseat the king. Others implicated in the case, including former palace chief-of-staff Bassem Awadallah and a junior royal Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, were referred to court where they were handed prison sentences.
In March last year, more than a dozen were arrested in what the Jordanian authorities described as involvement in an attempt posing a “threat to the country’s stability”. The authorities accused them of conspiring with a foreign power to stage a coup. It was later reported that Israel was that “foreign power”, considering the sour relations between King Abdullah II and then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rumours also suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved, noting Awadallah and Hassan’s close relations with Riyadh. None of these reports were confirmed or substantiated.
Prince Hamzah was spared the police investigation and court case; instead the government said his involvement would be “dealt with within the Royal Family”. Initially, the king asked Prince Hassan bin Talal, his uncle and former crown prince to his father late King Hussein, to lead the family body to sort out the issue. But it seems Prince Hassan was not willing to head the Family Council that reprimanded Hamzah, and it was Prince Ali – another half-brother of the king and Hamzah – who oversaw the matter.
Many Jordanians think that the announced decision was taken months ago and was just waiting for the king’s approval. “The Royal Decree is just sealing a de-facto situation. For more than a year, the prince has been almost absent from the public scene except for a couple of tweets in which he vented his anger. For the first time in Royal Family history we see this strong tone in the king’s letter. This means the decision was already taken on a top level to restrain the prince and push him out of Jordanian politics,” Jordanian political commentator Saad Hattar told Al- Ahram Weekly.
The timing of the decree and the king’s letter to the people explaining it drove some Jordanians to think that the king had waited until he had received an American decision in connection with the prince. Queen Noor, Hamzah’s mother, born Lisa Najeeb Halabi, is an American with a Lebanese father. But an American source refuted that, saying: “The king’s visit and discussion with officials focussed mainly on bilateral relations and regional issues. That matter is an internal Jordanian issue which the US has no view on.”
Even before last year’s thwarted plot, Prince Hamzah held a grudge as he was removed as a crown prince a few years after his late father passed away. King Abdullah II then appointed his son Hussein in his place.
Though the Jordanian Constitution is clear about the right of the sitting monarch to decide on the crown prince, Prince Hamzah has a lot of sympathy from Jordanians on social media. Some in Jordan agree with his claim referring to the late King Hussein’s will that Hamzah should follow Abdullah on the throne.
Queen Noor never accepted the change of crown princeship and believes her son is the legitimate heir to the throne. Though she stated no challenge to the last Royal Decree, she tweeted about “injustice” and victimisation: “Some truly bizarre and stranger than fiction stuff circulating right now.”
In his letter to the people, the king said that Hamzah “exhausted all opportunities to restore himself on the right path” and clung to delusion, believing himself to be the sole guardian of the family’s legacy. The letter mentioned Hamzah as prince, ignoring his statement in March this year relinquishing the title. The letter stressed that only the king had the authority to grant and strip titles, according to the Jordanian Constitution. The monarch then added that his brother, after renouncing his title, sent him a private letter “asking to maintain the financial and logistical privileges”.
Hamzah was active on social media, reaching powerful tribes in Jordan, traditionally considered the bedrock of the monarchy’s support. He was outspoken in criticising his brother for “enriching himself while Jordanians suffered”. Such accusations garnered an audience in a country going through economic hardship exacerbated by the Gulf countries withholding their financial aid and the global economic situation worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and later war in Ukraine.
In his letter, King Abdulah II confirmed the prince’s involvement in last year’s plot saying that Hamzah knew that Awadallah and Hassan “had approached two foreign embassies to ask about the possibility of their countries supporting what he had described as regime change.” The letter added, “it has become evident that 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.” It then concluded: “We do not have the luxury of time to deal with Hamzah’s erratic behaviour and aspirations” as “the country faces many challenges that need to be addressed.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.