Jordan’s Royal Challenge
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Palace Intrigues are an integral part of the Royalty and history is replete with it. One hundered years old Hashemite Kingdom is no exception. Discontentment, embedded ambitions, unsolicited external interests, and interference add to the spice especially when due to extraneous conditions a country’s economy and employment situation as well as its security place a question mark on the governance structures. Normally in monarchies King can do no wrong. But in the modern-day Middle East public has at least heard of, if not tasted the fruits of the Arab Spring. However, King Abdullah II like his father King Hussein remains a moderating and modernising influence for the Jordanians and Arabs alike.

Overt expression of popular discontent through discussion and demonstration is not uncommon in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Kings have been responsive to the public displeasure and have often removed the non-performing governments. No wonder Jordan probably has the largest number of Prime Ministers in its century old existence. Current King Abdullah II remains vastly popular as the public is able to connect with him and Queen Rania on a personal basis. This has kept the Kingdom going too. But Jordan’s economy and employment situation with occasional absence of dynamic policy domain; domestic situation compounded by Palestine and tribal issues and competing loyalties; charges of corruption and incompetence; international especially Israeli intransigence over Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem of which King Abdullah is the Custodian; and refugee crisis among others; compounded by adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have all worked to give a legitimate excuse for some to be overtly critical of the government and indirectly that of the King .

One has to grant that perhaps after the Mossad, Jordanian intelligence services are pretty good and effective given the fact that Kingdom shares borders with conflict zones of Syria, Iraq and even Israel- which a common Jordanian refers to as Palestine or occupied lands despite the status quo. It is ironical that Jordan also boasts of contributing a very large number of AQ or ISIS terrorists despite the fact that King calls them Takfiris and has even gone on bombing missions when his own fallen pilot was burnt alive by the Daesh (ISIS). He has been dead against terrorism and extremism and his “Amman Message” resonates globally. Hence when the news of an alleged coup came that Prince Hamzah and over 20 senior Royal court and other officials were detained evidently for treason, the security in the Daboub area was heavily beefed up where most Royals including the King live. A video of Prince Hamzah was telecast on BBC claiming that he was asked to halt meeting with tribal leaders and disgruntled elements critical of the King but Hamzah claimed that he was not part of any conspiracy and only spoke his mind about the fact that “wellbeing (of Jordanians) has been put second by a ruling system that has decided that its personal interests, financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and future of the 10 million people who live here”. This was indeed an anathema as Hamzah, who has an uncanny resemblance to his father, is quite popular with East bank powerful tribes who also form the backbone of country’s security forces.

Seeds of discontent, from several accounts, lay in the succession of King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hamzah in 1999 on the death of King Hussein in 1999 who wanted his 4th wife Queen Noor’s son Prince Hamzah eventually to be the next King. But as is common in Kingdoms job of the Crown Prince is the revolving chair and hence in 2004 King Abdullah decided to make his son Crown Prince Hussein II. Queen Noor and Hamzah were left high and dry even though they gave their allegiance to the throne. But essentially the grudge persists. On his part Prince Hamzah did continue to speak his mind and remained in concert with influential tribal leaders who are often disgruntled for their inability to get a greater slice of governance structures. Most royals obviously have extensive influential foreign relationships at a personal level which can always be used to justify their ill-intent. Queen Noor called it a ‘wicked slander’. Mukhabarat or intelligence is far too strong in Jordan and King has kept most of his confidantes in security services from among the loyal tribes. But, due to poor management of Covid-19, the economy has been decimated, unemployment has risen and Syrian refugee crisis worsened and Palestinian issue back on the front the popular dissatisfaction has grown with wide ranging “Herak” protests. But they have been managed so far.

Hamzah, perhaps unintentionally, tried to stoke the fire by meeting various groups and tribal leaders including powerful Majali martial tribe who were extremely critical and openly discuss King’s and govt’s poor performance. While Hamzah said that he was not criticising the King but the governance structure, his video clip to BBC was indicative of his frustration. Why it happened is obvious but then there are conspiracy theories of foreign intervention especially by a supposedly former Mossad agent (Roy Shaposhnik) or the Israeli role since Netanyahu and Abdullah have not even talked for over three years due to Israeli actions in West Bank etc. Moreover, recently Crown Prince could not visit Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem due to lack of assurances and security concerns. Consequently, Jordan also denied permission to Netanyahu to visit Abu Dhabi over its airspace just before Israeli elections. Of course UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed was not keen to have his Abraham Accord partner visit at that time for obvious reasons and may have hinted to the Jordanians to not facilitate the overflight. Earlier they have been permitting over-flight. Even though security cooperation continues, Jordan with its sixty percent population of Palestinian origin is not happy with the developments in the West bank and plight of the Palestinians in general. This gets reflected in the domestic political landscape. Jordan’s economy and social infrastructure have been further stretched due to the presence of over a million Syrian refugees which triggers the discontent due to denial of resources and opportunities for the local people which becomes another headache for the government.

Another conspiracy theory was the likely Saudi involvement due to intriguing detention of former Chief of Royal Court Bassem Awadallah, an economic reformer who really bridged the gap between King Abdullah and MBS four years ago when Jordan refused to severe ties with Iran and only downgraded them at the height of the Yemen war. King Salman and MBS were unhappy, and it was evident at the Sharm al Sheikh summit when King was cold shouldered. Awadallah remained close to MBS and influential Saudi elites. Hence, it was reported that Saudi Foreign Minister rushed to Amman not only to assure their support to the King but to reportedly seek release of Awadallah. Saudis do support the Kingdom financially. But despite their implicit historic competition for religious influence but whether Riyadh would like to dislodge Jordanian King is questionable. King Abdullah is the direct descendent of Prophet Mohammed and hence commands tremendous respect and perhaps envy of the competitors. On the other hand, Saudi monarch is the custodian of two holy mosques. To justify the Saudi hand some have even gone the extent to say that Saudi rapprochement with Israel could be predicated on the Saudi religious control reaching Al Aqsa, Jerusalem to complete the troika of the holy mosques. Again, does not sound good to reason given the complexity of the whole gamut and interplay of regional dynamic.

Some argue that the detention of Prince Hamzah and important leaders was to crush dissent and divert public attentionfrom the real ground reality and economic woes and to attract more foreign assistance and support while staking their continued geo-political relevance. Jordan is a reliable security buffer for the region. The whole Arab world and the US stood behind the King since Jordan’s stability is indeed strategic and important to them. US and France have their bases and Jordanian forces participate in all Arab ventures as an Arab army. Besides it is the only moderate state even if several major extremists and Islamist ideologists like Zarqawi or for that matter ISIS recruits come from Jordan.

To resolve the issue within the royal precinct King in “Shock, pain and anger’ requested Prince Hassan bin Talal, his and Prince Hamzah’s uncle to mediate. Ironically, in 1999 longest serving Crown Prince Hassan bin Talal under his brother, one of the most respected wiseman and a one man Think tank and a close Adviser to the King, had a Hamzah done on him when he missed the Crown by inches due to King Abdullah and Prince Hamzah. A story, not the only one, goes around that dying King Hussein asked Crown Prince Hassan to make Hamzah the Crown prince when latter became the King. But apparently, he hesitated in giving a firm commitment and lost out. Moreover, neither the Saudis nor the CIA liked Prince Hassan’s streak of independence hence worked on the King against him and an unsuspecting Prince Abdullah, happy in his military duties, was adorned with the crown and rest is history. It is the moment of transition that counts. Anyways Prince Hassan’s mediation has succeeded, and Prince Hamzah has, in writing, pledged his loyalty to the King once again. For the time being it seems to have been put to rest but will simmer as ambitions can hardly be contained. According to PM no charges are being levelled against Prince Hamzah. Meanwhile, a picture of the King and erstwhile Crown Princes was quite telling last week when they visited the shrines of former Kings in the Palace to seek their blessings and renew the pledged loyalties as the Hashemite Kingdom completes its century of trials, tribulations, turf battles and tolerance.

Security and stability of Jordan is critical for the region due to its geo-strategic location hence it was no wonder that all Arab countries and the US extended their fullest support to the Kingdom and the actions taken by the King. Of course this “Oasis of Stability’ needs real assistance to overcome the much bigger challenges at the grass roots level that have compounded by the pandemic.

PM Modi had met King Abdullah II first time on the side-lines of UNSC in 2015 and developed a close personal regard for one another. He visited Amman in 2018 when as a special gesture King Abdullah cut short his visit to UAE and Pakistan to be with PM Modi. Likewise within a few months, King Abdullah’s State visit to India was a watershed for bilateral relations, when he also addressed the Indian Muslim leadership of the real message of moderation, peace and brotherhood in Islam. Congratulating HM King Abdullah II, in a video message, on the centennial of the founding of the Hashemite Kingdom, PM Modi hailed the far-sighted leadership of His Majesty, under whom Jordan has achieved sustainable and inclusive growth, and remarkable developments in economic and socio-cultural fields. Highlighting the key role of King Abdullah-II in the promotion of peace in West Asia, the Prime Minister noted that Jordan has today emerged as a powerful voice and global symbol of moderation in an important region of the world. The Prime Minister noted that India and Jordan were united in the belief that moderation and peaceful co-existence were essential for peace and prosperity. He stressed that the two sides would continue to walk side by side in their joint efforts for a greater future for all humanity.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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