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Attempted Coup by Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein of Jordan

Rachel Waldon, Natasha Polston, Caterina Anni; Historical Analysis Team

April 13, 2021


Prince Hamzah[1]


Summary


On April 3, 2021, former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein of Jordan was placed under house arrest for fomenting a coup against his half-brother, King Abdullah II, with the backing of foreign agents. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is highly confident that this coup was a legitimate threat to the stability of Jordan based on the events surrounding Prince Hamzah’s house arrest.

  • The recent meetings between Prince Hamzah and various tribal leaders who have been involved in protests against the Jordanian government for several years, give credence to the king’s accusations of treason by his half-brother.

  • Hamzah has been considered to be the voice for those who feel that the Jordanian government is not working for them.

  • Prince Hamzah’s own words, accusing the Jordanian government of corruption and incompetence, also point to the prince’s willingness to go against his half-brother.

  • Hamzah has been frequently in company with a Jordanian courtier who serves as an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and is also accused of fomenting a coup.

  • Tensions among the royal household due to King Abdullah removing his brother as the crown prince is further evidence that this plot was a valid threat.


The next most plausible explanation for Prince Hamzah’s house arrest is that this might be an attempt by King Abdullah II to consolidate power to ensure his son’s ascension to the throne. This coup attempt has the potential to destabilize the country, as Prince Hamzah is beloved by the people of Jordan and he would have had significant support should he have taken the throne, and the region, as a violent regime change would have created a large number of refugees which Jordan’s neighbors would not have been able to support.


Assessments


CTG believes that it is nearly certain that the coup plot involving former crown prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein is a viable threat to the stability of Jordan. Prince Hamzah has been meeting with leaders from the Bedouin tribes, who have become increasingly frustrated with their shrinking voice in the Jordanian government. Recent changes to the Jordanian government, particularly land sales, have greatly affected the Bedouin tribes, and tribal leaders have been vocal in the recent protests against the Jordanian government.[2] Hamzah’s frequent meetings with these leaders indicate that they believe he will understand their grievances and give a greater voice to their concerns. Moreover, for a senior member of the Jordanian royal family to be meeting with people who are not in support of the family without the king’s knowledge or approval, is unusual. For the former crown prince to do so is even more suspect. These meetings then give credence to the accusations of fomenting a coup.


The former crown prince has been held up as a figurehead for those who are frustrated by the Jordanian government for multiple years.[3] There have been numerous accusations of corruption and nepotism levied against the Jordanian government, and Hamzah has presented himself as the only royal family member who is sympathetic to those who are agitating for change. Since Hamzah enjoys a significant amount of public support, it would be an advantageous time to try to take control of the country. Although Jordan has done well during the pandemic, there is significant unrest within the country and the former crown prince and his associates could have seen this as the best time to act. This would give serious weight to the king’s accusations of attempting to destabilize the country.


Prince Hamzah released a video to the BBC shortly after he was placed under house arrest, in which he accused the Jordanian government of corruption and incompetence, and said that he hoped “all Jordanians will remember that I have always tried to serve them to the best of my ability with what limited resources I have.”[4] This indicates that he was agitating, at least within the government, for change. The clear lack of change within the Jordanian government proves the ineffectiveness of any previous attempts. Thus, Hamzah and his associates again could have seen this as an effective time strategically to act to create change and eliminate the corruption in the Jordanian government. King Abdullah has proven unable or unwilling to enact change, and therefore Hamzah felt that he needed to create an environment that demanded it.


The prominent accusations of foreign backing for the coup, stem from Hamzah’s association with a former member of the Jordanian court who now serves as an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. King Abdullah and the Jordanian security services claim that Hamzah and the Saudi advisor plotted to provoke riots to destabilize the country.[5] Hamzah’s close association with the Bedouin tribes as well as a member of a foreign court could pose a legitimate threat to King Abdullah’s rule, as he is proving to be popular not only at home but also on the international stage. His popularity, combined with his close association with a foreign agent, suggests that a coup by Hamzah would have seriously destabilized Jordan.


Furthermore, the tensions within the royal family have been escalated by the removal of Prince Hamzah’s title ‘crown prince’ by King Abdullah II. Jordan’s succession line and appointment of the title ‘crown prince’ is normally governed by the eldest son taking the throne once their father has died; the choice of Hamzah by Abdullah II broke with tradition in appointing his half-brother as his successor. This title was granted originally as the predecessor to Abdullah II had made some assertions that his intentions were for Prince Hamzah to succeed him, and not Abdullah II. Tensions were exacerbated in the decision to remove this title from Hamzah, who is a popular figure in Jordan. King Abdullah’s public address on this matter concluded that the title “restrained [Hamzah’s] freedom and hindered our entrusting you with certain responsibilities that you are fully qualified to undertake.”[6]


Another potential but improbable explanation for Prince Hamzah’s house arrest is that King Abdullah II is moving to consolidate his power to ensure that his son, rather than his half-brother, succeeds him as king. The late King Hussein, the father of both King Abdullah and Prince Hamzah, made a last request to his eldest son while on his deathbed - that Prince Hamzah was granted the title ‘crown prince’ and therefore the heir-apparent.[7] King Abdullah followed his late father’s wishes until 2004 when he named his son crown prince and released Hamzah from his duties.[8] King Abdullah has shown clearly that he does not want his half-brother to threaten his son’s potential rule, and Hamzah’s popularity poses a serious threat in that regard. Now, when Hamzah is meeting with Bedouin leaders and Saudi court officials, would be the time to curb his potential threat. Removing his ability to communicate with the outside world and restricting him to the royal household will ensure that Hamzah cannot threaten his son’s rule. Even if there was no coup plot, it is a convenient reason to keep Hamzah out of the public eye and thus away from anyone who might support Hamzah over the crown prince. However, the CTG does not believe that these actions would have been taken if there was not a plot by Prince Hamzah to destabilize the government.


Future Implications


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is highly confident that the alleged coup against King Abdullah II was a genuine threat to Jordan’s stability as a nation and in the region. This is fundamental to the understanding of the region, as King Abdullah II has taken great strides on the international stage to emphasize Jordan as a stable force in the Middle East. As a key ally to the United States (US), Jordan’s stability within the region and as a nation is imperative to international implications. Most recently, Jordan was a major player in the fight against the Islamic State and aided the US in many targeted operations.[9] The importance of this continued stability within the region for the US has been emphasized by the outspoken support for King Abdullah II, emphasizing its critical role as a crucial source of security and an ally to the US.


The former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein of Jordan has been kept in custody since the alleged coup took place. His fate remains unclear as he is under the protection of King Abdullah for the moment, according to a statement from the latter.[10] If Prince Hamza offered his loyalty to King Abdullah, this might create turmoil among the Jordanians who supported and entrusted him with their problems and hopes for the future until the coup. He was seen as a symbol of change and now that he is being held captive, it may trigger a reaction from his supporters. This could happen despite the many arrests that have already been made following the alleged coup. It is clear that there has been an attempt to challenge King Abdullah’s authority but in the region, the tensions in the royal household have been present for some time. A new attempt at a coup is unlikely to happen to see that the international community has always been supportive of King Abdullah. A new, and this time successful, the coup will undermine the region's stability, cause inner wars and provoke strong reactions from the nations that have relationships with Jordan.


CTG recommends that groups like the United Nations Human Rights Council monitor the situation to ensure that in the event of a crisis, on-site organizations will be capable of handling and managing the chaos. CTG also recommends that refugee groups in the area such as the International Rescue Committee monitor those leaving Jordan, as there is a media blackout in Jordan concerning the coup and refugees may be the first verifiable indication that the situation in Jordan has begun to deteriorate. CTG will continue our 24/7 WATCH program with a particular focus on Jordan to ensure that we know as developments happen. CTG’s Historical Analysis Team continues to monitor as the situation in Jordan unfolds, and will report on any changes as they occur. ________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1]Prince Hamzah Bin Hussein” by Abd Alrahman Wreikat. Licensed under Creative Commons.

[2] Jordan's king facing mounting pressure as tribal support ebbs away, Middle East Eye, February 2019, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordans-king-facing-mounting-pressure-tribal-support-ebbs-away

[3] Royal Rivalry Bares Social Tensions Behind Jordan’s Stable Veneer, New York Times, April 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/world/middleeast/jordan-king-crown-prince.html

[4] Prince Hamzah bin Hussein of Jordan's 'house arrest' message in full, BBC, April 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56629006

[5] Jordan accuses former crown prince and high-ranking officials of ‘promoting sedition,’ with foreign backing, Washington Post, April 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/jordan-abdullah-coup-king-plot/2021/04/04/68e805de-94a8-11eb-aadc-af78701a30ca_story.html

[6] Jordan crown prince to lose his title, BBC, November 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4050231.stm

[7] Profile: Who is Jordan’s Prince Hamzah?, Al Jazeera, April 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/4/profile-who-is-jordans-prince-hamza

[8] Jordan's King Abdullah describes 'most painful' royal rift, BBC, April 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56666537

[9] What to know about Jordan, Washington Post, April 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/04/03/jordan-palace-coup-attempt/

[10] Jordan’s King Abdullah describes shock and pain over alleged plot, The Guardian, April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/07/jordans-king-abdullah-describes-shock-and-pain-over-alleged-coup-plot

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