Jordan Arrests High-Profile Figures, Citing Security Reasons

Those arrested included a member of the royal family and a longtime confidante of King Abdullah II. It is a rare episode of political intrigue involving the normally stable kingdom.,

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AMMAN, Jordan — The Jordanian government has arrested high-profile figures in the kingdom, including a member of the royal family and a former chief of the royal court, with officials citing “the security and stability of Jordan” as intrigue consumed the country Saturday.

Bassem Awadallah, a longtime confidante of King Abdullah II who later became minister of finance, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family who was the former royal envoy to Saudi Arabia, were detained along with other unnamed figures.

Mr. Awadallah helped spearhead economic reforms before leaving as head of the royal court in 2008. More recently, he was an adviser to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and he was suspected in a corruption case.

The fate of the former crown prince of Jordan, Hamzah bin Hussein, a half brother of King Abdullah, was unclear. In a statement published on Saturday night by the Petra news agency, the Jordanian Army and security services denied reports that Prince Hamzah had been arrested. But it said that he had been ordered to cease activities and movements undermining “the security and stability of Jordan.”

ImageJordanian Prince Hamzah bin Hussein at a security exhibition in Amman in 2010.
Jordanian Prince Hamzah bin Hussein at a security exhibition in Amman in 2010.Credit…Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

“The steps taken today took place after a thorough investigation by the security services,” the statement added, citing the arrests of Sharif Hasan Bin Zaid, Bassem Awadallah and other unnamed suspects.

In a dramatic video apparently filmed under house arrest, the former crown prince described how he had been ordered to remain in his home incommunicado with his wife and children as part of a series of high-profile arrests by security services.

“Since then, a number of the people I know or my friends have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the internet and phone lines have been cut,” Prince Hamzah said. “This is my last form of communication, satellite internet, that I have, and I have been informed by the company that they are instructed to cut it so it may be the last time I am able to communicate.”

Malik R. Dahlan, an international lawyer, confirmed that the video was of Prince Hamzah, who serves on the board of his Institution Quraysh for Law & Policy in London, and expressed concern about “the escalation of the situation.”

Prince Hamzah said in the video that he was “making this recording to make it clear that I’m not part of any conspiracy or nefarious organization or foreign-backed group, as is always the claim here for anyone who speaks out,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Ahmad Al Huniti, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of Jordan, said in the military statement that results of investigations into the episode would be published “in a transparent and clear manner.”

Arrests of top officials and royal family members are unusual in Jordan, a normally stable Arab kingdom that has been a stalwart ally of the West, particularly when it comes to counterterrorism cooperation in the Middle East. It borders Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Syria and Iraq.

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Bassem Awadallah, seen in 2006, a longtime confidant to the king, was among those arrested. Credit…Joseph Barrak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We are closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement. “King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”

King Abdullah II, 59, has reigned since 1999, having succeeded his father, King Hussein. In a sign of earlier palace intrigue, Abdullah replaced Hassan bin Talal, a brother of King Hussein, as crown prince just weeks before his father’s death. Hassan had apparently fallen out of favor after making some moves that were widely interpreted as an attempt to consolidate his own power while King Hussein was undergoing treatment for cancer.

The current crown prince is King Abdullah II’s son, Hussein bin Abdullah, 26.

Prince Hamzah is the eldest son of King Hussein and Queen Noor, his fourth wife and widow who was born to a Syrian-American family. Hamzah was named crown prince of Jordan in 1999, but his half brother, King Abdullah II, transferred the title to his son, Prince Hussein, in 2004.

Prince Hamzah is often photographed meeting with tribal figures and is known to be popular, especially among tribal and East Bank Jordanians for his uncanny resemblance to his father, who was beloved by many in the kingdom.

His recent meetings with tribal leaders across Jordan and posts on Twitter in 2018 that included the stirring words, “Oh my country,” caused a stir in the kingdom. His close ties with tribal figures and visits to tribal elders at their invitation was broadly viewed as his way of showing his relevance and closeness to people.

Jordan has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic: more than 600,000 confirmed cases over all, more than 7,000 deaths in a population of about 11 million, and new daily cases averaging about 6,500 over the past week.

Though its government largely escaped the turmoil of the popular uprisings across the Middle East that began a decade ago in what became known as the Arab Spring, Jordan has absorbed a massive influx of about 650,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war that raged across its northern border, further stretching its already limited resources.

The situation in Jordan was being watched closely in neighboring Israel, which signed a peace treaty with the kingdom in 1994 and maintains close security ties with it.

A conversation took place on Saturday night between senior Jordanian officials and their Israeli military and internal security counterparts, according to an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive security and diplomatic issues. According to the Israeli official, the Jordanian officials told their Israeli counterparts that there had not been a coup attempt, that the situation was under control and that it had been exaggerated by the news media, though they did confirm that arrests had been made.

The Israeli official said Israel viewed the event as potentially very significant and that officials there could not recall a similar event in Jordan’s past. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had no immediate comment.

In his video, Prince Hamzah described a meeting in which he was told that people had been critical of the king or the government at meetings where he was present.

“I asked him if I was the one criticizing and he said no,” he said. “He said but this was a warning from him, from the chief of police and from the chief of the security services, the mukhabarat, that I should not leave my house, that I could only visit family, that I could not tweet and that I could not communicate with people,” Prince Hamzah said.

Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said that while the situation was still unclear, “It doesn’t seem to be threatening the leadership for now,” adding that the authorities had “dealt with it quickly and apparently efficiently.”

The Saudi royal court voiced its support for King Abdullah on Saturday.

“The kingdom affirms its full support, with all its capabilities, to all decisions and measures taken by King Abdullah and His Highness Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, the crown prince, to maintain security and stability,” said a statement from the Saudi royal court published by Reuters.

Rana F. Sweis reported from Amman, Jordan, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem and Nicholas Kulish from New York.

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