Jordan's Prince Hamzeh, under house arrest after alleged coup attempt, appears to affirm loyalty to king
By SHIRA RUBIN AND SARAH DADOUCH | The Washington Post | Published: April 5, 2021
TEL AVIV — Jordan's Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein, the former crown prince who has been under house arrest after an alleged coup attempt, affirmed Monday his loyalty to his half brother, King Abdullah II, according to a letter with Hamzeh's signature released by the royal court.
"The interests of the homeland must remain above all else, and we must all stand behind his highness the king and his efforts to protect Jordan and its national interests," the typed letter said after praising the royal family's history and King Abdullah. "In light of the developments over the past two days, I place myself in the hands of his highness the king."
The royal court said in a statement that Hamzeh had signed the letter after meeting with his uncle Prince Hassan, who had been tapped to mediate the family conflict, and four other princes at Hassan's home.
Hamzeh, 41, has been under house arrest since Saturday, at the same time that the military detained up to 17 additional high-level officials whom it accused of taking part in a plot to harm the security of the kingdom. Jordanian officials have said "foreign" entities backed the effort.
Speculation about that foreign connection intensified in Amman after an unscheduled visit to Jordan by a high-ranking Saudi delegation, headed by a Saudi minister for foreign affairs, that arrived Monday. During meetings with Jordanian counterparts, the Saudi officials requested the release of Bassem Awadullah, one of the prominent Jordanians arrested Saturday, according to a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official whose government monitored the events.
The Saudis requested permission for the visit a few hours after news of the alleged plot began to leak Saturday, the official said. After the meetings with Jordanians on Monday, the Saudi delegation retired to an hotel in Amman while continuing to request that Awadullah be allowed to depart with them to Saudi Arabia, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
Biden administration officials were briefed Monday about the meetings between the Saudis and Jordanians, according to a former senior U.S. official familiar with the situation.
Emails requesting comment from the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not receive an immediate response.
Awadullah is a Jordanian national and former top adviser to Abdullah. Before Awadullah's arrest, he had served as the monarch's special envoy to Saudi Arabia, which granted him a Saudi passport. The Middle Eastern intelligence official said the Saudi insistence on Awadullah's immediate release — before any judicial process or the filing of formal charges — raised eyebrows in the region.
"The Saudis were saying that they won't leave the country without him," the official said. "It would appear that they are worried about what he would say."
Deputy Prime Minister Ayman al-Safadi, in a televised statement Sunday, said the Jordanian officials detained in recent days were "individuals who hoped to undermine Jordan's role in the region, and [who engaged in] activities whose goals were to strike Jordan, its stability, and promote sedition."
Among those arrested in addition to Awadullah were Sharif Hasan, a member of the royal family; Yasser Majali, the head of Hamzeh's office; Sheikh Sameer Majali; and several others who served in prominent positions in the government and military.
Shortly before the royal court released the letter with Hamzeh's signature Monday, Jordanian officials put out a statement saying he had agreed that the royal Hashemite family's differences would be addressed through Hassan's mediation.
"In light of his highness the King Abdullah II's decision to deal with the topic of his highness Prince Hamzeh within the framework of the Hashemite family, his highness has granted this path to his uncle, his highness Prince Alhassan," the royal court said in a statement.
The efforts at reconciliation came only hours after Hamzeh had said he intended to disobey military orders to cease communicating with the public, including on Twitter, according to a voice recording released Monday.
"I don't want to move because I don't want to escalate [the situation] yet, but of course I'm not going to adhere when they tell me you can't go out and you can't tweet and you can't communicate with people and you're only allowed to see family," said Hamzeh in the recording. "When the head of the [army] comes and tells you this stuff, it's a bit . . . I think it's unacceptable, in any form. So now we're waiting for salvation, and we'll see."
The recording, which seemed to start and end abruptly, as if potentially cut from a larger audio file, was shared by opposition groups on Facebook early Monday morning. They did not specify when it had been recorded.
It was made public a day after an Israeli businessman and close friend of Hamzeh, Roy Shaposhnik, said that he had offered the prince's wife and children the use of a private jet to escape Jordan, suggesting that the royals accused by the government of "promoting sedition" may have been planning to leave the country.
Safadi said that as many as 18 officials who had been detained had been under extensive surveillance and were known to have ties to foreign entities. He said that the prince had been contacted by a foreign source who had offered him services, including the use of a private plane for his wife and children to flee Jordan.
On Sunday night, Ammon, a news site with ties to the Jordanian intelligence community, reported that Shaposhnik, whom it identified as formerly part of Mossad, Israeli's intelligence agency, had offered the plane.
Several hours later, Shaposhnik, in a statement posted on Facebook, denied having worked for the Mossad, Israeli's intelligence agency, but said that he was a close friend of Hamzeh.
"Mr. Shaposhnik, 41, is an Israeli citizen who resides in Europe. Despite salacious reporting to the contrary, he has never served in any capacity with any intelligence branch in Israel or any other country for that matter. He has, however, maintained a friendship with Prince Hamzeh Bin Hussein of Jordan," said the statement. "This weekend Prince Hamzeh contacted Mr. Shaposhnik to describe the dynamic situation in Amman and to express concerns about the safety of his family. In response, Mr. Shaposhnik extended an invitation for the prince's wife and children to stay at his home in Europe."
The United States, in addition to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and a slew of other regional allies, quickly voiced support for the monarch on Saturday.
The only Israeli response came from Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who called the situation an "internal" issue.
The dramatic developments have made public the traditionally private rifts within in the Jordanian royal palace between Abdullah and his popular half brother.
Hamzeh and Abdullah are both the sons of Jordan's late, revered King Hussein, although they have different mothers. Tensions between them have reportedly been brewing since 2004, when Hamzeh was replaced by Abdullah's eldest son, Hussein, as crown prince.
Under house arrest late Saturday night, Hamzeh sent a video to the BBC accusing the government of corruption, incompetence and intolerance for dissent. He did not mention the king.
"It has reached a point where no one is able to speak or express opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened," Hamzeh says in the video.
Jordan is under a strict nightly coronavirus-related curfew that is set to last until mid-May. It has been hit hard economically by the pandemic and by the massive waves of refugees who have arrived from neighboring Syria.
The country's health minister resigned last month after seven people died of COVID-19 amid a shortage of oxygen supplies at government hospitals.
The following day, protesters defied the nighttime curfew and took to the streets, calling for the government to resign, and chanting for Hamzeh to save the country.
Dadouch reported from Beirut. Warrick reported from Washington.