When Jordan’s King Hussein was on his deathbed, fighting cancer, he surprised the nation by dismissing his brother Hassan bin Talal as Crown Prince in favour of his son Abdullah. Prince Hassan had been Crown Prince for more than three decades and was almost sure to ascend the throne. But he accepted the King’s decision and when Hussein died on February 7, 1999, Abdullah became the new monarch. As per the dying wishes of his father, King Abdullah II appointed his half brother Hamzah bin Hussein as the new Crown Prince. Hussein, who sacked his brother from the line of throne for his son, may have hoped that power would transfer from his one son to another in the future. But history repeated in a few years. In 2004, after consolidating power both within the royal court and the Hashemite family, King Abdullah stripped Hamzah of the Crown Prince status. According to Jordan’s Constitution, the King’s eldest son would inherit the throne when then King departs unless he wishes otherwise. In 2009, ending all uncertainty, the King named his 15-year-old school-going son, Hussein bin Abdullah, the new Crown Prince.
Prince Hamzah, like his uncle Hassan, accepted the King’s decision. But he did not stay silent forever. He occasionally raised criticism over the way the country was run. The growing discord in the royal family burst into the open last week when Prince Hamzah and a few other officials were detained for targeting the country’s “security and stability”. Intelligence sources told western media that the Prince was put under house arrest over a plot to unseat the monarch and that “foreign hands” were involved in the plot. Later, Prince Hamzah’s phone and Internet lines were cut, his bodyguards removed and the Jordanian media barred from reporting on the palace crisis. Interestingly, it was Prince Hassan who negotiated peace between the King and the rebelling Prince.
Born in 1980 to King Hussein’s fourth wife, the American-born Queen Noor, Prince Hamzah was one of the favourite sons of the late monarch. King Hussein often described him as “the delight of my eye”. He attended Harrow School in England and then joined the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He also attended several military courses in Jordan and is holding the rank of Brigadier in the Jordan Arab Army. He had served in Yugoslavia under the umbrella of international peacekeepers. Over the years, Prince Hamzah, who has a strong resemblance to his father Hussein, has also cultivated strong ties with the Bedouin tribes of the East Bank, the core support base for the monarchy, and many see him as a more popular heir apparent to the King than the current Crown Prince, the 26-year-old Prince Hussein. And he often amplified the voices of dissent and criticism in the Kingdom, by raising questions on the government of his half brother.
The Hashemite Kingdom has long projected itself as an oasis of stability in a volatile region. Wedged between the Palestinian West Bank and the war-torn Syria and Iraq, Jordan has been an important American ally for years, playing a critical role in the U.S.’s military and diplomatic efforts in West Asia. The palace feud has cut open the long-simmering wounds within the Hashemites, who claim their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed and had ruled Mecca and Medina for centuries until the Saudis captured the holy cities after the First World War.
A key challenge King Abdullah faces is the growing anger among Jordanians about government policies. There are widespread corruption allegations. As a stable country in the middle of a conflict zone, Jordan has accepted millions of refugees from around the region over the years, which has stretched its finances. The economic woes mounted in recent months after COVID-19 struck the country. About 7,000 died due to the virus in a country of 10 million people.
When nine COVID-19 patients died after a government hospital in Salt, a hillside town near Amman, ran out of Oxygen last month, anti-government protests broke out. Later Prince Hamzah visited the town, met the families of the deceased and consoled them. Local people invited the Prince for a traditional feast two weeks later. Within a few weeks, the palace crackdown on Prince Hamzah unfolded.
King Abdullah now says the crisis has been resolved. But it is unlikely so. Even when he was detained, Prince Hamzah remained defiant, as the leaked messages show. He refused to keep quiet and accused the government of corruption, nepotism and misrule. The monarch may have bought peace for now. But can he keep Prince Hamzah away from politics forever?