Rifts in Jordan’s royal family rarely spill out into the public. But over the past few days, they captured the world’s attention after what was either a brutal crackdown against familial dissent or the collapse of a daring conspiracy against the crown.
What exactly happened remains unclear, but the evident turmoil inside one of America’s staunchest Middle Eastern allies — seen in Washington as a linchpin against terrorists and for desired peace between Israelis and Palestinians — made the US and other nations immediately take notice.
What roils Jordan is a high-stakes he-said/he-said.
The government of 59-year-old King Abdullah II claims Prince Hamzah bin al-Hussein, the ruler’s 41-year-old half-brother and years-long critic of his sibling, led a foreign-backed scheme to “promote sedition” with the goal of “destabilizing Jordan’s security” — phrasing that heavily implies a coup attempt.
In response, the regime arrested Hamzah and as many as 17 others on Saturday to thwart whatever they allegedly had planned. “The plot is totally contained,” Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, announced on Sunday.
But Hamzah, under house arrest in his palace, sent a video to media on Saturday in which he both denied leading an elaborate conspiracy and further blasted Abdullah’s leadership.
“Even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services,” he stated, “and it’s reached the point where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed, and threatened.”
Other royals soon weighed in, further exposing deep divisions within the royal family.
Queen Noor Al Hussein, Hamzah’s American-born mother and a stepmother to the king, tweeted on Sunday that “truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.” In a now-deleted tweet, Princess Firyal, an aunt to both Abdullah and Hamzah, responded, saying the “seemingly blind ambition” of “Queen Noor & her sons” is “delusional, futile, unmerited.”
“Grow up Boys,” she added.
While open squabbles between royals in other countries happen often, they’re not a common occurrence in Jordan and have never been this serious in the modern era. “This kind of family feud is extremely rare,” Jawad Anani, formerly Jordan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, told me. “This last episode has actually shocked the Jordanian public because they’ve never experienced something like that.”
It also caught governments around the world flat-footed, leading longtime partners of the regime, including the United States, to rush to publicly back the monarch. “King Abdullah is a key…