Amman’s official news agency, Petra, reported on April 4 that the intelligence services had “foiled a plot” to destabilize the kingdom involving Prince Hamza along with 18 others. In a video, Hamza himself confirmed that the military had placed him under house arrest, ordering him to neither leave his residence, communicate with the outside, or meet anyone. In the recording, Hamza said he was being “punished” for having criticized the King and for denouncing corruption, noting that there was no foreign backed conspiracy.
Queen Noor, Hamza’s mother, tweeted in support of the prince, whom King Abdallah deprived of the title of crown prince in 2004, five years after he had succeeded his father King Hussein, who died in 1999. The Hashemite monarchy has endured many crises during its almost 100 years of existence as a State. Yet family feuds have rarely exploded in the public scene.
Even as the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and even Iran rushed to express their support for King Abdallah, suspicions of an external plot have been difficult to dismiss. Indeed, Jordan was able to contain public discontent in 2011, when the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia triggered a wave of protest throughout the Arab world. Jordan, which has few natural resources – apart from phosphate – has relied on its stability as its most valuable asset; an asset that the Hashemite monarchy has exploited to become valuable to the West.
Jordan, which has few natural resources – apart from phosphate – has relied on its stability as its most valuable asset.
To cultivate this advantage, Amman has always conducted a pragmatic foreign policy approach that is unique for the region, aimed at ensuring the best possible relationship with the other Middle Eastern states, the West, and the West’s rivals. Hence, even as Amman maintains deep ties to the United States and to NATO, it also enjoys close ties to Moscow (King Abdallah II has visited Moscow more than he has Washington during the course of his reign).
Hussein’s Succession: The Seed of Abdallah and Hamza’s Rivalry
In many Arab monarchies (and in some cases presidential administrations), kings appoint a crown prince to succeed them. The appointed successors are not always chosen among the monarch’s own children – as in Saudi Arabia for example. For much of his reign, King Hussein had designated his younger brother, Prince Hassan, as the crown prince. But, during his convalescence from lymphoma in the United States, during the last months of his life, the King decided his brother was unsuited for the role. Or, more likely, Hussein feared Hassan wanted to shift the line of succession to the throne to his own branch of the family. The King wished to appoint his son Hamza as his successor but did not insist on it only because of the young prince’s age (Hamza was 18 at the time of his father’s death). In what was considered a surprise move – especially for the recipient of the honor – Hussein, named his firstborn, Abdullah, who was 36 years old as his successor.
Prince Hassan made no further claims to the throne. But Abdullah set the stage for complications. After initially appointing his brother Hamza as crown prince, he chose to designate his own young son Hussein as successor in 2004. The fact that Abdullah took this decision without the duress of a “deathbed,” soured relations between the two half-siblings – not to mention the fact that everyone in the family was well aware of King Hussein’s predilection for Hamza (and his mother Queen Noor).
It has not helped matters that Hamza may also enjoy more popularity among the Jordanian population, while some describe him as more charismatic. Hamza looks and sounds like his father. He speaks excellent Arabic, as opposed to Abdullah, who was raised in an English-speaking environment. More significantly, Hamza has cultivated excellent relations with the Jordanian Bedouin tribal leaders, the cornerstones of the Hashemite dynasty, and a dominant component of the army and security services.
Several economic crises, diplomatic compromises, and many cases of alleged corruption have damaged the people’s perception of the King.
Hamza has enjoyed an upright image among the population, whereas, several economic crises, diplomatic compromises, and many cases of alleged corruption have damaged the people’s perception of the King. In fairness, Abdullah has found it difficult to live up to his father’s diplomatic legacy. For much of the former King’s reign, Jordan acted as a key diplomatic intermediary between the Arab states – especially after the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement of 1994. But Jordan has seen this diplomatic function diminish in value as many Arab countries have entered into diplomatic relations of their own with the Jewish State. Interestingly, King Abdullah has ruled more democratically than his father. So much so that many citizens – including his own half-brother – openly criticized Abdullah, which would have been unthinkable under the late King Hussein.
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The Coup as a Symptom of the Deal of the Century
It is not clear where the recent Hashemite confrontation is rooted. But what is clearer is that, unlike some of the rumors, these roots are not foreign as the initial press reports indicated. Rather, they are likely to be found in Jordan’s tribal legacy. More specifically, the Jordanian tribal leaders fear a complete loss of influence in an ever more Palestinian dominated state. And the trigger for this fear was the so-called “Deal of the Century,” which had become policy in Washington. More than merely Trump’s idiosyncratic (and simplistic) solution to what remains perhaps the most complex territorial issue in the world, Trump’s peace plan for Israel and Palestine has not only impaired Palestinian national determination efforts, it has also radiated tensions to the other key state in the Israeli-Palestinian equation: Jordan, and its royal family in particular.
The “Deal of the Century” – which President Joe Biden seems willing to uphold – has weakened King Abdullah’s ability to lead Jordan. The demise of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict envisages a proposed Palestinian “State” (a fragment of what the Oslo Accords of 1993/1995 entailed) under Jordan’s jurisdiction. The “deal” makes no provisions to resolve the refugee problem. Therefore, with even less hope of ever returning to their ancestral lands, hundreds of thousands of refugees would continue to reside in Jordan without being able to secure citizenship. Abdullah, under pressure from the tribal notables, has tried to quell the latter’s fears that Palestinians play too dominant a role in the Kingdom.
The fact that Abdullah’s designated successor, Crown Prince Hussein, whose mother, Queen Rania, is a Palestinian only serves to confirm these fears and suggests that the monarch could be forced to abdicate should he naturalize Palestinian refugees. In contrast, the Oslo two-state solution would have contributed to the stability of the Hashemite family, sparing Abdullah from having to consider such a precarious option. In addition, Abdullah has little choice in the matter. He can reject the “deal,” but he cannot ignore the fact that Jordan’s most generous benefactors, the United States and Saudi Arabia, are behind it. Without their aid, Jordan’s economy would be too weak to subsidize basic goods, triggering massive protests – as happened in 1988-89.
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Unraveling the Demographic Balance
The Kingdom has adopted policies to favor the local tribes. Electoral laws favor the “ethnic Jordanians,” who tend to live in rural areas, by allowing them to enjoy greater relative parliamentary representation than the more urban and sub-urban Palestinians. The result is that social and political differences become more entrenched while the absence of shared socioeconomic interests prevents the formation of class interests, highlighting the ethnic ones instead.
Jordan’s political compromise has aimed to achieve an equilibrium among the Jordanian tribes. The Eastern Tribes – whose culture stems from the desert Bedouin, along with the more Mediterranean Palestinians, would crumble under the implementation of the Deal. Such tribes as the Fayez and Bani Hasan were the first to recognize the Hashemite monarchy in 1946, and they have remained the most loyal. The tribes rely on patrons to maintain power, allowing those with related access to advance in public sector careers to prestigious posts in the military or the administration.
Naturalized Palestinian-Jordanians have not been fully integrated, and the King has used “integration” as a carrot to offer in times of stress.
The Palestinians have not benefited from such access. Naturalized Palestinian-Jordanians have not been fully integrated, and the King has used “integration” as a carrot to offer in times of stress, and to deter the kinds of protests that led to such phenomena as “Black September” in 1970. However, the sudden influx of Palestinians that would occur as a result of the Deal, would force the King to integrate the Palestinians, opening up the administration and political offices to reflect their demographic strength – and they already make up some 60 percent of the overall population.
The notable Bedouin families fear becoming a minority in their own home. Therefore, they are not necessarily attached to Hamza because of substantial political positions. Rather, they are worried by Abdullah who married the Palestinian Rania, and who produced a half Palestinian heir, Crown Prince Hussein. When he ascends the throne, Abdallah and Rania’s son Hussein will be the first Palestinian-Jordanian king of the Hashemite dynasty. The Jordanian notables may then resent their being forced to accept a political equality with the Palestinians. At another level, the notables would also be offended by the fact that the “Deal of the Century” would strip the Jordanian monarch of its guardianship of the old city of Jerusalem. King Abdullah conceded there was outside pressure for him to surrender custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques in Jerusalem in view of closer Saudi relations with Israel.
The recent coup crisis has ended. Hamza, who had no intention of remaining under house arrest, promptly signed a letter, in which he declared unconditional loyalty to the King. Nevertheless, the longer-term confrontation between King Abdullah II and his half-brother, Prince Hamza, has only been contained. The “Deal of the Century” has already exacerbated divisions within the Jordanian royal family and on the Kingdom’s demographic balance. The fact that private disagreements have spilled over into an open conflict has raised well founded concerns that the struggle over whom has a greater right to the throne will continue, unraveling Jordan’s legacy of stability.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.