Jordan’s Prince Hamza bin Al-Hussein, the former Crown Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom has relinquished his royal status in protest of the country’s current policies. Although this may seem harmless, the timing of the move may indeed say a lot about the meaning of such a move and what it signals for the future of Jordan.
The Kingdom of Jordan has long been the most stable ally of the United States in the Middle East — aside from Israel — yet last year’s political turmoil, described by some as a “coup plot”, seems to have proven a different approach is now been taken by Washington. King Abdullah II, the Hashemite ruler of Jordan, was said to have avoided a plot aimed at stirring political unrest and sedition in the Kingdom in April of last year.
Prince Hamza bin al-Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah, was placed under house arrest last year. Two of his alleged co-conspirators, along with roughly a dozen others were arrested. The two prominent figures who seemed to have been Prince Hamza’s aids, were Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid.
According to a Jordanian intelligence report viewed by the Washington Post, “In mid-2019, intel indicated Sharif Hassan bin Zaid … met with two officials from a foreign embassy to inquire about their country’s position on supporting Prince Hamzah as an alternative to the King, and Sharif Hassan continued to communicate with the embassy afterwards.” The embassy, according to the Post, was presumed to have been the US embassy. As for Bassem Awadallah, he is a well known Jordanian businessman who has strong ties to both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Awadallah is accused of being under the control of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Although reports surfaced, in early March, that Prince Hamza had apologized for his alleged plot to destabilize the Kingdom, his latest move may prove that this apology was insincere. Hamza publicly posted a statement in which he renounced his royal titles in protest of the direction in which Jordan’s institutions were allegedly headed. The move came at the very beginning of Ramadan and was done strategically to pull on the heart strings of Jordanians.
The plot to destabilize Jordan was said to have been monitored for 2 years by the Jordanian intelligence. The reason Jordan’s intelligence community did not act sooner, may have been to do with the presence of Donald Trump in the White House. Under the Trump administration, Washington seemed to have been moving closer to Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman and Mohammed Bin Zayed of the UAE. Both these Arab regimes distanced themselves from Amman, whilst the US government clearly did not approve of King Abdullah’s stance on the Deal of the Century plan. It is likely that Abdullah saw it as more strategically tenable to get rid of the threat whilst Joe Biden was in office.
Despite his more laid back approach and attempts to repair the damage done to the Jordan-US relationship, US President Joe Biden has pursued a very similar approach to that of his predecessor. The Biden administration, like the former Trump administration, is seeking to bring together Arab regimes in a type of Middle Eastern NATO alliance against Iranian hegemony. The anti-Iran posturing has been coordinated through the Arab Regimes that have normalized ties with Israel, excluding Sudan and Jordan. In the case of Sudan, they have not been included due to domestic issues and the country is not exactly very useful to them at the moment.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II is a crucial ally for the West, Jordan is the launching pad for Western intelligence agencies and their militaries in the Middle East. However, despite this close relationship with the West, there are some issues on which that he is publicly refusing to play ball on. It appears — at least from the Kings rhetoric — that he is opposed to the American vision for the region, which undermines the need for a two-State solution to the Palestine-Israel crisis. He understands well that in the event that the quasi-governmental body based in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA), falls, there will be major trouble for both itself and Israel in the future. The Hashemite leader values his custodianship over the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and is still speaking in terms of the old Arab Peace initiative, when it comes to his vision for solving the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Jordan refused to participate in the recent Negev Summit, hosted by Israel for two days, in which the US, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco participated. The King met with Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah instead and did not even mention the Negev Summit.
There are also major tensions ongoing in Jordan as we speak, to do with economic and political issues, which Hamza bin al-Hussein is seemingly attempting to capitalize on. The King needs the Jordanian tribes on his side, and in addition to this, he cannot afford issues with Palestinian citizens of Jordan who make up roughly 70% of the country’s population. The fear for Jordan is that in the event that the PA falls in the West Bank and the Israeli military is faced with harsh armed resistance, this conflict may well end up pouring into Jordan’s back yard. During the war between Gaza and Israel last May, we started to see thousands of Palestinian demonstrators approach the Jordan-Israel border to protest, and the nationalist sentiment of Palestinians in the Kingdom has clearly never been quashed. This is despite the Jordanian authorities brutally cracking down on Palestinian movements and organization that they view as crossing a red line, following the 1970 expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Jordan by force.
Washington is not likely to throw its weight behind a full scale regime change operation in Jordan, as too many things could go wrong, but using Hamza bin Al-Hussein as a means of keeping the King in line may well be what we are now seeing. The United States and its Arab Regime allies, along with Israel, have the power to cause serious issues for the King if he goes too far off script and this latest move by Prince Hamza is likely to represent them flexing their muscles.