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Jordan officials, royal family members arrested amid apparent thwarted coup attempt

Jordanian King Abdullah II. (Photo by Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Authorities in Jordan on Saturday arrested a number of top officials and a royal family member, state news reported, in what appears to have been a thwarted attempted coup.

There were also unconfirmed reports the former crown prince was under house arrest.

The arrests were announced by the state-run Petra News agency, quoting an unnamed official who said Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadallah, a prominent official who once ran the royal court, were arrested “for security reasons” along with “others” after “close monitoring.”

“An investigation into the matter is ongoing,” said the source.

The news comes as a shock in the desert kingdom, a close regional ally of the U.S. often lauded for its stability in a crisis-ridden neighborhood.

Also swept up in the dragnet — according to observers and activists on social media — was Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, one-time crown prince and stepbrother to Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The monarch replaced him with his eldest son, Hussein, four years into his rule.

State news later quoted an unnamed security official who denied reports that a 20-vehicle force had raided Hamzah’s home in a suburb of West Amman, placing him under house arrest and detaining members of his security detail and members of his staff.

His head of office, Yasser Majali, was picked up after a heavily armed force burst into his relative’s home, according to Basma Al Majali, a family member who wrote of the incident on Twitter.

“Communication was lost with them more than three hours ago,” she tweeted.

Late Saturday night, Jordan’s Chief of Staff Maj. General Mahmoud Yousef Huneiti issued a statement saying Prince Hamzah had not been detained but instead was “asked to stop movements and activities that were being employed to target Jordan’s security and stability,” adding that this was done within “the framework of comprehensive joint investigations undertaken by the security services.”

“All the procedures were conducted within the framework of the law and after being required as a result of vigorous investigations,” he said.

“No one is above the law, and Jordan’s security and stability is above any consideration.”

The Saudi royal court issued a statement in solidarity with King Abdullah, asserting it stood with the Jordanian monarch and supported whatever decisions he makes to “preserve the security and stability and frustrate any attempt to tamper with them.” Both Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority followed suit, and Egypt said that Jordan’s stability is integral for Egyptian and Arab national security.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “We are closely following the reports and in touch with Jordanian officials. King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support.”

Jordan’s 59-year-old king came to power in 1999, when King Hussein before his death elevated the British-educated, eldest son from his first marriage from his relatively obscure position as head of Jordan’s special forces to become the new monarch. Since then, King Abdullah has been a top U.S. ally, often allowing U.S. troops to stage operations from Jordanian territory and participating in the anti-Islamic State campaign. The kingdom, which has scant resources, received some $1.5 billion in assistance from the U.S. in 2020 — a result of Abdullah’s popularity among congressional leaders.

Yet he is decidedly less popular at home, where Jordanians often compare him negatively to his father, a deeply popular, charismatic figure who steered the country through many convulsions, including several regional wars, a military coup and more than a dozen assassination attempts. Some of that nostalgia rubbed off on Prince Hamzah, who bears a striking resemblance to King Hussein and was often considered his favorite.

As the eldest son of Queen Nour (nee Lisa Halaby), his father’s fourth and final queen, the now-41-year-old prince was thought to be King Hussein’s top choice as successor; he was passed over because he was still in school. Nevertheless, King Hussein insisted on putting Hamzah next in line to the throne after Abdullah.

Bassem Awadallah was a former minister of planning and finance who also once headed King Abdullah’s office and his royal court. He served as Jordan’s special envoy to Saudi Arabia, but Abdullah removed him from the role in 2018 over what were said to be his overly close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He later became chief executive of Tomoh Advisory, a Dubai-based consultancy.

The news comes at a precarious time for the monarch. The country is experiencing a brutal coronavirus wave, with fatalities only recently dipping below 100 a day. Discontent has risen, with Jordanians increasingly angry over the government’s handling of the pandemic and its inability to contain the economic devastation wreaked by strong lockdowns and weekend quarantines.

Relations with Israel, meanwhile, are also at a low point, with tensions brewing over Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank as well as a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic slights with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


© 2021 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.