Why Jordan’s Royal Family Drama Imperils Regional Stability: Q&A

Ruled by the Hashemite family — which also ruled Mecca, Islam’s holiest region, Iraq and Syria in the last century — Jordan has been a close U.S. ally. It was among the first Arab states to recognize Israel almost three decades ago.

Jordan is home to a large population of Palestinian refugees, and has a notable presence of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also lies at the crossroads between Sunni radicals, mostly in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and the so-called Iranian crescent of influence in the region. Israel has always been concerned about Jordan’s stability, as any implosion could mean having a hostile regime or chaos on its border.

The kingdom has seen peaceful demonstrations since the Arab Spring revolts began in 2011, but has been relatively stable.

Jordan’s stability is crucial to the region because of its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its situation on the borders of war-torn Syria and Iraq. The kingdom has also fashioned itself as a force for moderation in a turbulent neighborhood. It also borders Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.

A Sunni Muslim-majority country, Jordan has 10 million people, many of them Palestinians who are fully naturalized. The kingdom also has more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees and more than 600,000 Syrians.

The political tension comes at a time of worsening relations with Israel over its plans to annex the West Bank. Most recently, the royal family and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in a tit-for-tat quarrel.

What’s rocking the House of the Hashemites?

In a rare public dispute within the royal family, Prince Hamza used a six-minute video to dispel the accusations. In the video provided to the BBC by his lawyer, he said he was “not part of any conspiracy” and slammed the government for the “breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse.”

Family tensions have been high since the late King Hussein, shortly before his death in 1999, fired his brother Hassan as Crown Prince after 34 years and named his oldest son, Abdullah II as successor. Hamza was then appointed as next in line for four years before the title was transferred in 2004 to the current king’s eldest son, Hussein. He has since been keeping a low profile.

Hamza, 41, is the eldest son of King Hussein and his American-born fourth wife, Queen Noor, who groomed Hamza to succeed his father.

Hamza, who bears a close resemblance to his popular father, maintains close links with Jordan’s Bedouin tribes. Jordan’s leadership has always walked a fine line among the various Bedouin tribes and a large population of Palestinians who took refuge there after the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Jordan’s peace agreements with Israel are unpopular among the Palestinians.

Hamza has occupied various roles, including brigadier in the Jordanian army.

More than 16 of Hamza’s associates were taken into custody, including the head of his office and several other members of the influential Majali tribe. Among the detainees are Hasan Bin Zeid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadallah, a former cabinet minister.

Awadallah has served in various positions in Jordan, including economic secretary to the prime minister, finance minister and head of the royal court. Until 2018, he was King Abdullah’s personal envoy to Saudi Arabia, where he was close to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Jordan declared independence from colonial British rule in 1946. Two years later, it got involved in the Arab-Israeli war, winning control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. While Israel seized the territories after a 1967 war, the monarch remained the custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The kingdom recognized Israel’s statehood in 1994. Unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, it never set up full-fledged economic ties with Israel.

How’s the economy doing?

Regional wars have taken a toll on Jordan’s economy, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns. The kingdom faces a worsening squeeze on its finance and a resurgence of Covid-19 cases that prompted the government to renew restrictions on movement, stoking public discontent.

The economy contracted by 3% in 2020 and unemployment soared to 24.7% at the end of last year, the highest level in 25 years. Grants by western countries and from the Gulf have flowed to Jordan for years, including a recent $700 million from the U.S. in August.

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