Divided Kingdom: Jordan Shaken by Split Between King and Ex-Crown Prince

AMMAN, Jordan — The kingdom of Jordan has long been considered an oasis of relative stability in the Middle East. While wars and insurgencies flared in neighboring Syria and Iraq, Jordan was for decades considered a secure and dependable ally of the United States, a buffer against attacks on Israel, and a key interlocutor with Palestinians.

But this weekend, that placid image was upended as a long-simmering rift between the king, Abdullah II, and a former crown prince, Hamzah bin Hussein, burst into the public eye.

On Sunday the government accused Prince Hamzah, the king’s younger half-brother, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security,” making far more explicit claims about his alleged involvement than it did the evening before, when it first divulged the supposed conspiracy.

In a speech Sunday afternoon, the Jordanian foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, directly accused Prince Hamzah of working with a former finance minister, Bassem Awadallah, and a junior member of the royal family, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, to target “the security and stability of the nation.”

released a video in which he said he had been placed under house arrest. The prince denied involvement in any plot against King Abdullah, though he did condemn the government as corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian.

By Sunday, his mother had stepped into the fray. Queen Noor — also stepmother of the king — issued a combative statement in defense of her son, saying he was the victim of “wicked slander.”

For a royal house that usually keeps disagreements private, it was a showdown of unexpected and unusual intensity.

important to any future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States stations troops and aircraft in the country, keeps close ties with Jordanian intelligence, and last year provided more than $1.5 billion in aid to the Jordanian government, according to the State Department.

The rift seemed to be playing out not only for the Jordanian audience, but as a public relations war directed at Washington as well. Prince Hamzah made a video in Arabic, but also took care to release one in English.

To many international observers, the confrontation between king and prince underscored the fragility of the social structures that lie beneath Jordan’s calm facade.

The country is in the middle of a particularly brutal wave of the coronavirus. Its economy is struggling. And with 600,000 refugees from Syria, it is one of the countries most affected by the fallout from the Syrian war.

A significant proportion of Jordan’s nine million citizens are descended from Palestinians who fled to the country after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. The rest are native Jordanians, whose tribes have been absorbed into the structure of the state, and whose support is crucial to King Abdullah’s legitimacy, analysts say. This weekend’s imbroglio came against a backdrop of recent and very public attempts by Prince Hamzah to build closer ties with those tribes.

King Abdullah, who is 59, named Hamzah crown prince in 1999, but he stripped him of the title in 2004 and transferred it to his son, Prince Hussein, now 26.

in a statement that he had been in touch with the prince, but that he never served in any intelligence agency.

Over the weekend, different factions of the royal family made a series of claims and counterclaims.

First, Queen Noor came to the prince’s defense.

“Praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander,” she wrote on Twitter. “God bless and keep them safe.”

Then came the riposte from another wing of the family.

The “seemingly blind ambition” of “Queen Noor & her sons” is “delusional, futile, unmerited,” tweeted Princess Firyal, an aunt by marriage to both the king and his half-brother.

Before deleting the tweet, she offered a word of advice: “Grow up Boys.”

Rana F. Sweis reported from Amman, and Adam Rasgon and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem.

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