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Explained: Why the Jordan crisis has significance for the entire Arab region

Jordanian government statements have suggested there had been an attempted coup to destabilise the country, mentioning unnamed ‘foreign entities' involved in the plot.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 8, 2021 9:46:43 am
Jordan crisis, Prince Hamzah, King Abdullah, indian express, express explainedIn this May 27, 2004 file photo, Jordan's Prince Hamzah stands with his mother Queen Noor during his wedding ceremony in Amman, Jordan. (Photo: AP)

The royal household in Jordan has recently seen intense drama, with King Abdullah’s popular half-brother and former crown prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein placed under de facto house arrest.

Hamzah was accused of undermining national security after he attended meetings with tribal leaders in which the ruling monarch was openly criticised. In a video released to the press, the royal said he had been placed under house arrest as part of a crackdown on critics, but denied being a part of any conspiracy against King Abdullah.

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Although the matter appeared to have de-escalated after mediation between the two brothers on Monday, questions remain unanswered about the full scope of what transpired.

Jordanian government statements have suggested that there had been an attempted coup to destabilise the country, mentioning unnamed “foreign entities” involved in the plot.

The events have thus put a spotlight on Jordan’s unique position as one of the most stable countries in the Arab world, and given rise to questions about who could stand to benefit from the alleged coup.

Why Jordan’s stability matters

Jordan, which this year celebrates 100 years since its creation after World War I, has for decades remained stable in a part of the world that is prone to conflict and political uncertainty.

For its allies in the West and in the Gulf, Jordan is a strategic partner which can be relied upon for furthering political objectives in the region, which includes war-torn Syria and Iraq as well as conflict-prone Israel and Palestine. The support of Jordanian intelligence has proven critically important in the fight against terrorism.

Though impoverished, the country of about a crore people has served as a haven for refugees in the conflict-ridden region. After the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, Jordan received waves of refugees, to the point that about half of Jordan’s population today is made up of Palestinians. It has also welcomed refugees after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, and currently hosts over 10 lakh from Syria, where a protracted civil war is going on.

Jordan is also considered important to any future peace deal between Israel and Palestine.

How does Jordan get along with regional powers?

Traditionally, Jordan has maintained close relations with the US, and the fellow Sunni Muslim powers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which together stand against Shia Iran. It also has diplomatic relations with Israel, and the two countries have been bound by a peace treaty since 1994.

In recent years, however, Jordan’s relations with the Saudis and UAE have seen ups and downs, particularly since the rise of their respective crown princes Mohammed bin Salman (known by initials MBS) and Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ).

One of the points of friction was Saudi-UAE’s blockade of Qatar in 2017. After Riyadh and Abu Dhabi moved to punish Doha for its supposed ties to extremist groups, Jordan downgraded its relations with Qatar, but maintained cordial terms, even seeking economic assistance from the petrostate. It caused further consternation in Saudi and Emirati circles by maintaining strong ties with Turkey.

Jordan has also disagreed with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on which groups to back in the Syrian crisis, and recently ended up in trouble after being exposed as a transit destination for Emirati munitions support for Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. Jordan’s role as the region’s interlocutor has also diminished since last year, after the UAE normalised relations with Israel.

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What have these powers said of the alleged coup?

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have expressed full support for King Abdullah. The US has called the ruler a “key partner”.

To drive home the point, Saudi Arabia sent its foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, to Jordan’s capital Amman to “express complete solidarity with Jordan’s King Abdullah and his government,” the BBC reported. Saudi officials have brushed aside accusations of its involvement in the rumbling within the royal household as “far-fetched nonsense”.

Yet, among the nearly 20 figures detained over the weekend is Bassem Awadallah, a Saudi-Jordanian dual citizen who was the former head of Jordan’s Royal Court and is currently an economic adviser to MBS. He is also considered close to the UAE’s MBZ.

Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi has said that Awadallah’s alleged role in the affair “coincided with recent intensive activities of Prince Hamzah to communicate with popular figures with the aim of inciting them and pushing them to move in activities that might harm national security”.

Even so, experts say that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have little to gain by destabilising Jordan, a country that has long served as a dependable ally. Some also discredit the theory of an alliance between Prince Hamzah and Awadallah, since the former is a government critic and the latter largely seen as a government insider thanks to his past role in Jordan.

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