Analysis: Jordan’s king has regained power after the crisis, but economic burdens remain

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  • King Abdullah visits tribes, strengthens power base
  • Trial ends without Saudi diplomatic consequences
  • King enjoys US support

AMMAN, Jul 15 (Reuters) – King Abdullah has moved quickly to bolster his hold on Jordan in the three months since an alleged plan to replace him with his half-brother emerged.

The crisis sparked by Prince Hamza’s alleged leadership ambitions appears to have been put to bed this week with a military tribunal convicting two men accused of conspiracy with him and ostracizing the prince himself in a palace has been.

Aside from legal proceedings, King Abdullah has sought to re-assert his influence over the powerful tribes that underpin his rule and whose loyalty Prince Hamza has been accused of competing to visit their territories and raise his profile.

Officials speak of a now composed and relaxed king, as opposed to his apparent fear in the first few weeks of the crisis, which the king described as “the most painful” because it came both inside and outside the royal family.

The trial appears to have proceeded with no apparent diplomatic ramifications from Saudi Arabia, where the main defendant, Bassem Awdallah, worked as the top advisor to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, having previously served as the closest advisor to King Abdullah for many years.

The prosecutor’s indictment states that the defendants agreed that Awadallah would seek foreign support for Hamza’s ambitions using his connections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and that Hamza asked Awadallah if Riyadh would help him if he did something happens in Jordan.

But the Jordanian authorities never suggested a Saudi role in the conspiracy.

Meanwhile, support from Jordan’s most important ally, the United States, appears to be unwavering after an uncomfortable period during the tenure of ex-President Donald Trump, whose Middle East peace plan in Amman was seen as an existential threat.

“I just called to tell him he has a friend in America. Stay strong,” President Joe Biden told the king in a phone call on April 7 at the height of the crisis. Continue reading

King Abdullah will be the first Arab leader to meet Biden in the White House next week. Continue reading

“The king has probably never been stronger than it is today – very solid support internally, very solid support externally,” said Fares Braizat, former minister and head of the NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions think tank.

“The message (of the process) is to interfere in the stability of the country cannot be tolerated.”

ROYAL rivalries

The episode has given a rare glimpse into the rivalries within the Hashemite family who have ruled Jordan since it became a British protectorate in 1921. read more

At the request of his father, the late King Hussein, Abdullah appointed Hamza crown prince on his accession to the throne in 1999. In 2004, however, he removed him from office and later appointed his son, Prince Hussein, to this office.

Hamza was spared conviction after swearing allegiance to King Abdullah. Originally placed under house arrest, he is now isolated with his family in a palace and excluded from any public role, people familiar with the situation told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The military tribunal pronounced its verdicts against Awadallah and Sherif Hassan Zaid, a distant relative of Abdullah, after seven sessions.

The men, who were each sentenced to 15 years in prison, both pleaded not guilty.

With defense requests to call witnesses denied, the speedy process sent a message to King Abdullah’s opponents that he would never tolerate a threat to his rule, politicians say.

Critics say the trial did not have an adequate trial and was mainly aimed at undermining Hamza, who has been accused by his opponents of taking advantage of the tribes’ grievances to incite them against the king.

“This is a court that does not have the minimum standards of justice … It is a political trial and an indictment against Hamza before public opinion,” said Lamis Andoni, a political analyst.

A US attorney from Awadallah said his client was beaten and mentally tortured and feared for his life.

The Jordanian authorities denied this.

The US State Department said it is closely monitoring the Awadallah case and taking any allegations of abuse seriously.

As an economist of Palestinian origin with US citizenship, Awadallah is a divisive figure. He has long been denigrated by a ruling elite of the country’s tribal leaders for his influence over the monarch and his free-market reforms, which they saw as a threat to their privileges.

TRIBES

Jordan’s powerful tribes dominate the army and security forces, and their loyalty to the Hashemites has been repaid with generous government benefits for decades.

King Abdullah has intensified his commitment to the tribes since the crisis began. Likewise, Prince Hussein.

During a visit to the Red Sea city of Aqaba last month, Prince Hussein, 27, criticized maladministration – one of the issues Prince Hamza publicly complained about. Several local officials were sacked this week.

Economic problems in Jordan, including reduced aid from the Arab Gulf states, have put pressure on the system of patronage.

The economy was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 shutdowns last year, with unemployment hitting a record 24%.

Jordan hopes Washington will extend a $ 1.5 billion annual assistance program after the IMF vows economic reforms that will help the kingdom raise more funding.

The king seeks economic reforms, but encounters opposition from the conservative establishment.

“The challenges we face from hunger, poverty and unemployment and have lost confidence in government institutions mean that the aftermath of the Hamza affair is still with us,” said Khaled Ramadan, a politician and former MP.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Adaptation by Tom Perry, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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