Civil Unrest and Popular Discontent: What to know about the recent rift among the Jordanian Hashemites

Christina Bouri
Christina is a first-year AM candidate at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her research primarily focuses on left and socialist movements in Iraq and the Levant in the past century. Christina is also interested in the intersection of human rights and international law in relation to the new, and ongoing, refugee crises in the Middle East. Photo credits [1]

The morning of Saturday, April 3rd, reports of an alleged national security threat targeted at the reigning Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II, by his younger half-brother, Prince Hamzah, were headlining news sources across the world. Recently, Prince Hamzah has been publicly critical of King Abdullah II’s rule during the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

In a video shared on Saturday, Prince Hamzah – the oldest son of the late King Hussein and his wife, Queen Noor – describes the corruption and incompetence of the government in the last fifteen to twenty years. Placed under house arrest with his wife and children, Prince Hamzah’s internet and phone lines were cut, and he shared the video before his satellite internet was also cut off.[2] Stating that he was not part of a nefarious or foreign-backed group, he describes the country as being “stymied in corruption, nepotism, and misrule.”[3] Moreover, he asserts that the Jordanian people have developed a “lack of faith in their institutions” and no one is able to express or voice their opinions without being “bullied, arrested, harassed, and threatened.”[4]

This criticism was described by the Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister, Ayman Safadi, as destabilizing national security and as such needed to be contained. According to Safadi, Prince Hamzah posed no immediate threat, but rather, the Jordanian national security forces reacted to efforts presented by Prince Hamzah, aimed at rattling popular discontent with Jordan’s economic crisis and presenting himself as an alternative ruler.[5] Significantly, tensions between the reigning monarch and his brother, Prince Hamzah, have existed for some time, but the recent escalation of events resulted in a public display of such tensions. 

Rifts first began when the royal line of succession was changed. Upon his deathbed in 1999, the late King Hussein changed the royal line of succession by replacing Prince Hassan bin Talal – his younger brother – as crown prince, with the then Prince Abdullah II.[6] After his ascension to the throne, King Abdullah II later replaced Prince Hamzah with his son, Prince Hussein II, as crown prince in 2004.[7]

In recent years, Jordan’s downward spiraling economy, increasing unemployment rate, and regional turmoil – resulting in influxes of refugees and asylum seekers – has been a point of contention among various tribal leaders. Prince Hamzah has voiced popular frustrations in Jordan and maintained public support because of his stark resemblance to his late father, King Hussein.[8] More recently, Prince Hamzah has made more visits to Jordan’s tribal leaders, who are an important base of support for the Hashemite monarchy.[9]

By Saturday evening, official reports by the Petra News Agency confirmed the detainment of a member of the royal family, Sharif Hassan Bin Zaid – the son of Sharif Hassan Ibn Zayd Al Nasser, a Hashemite royal currently residing in Saudi Arabia. Another prominent figure who was detained on Saturday was Bassem Awadallah.[10] Awadallah has been a confidant of King Abdullah II for many years and, in 2005, was named Minister of Planning and International Cooperation before being named Chief of the Royal Court in 2007. Before holding these positions, he served as the Economic Secretary to the Prime Minister of Jordan and the Director of the Economics Department of the Royal Hashemite Court.[11] These two individuals were arrested by the Jordanian security forces on allegations pertaining to national security. [12]

The news of an alleged betrayal from within the royal family and those close to them shook not only the country but the whole world. Much of this comes after years of tranquility, with the country being one of the most politically stable in the region. Jordan has been presented with insurmountable pressure, aggravated by the lack of natural resources, growing national debt, and increasing unemployment. The COVID-19 public health crisis has only worsened these pressures and just last month, at least seven patients died in a hospital in the northwestern city of Salt in Jordan, because of an oxygen shortage.[13] Public officials announced that the victims were being treated for the coronavirus and died from an interruption in their oxygen supply.[14] Days of civil unrest and national uproar against the mismanagement that led to the death of these victims saw a visit by King Abdullah II to the hospital, as well as the resignation of the hospital director and Jordan’s Health Minister, Nathir Obeidat.[15]

This combination of events may have led to public support of Prince Hamzah and his stance against the current government. Many Jordanians within the country and overseas took to their social media accounts to show their solidarity with Prince Hamzah.  His mother, Queen Noor, broke her silence with a Tweet on Sunday hoping that “truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.” 

Early Tuesday, Prince Hamzah pledged fealty to his brother, King Abdullah. Officials report that King Abdullah asked his uncle, Prince Hassan, to help resolve the tensions. In a signed letter, Prince Hamzah denied allegations of conspiracy and committed himself to the “constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” and placed “himself in the hands of his majesty the king.”[16] Prince Hamzah has yet to make a public appearance since the video he released on Saturday. 

What awaits the kingdom is still unknown, given the deep rifts between the Hashemites and the economic malaise that only continues to grow. Prince Hamzah’s public discontent may have come at a time when the country is at its weakest, with the COVID-19 pandemic halting important sectors of the economy. Albeit these recent events have amplified popular discontent towards the government, the years ahead are a critical determinant of the legacy of the Hashemites and their presence as a stable pillar among regional turmoil.  


[1]King Abdullah II (right) and Prince Hamzah (left) (Source: Yousef Allan/Petra/AFP/Getty Images).

[2] Lyse Doucet, “Jordan’s Prince Hamzah vows to defy ‘house arrest’ orders,” BBC, April 6, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56637430

[3] Doucet, “Jordan’s Prince Hamzah.” 

[4] Ibid. 

[5] Stephen Kalin and Suha Ma’ayeh, “Jordan Minister Says Threat From King’s Half-Brother is Contained,” The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/jordan-minister-says-threat-from-kings-half-brother-is-contained-11617750279?st=3xbvc3116me3z0g&reflink=article

[6] Bruce Riedel, “Jordan’s King Abdullah is facing new risks – from his own friends,” The Brookings Institution, June 14, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/06/14/jordans-king-abdullah-is-facing-new-risks-from-his-own-friends/

[7] Kalin and Ma’ayeh, “Jordan Minister.” 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Ibid. 

[10] “Jordan prince says he’s confined, lashes out at authorities,” The Associated Press, April 3, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/abdullah-ii-saudi-arabia-middle-east-arrests-jordan-7d1ec66a739f185afdec42ae9b2e5f95

[11] “What do we know about the two men arrested in Jordan last night?” Al Bawaba, April 4, 2021, https://www.albawaba.com/node/what-do-we-know-about-two-men-arrested-jordan-last-night

[12] Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Jordan’s Prince Hamzah was destablising country’s security, says deputy prime minister,” The National, April 4, 2021, https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/jordan/jordan-s-prince-hamzah-was-destabilising-country-s-security-says-deputy-prime-minister-1.1196992

[13] Elian Peltier, “At least 7 Covid-19 patients die in Jordan because of an oxygen shortage, a growing problem around the world,” The New York Times, March 13, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/world/jordan-hospital-oxygen.html

[14] Peltier, “At least 7 Covid-19 patients die in Jordan.”

[15] Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Jordan health minister sacked after oxygen outage kills seven COVID-19 patients,” Reuters, March 13, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-jordan-hospital-idUSKBN2B50A1

[16] Doucet, “Jordan’s Prince Hamzah.” 

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