By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – When Prince Hamza visited the families of COVID-19 patients who died after a hospital ran out of oxygen, he caused a rift in the Jordanian monarchy that has shaken the country’s reputation as a stable country in an unstable region.
The March 14 visit to the city of Salt was, in the words of a senior figure of the institution, “straw that broke the camel,” coming just as it happened hours after King Abdullah visited the hospital and publicly rebuked management for the nine deaths. .
Hamza made the trip to comfort the bereaved six days before Prince Hussein went to town to do the same, an move some officials said had raised his newest rival to the throne.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen officials, former officials and palace officials about the events that led to the allegations against Hamza. They spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be able to discuss sensitive issues.
Eight people familiar with the situation said Hamza’s visit had harmed half of his brother the king, and prompted authorities to place him under house arrest and charge him with involvement in activities aimed at destabilizing the country.
As Hamza and Abdullah publicly bury the hut, dramatic weekend events revealed the devastation within a royal family that has helped protect Jordan from the unrest that devastated neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Hamza was widely expected to succeed Abdullah as the next king of Jordan, until the monarch made Prince Hussein his successor in his place in 2004, in line with family tradition.
Some experts worry that the dispute could flare up again, given the underlying problems in Jordan such as poverty, unemployment and rising deaths from COVID-19, which they said contributed to the spread of tensions.
“The family quarrel is over, however we need to address the issues that prompted it … unemployment, the management of COVID-19 and poverty,” Jawad al Anani, who served as the last chief of the royal court under the king of felt Hussein. .
“These are the causes (of) … the frustration that drives people to follow their idols.”
Hamza could not be reached for comment on the causes of the palace disruption and his motives for visiting the bereaved families.
The palace declined to comment when asked what had prompted the government to move against Hamza, who has not been seen in public since the row erupted.
On Wednesday, King Jordan said the uprising had been crushed and Hamza was “under my care”. Hamza promised allegiance to the king after mediation by the royal family.
Officials said between 14 and 16 people had been arrested in connection with the alleged plot.
Hamza, 41, was warmly welcomed by the families of the deceased in Salt during his visit to Mars.
Small protests over the hospital’s lack of oxygen had erupted across Jordan, and some participants were chanting the prince’s name and calling on him to save the country.
The hospital could not be reached for comment early Friday, which is a weekend in Jordan.
The monarch, 59, has been pushing his 26-year-old son Hussein increasingly into the spotlight, has been seen by his side in most public cases and often accompanies him on foreign visits.
Hamza’s activities were a concern for the king long before events came to a head last month, according to some prominent politicians.
The prince, the son of the late King Hussein and Queen Noor, has nurtured close ties with the tribes of Jordan, who dominate the security forces and form the foundation of support for the kingdom’s Hashemite monarchy.
This year he increased his travels to rural and provincial areas to meet disgruntled tribal leaders who formed a free opposition movement called the Herak, many of whose members are retired from the army and security.
On social media he appeared sitting in Bedouin tents drinking tea and talking to elders who were critical of the king because he did not provide them with enough work or financial security.
Although Hamza rarely expressed his opinion publicly, the palace saw the prince on the ground as an attempt to undermine the growing profile of King Abdullah and his son as a champion of equal opportunities for the country’s youth, some well-known sources told the opinion of the palace.
He also rejected rules requiring every royal to inform the palace about visits to public places, three palace officials added.
Security forces had followed every step of Hamza and had informed the monarch more regularly about his activities at a time of growing public discontent over record unemployment and poverty, according to three people familiar with the situation.
Asked about the monitoring, a security official said it was the duty of intelligence agencies to protect the country’s security.
Over the past decade, anger with authorities over deteriorating living standards and allegations of corruption has sparked major civil unrest in Jordan, mainly in the provincial and Bedouin areas where Hamza has addressed local leaders.
Tribal member Abdullah Huwaitat recalled a visit earlier this year by the prince to a meeting in southern Jordan, where Hamza told his father, who had a strong affinity with the tribes, would never allow conditions to worsen. as they had done in Jordan.
The two in attendance said Hamza expressed sympathy for their views that the country was being poorly administered. Reuters could not independently confirm their account.
For the past 20 years, Hamza has cultivated loyalty by imitating his father’s language, voice, demeanor, and even clothing. Tribal sources said that the educated prince, educated from the west, set a point to learn the dialects of each tribe.
As his popularity grew, authorities thought the time had finally come to intervene.
“He left us with no option,” said a senior political figure.
Army Chief of Staff Yousef Huneiti arrived at Hamza Palace in Amman around 2:00 pm on Saturday.
Hamza was told that mixing with disgruntled tribes was a “red line” he should not have crossed.
In an audio recording leaked by Hamza on social media, the prince reacted angrily: “Sir, excuse me, where were you 20 years ago? I was the Crown Prince in this place by order of my father, may Allah have mercy on him.
“I swore to him that I would continue to serve my country and my people as long as I live.”
An army spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the episode.
Prince Hamza also said in a video recorded by his lawyer at the BBC that he was under house arrest and had been told to stay home and not contact anyone.
Speaking in English on video, he said he was not part of any foreign conspiracy and denounced the governing system as corrupt.
“(Jordan’s) welfare has been placed second by a system of government that has decided that its personal interests, its financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the life and dignity and future of the ten million people living here,” he said. he said.
(Edited by Mike Collett-White and Michael Georgy)
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