Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Hamzah’s Decision to Renounce Title Casts Shadow on Freedom of Expression

Prince Hamzah
Jordan’s Prince Hamzah bin Hussein. (Photo by KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Justin Salhani

In April 2021, Jordan’s Prince Hamzah was placed on house arrest after being accused by his half-brother, King Abdallah, of organizing a foreign backed coup. One year later, Hamzah relinquished his princely title via a statement on his personal Twitter account despite reports from February 2022 of reconciliation.

“After what I have witnessed over the past years, I have come to the conclusion that my personal convictions and the values that my father instilled in me… are not in line with the approaches, trends or modern methods of our institutions,” Hamzah wrote on the social media platform.

In April of 2021, Hazmah claimed he was punished for speaking out on corruption and the eroding freedom of expression in Jordan, despite claims from the Royal Hashemite Court that he had been trying to destabilize the kingdom.

Hamzah’s abdication comes after Jordan’s Freedom House rating went from ‘free’ to ‘not free’ in 2022 following a year where the kingdom took severe action to prevent anti-government protests. The Economist’s Democracy Index ranks Jordan at 118th in the world, below other regional royals in Kuwait and Qatar.

In April last year, a Washington Post story based on Jordanian intelligence leaks reported that Hamzah, who was named crown prince in 1999 but stripped of the title by Abdallah in 2004, had been placed on house arrest. Hamzah’s phone and internet was disconnected and his personal guards were removed, leaving him with no way to reach the outside world.

More than 20 people were arrested in connection to plotting a coup against King Abdallah, the country’s head of state for the last 22 years. Foreign states quickly dispatched their support for the Kingdom of Jordan’s continued stability. Domestically, a gag order was put in place by the state on reporting of the incident.

Soon after, leaked video and audio circulated the country, showing Hamzah arguing with Jordanian army Chief General Youssef Huneiti. In the leaked video, Huneiti can be heard telling Hamzah to limit his public appearances to family visits, stop attending public events and to stop posting on Twitter. Huneiti tells Hamzah he has crossed red lines. Hamzah asks if Huneiti is threatening him, to which Huneiti replies he is not.

“Next time, don’t come and threaten me in my house. The house of Hussein. God help you,” Hamzah says, ending the exchange.

Despite having his phone and internet cut, Hamzah still found a way to leak a video that denied all accusations. He insisted he was being punished for voicing concerns about corruption and lack of freedom of expression shared by many Jordanians.

“I am not the cause of the current devastation of the country,” Hamzah said in a video address leaked to the BBC during his house arrest. “They try and arrest us and silence everyone who loves his country … accusing them of following a foreign agenda,” he said. Hamzah also released a video in Arabic.

Sherif Hassan bin Zaid, the king’s cousin, and Bassem Awadallah, a close advisor to the king, were later convicted of sedition and sentenced to 15 years in prison by a state security court in relation to the alleged plot. Hamzah and Abdallah’s uncle, Prince Hassan, were brought in to mediate the rift. Hassan was stripped of the title of crown prince of Jordan just three weeks before his brother King Hussein’s death in 1999. Hassan had served as crown prince for over 30 years.

With the gag order in effect, rumors swirled in the Hashemite Kingdom. In February, the royal court announced the birth of Hamzah’s son. And the next month, King Abdallah claimed to have received an apology letter from Hamzah.

“Last year, our dear Jordan passed through a difficult circumstance and an unfortunate chapter,” the letter read. “The months that have passed since that time have provided me with an opportunity for self-reflection, and frankness with myself… I made a mistake.”

Hamzah also made his only public appearance since his house arrest the previous year in a visit to his late father’s tomb with Abdallah. But the public reconciliation appears over as Hamzah relinquished his royal title.

No evidence was ever provided by the kingdom to prove their claims that Hamzah was looking to destabilize the nation. Some Jordanians however privately backed Hamzah during his ordeal last year. Many in the kingdom worry that to speak out publicly would lead to accusations of disloyalty.

“It was the first time someone was saying what we were thinking,” a Jordanian national told New Lines Magazine. “Everyone is Hamzah.”

“We’re all leaving because of the corruption,” he added. “It’s impossible to do business here.”

The last couple of years have been difficult for Jordanians. The pandemic exacerbated an economic crisis that hit the country’s poor especially hard. The World Bank announced a $350 million COVID-19 emergency response in March 2022 that is aimed to benefit 120,000 Jordanian homes. This boost may help to alleviate some of the woes of the country’s most vulnerable. But the kingdom’s slow erosion of freedoms is also a deep cause for concern.

It’s not historically common for the Hashemite Royal Court’s disagreements to go public. The reconciliation efforts and media gag show that putting forward an aura of unity is important to the kingdom. As the signing of the Abraham Accords shifts regional alliances, King Abdallah might be worried about continued regional and international support for his reign. Now in his third decade ruling the Jordanian kingdom, Abdallah could have taken value from hearing what his own people think at such a juncture, if only he hadn’t created the conditions where they are afraid to speak up.

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