Politics

Why Jordan’s Royal Family Drama Imperils Regional Stability: Q&A

Photographer: Yousef Allan/The Royal Hashemite Court/AP Photo

Jordan’s stability, long protected by the U.S. and global allies, was suddenly shaken by the dramatic weekend arrests of some royal family members and others accused of plotting unrest in the kingdom. Former Crown Prince Hamza Bin Hussein, King Abdullah II’s half-brother who is seen as popular among Bedouin tribes in the kingdom’s traditional society, was put under house arrest.

Ruled by the Hashemite family — which also ruled Mecca, Islam’s holiest region, Iraq and Syria in the last century — Jordan has been a close U.S. ally. It was among the first Arab states to recognize Israel almost three decades ago.

Jordan is home to a large population of Palestinian refugees, and has a notable presence of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also lies at the crossroads between Sunni radicals, mostly in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and the so-called Iranian crescent of influence in the region. Israel has always been concerned about Jordan’s stability, as any implosion could mean having a hostile regime or chaos on its border.

The kingdom has seen peaceful demonstrations since the Arab Spring revolts began in 2011, but has been relatively stable.

What’s at stake?

Jordan’s stability is crucial to the region because of its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its situation on the borders of war-torn Syria and Iraq. The kingdom has also fashioned itself as a force for moderation in a turbulent neighborhood. It also borders Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.

A Sunni Muslim-majority country, Jordan has 10 million people, many of them Palestinians who are fully naturalized. The kingdom also has more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees and more than 600,000 Syrians.

The political tension comes at a time of worsening relations with Israel over its plans to annex the West Bank. Most recently, the royal family and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in a tit-for-tat quarrel.

What’s rocking the House of the Hashemites?

In a rare public dispute within the royal family, Prince Hamza used a six-minute video to dispel the accusations. In the video provided to the BBC by his lawyer, he said he was “not part of any conspiracy” and slammed the government for the “breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse.”

Family tensions have been high since the late King Hussein, shortly before his death in 1999, fired his brother Hassan as Crown Prince after 34 years and named his oldest son, Abdullah II as successor. Hamza was then appointed as next in line for four years before the title was transferred in 2004 to the current king’s eldest son, Hussein. He has since been keeping a low profile.

Who’s Prince Hamza?

Hamza, 41, is the eldest son of King Hussein and his American-born fourth wife, Queen Noor, who groomed Hamza to succeed his father.

Hamza, who bears a close resemblance to his popular father, maintains close links with Jordan’s Bedouin tribes. Jordan’s leadership has always walked a fine line among the various Bedouin tribes and a large population of Palestinians who took refuge there after the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Jordan’s peace agreements with Israel are unpopular among the Palestinians.

Hamza has occupied various roles, including brigadier in the Jordanian army.

Who else was detained?

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