Saudi Arabia faces accusations of involvement in palace intrigue

Stab in the back

April 5, 2021 - 9:34

TEHRAN - High-profile figures in Jordan, including a member of the royal family and a longtime confidant of King Abdullah II, were arrested on Saturday in what appeared to be a nascent palace intrigue nipped in the bud. 

Jordan state news agency, Petra, reported on Saturday night that Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadallah, a longtime confidant of King Abdullah II, were arrested for “security reasons” after a close security investigation.

Citing a security source, the news agency said an investigation into the issue was underway. It also said that other people were arrested along with the two high-profile figures but it stopped short of naming them. 

The news came as a surprise to political circles in the region as it was the first time that a Jordanian Sharif (nobleman) was being arrested and as Sharif Hassan bin Zaid has not been an active figure in the public since he resigned his post as the head of the royal court in 2009.

Another high-profile figure - Hamzah bin Hussein - was claimed to be arrested. Unverified news reports claimed that bin Hussein, a half brother of King Abdullah, was arrested. But Jordanian Army Chief of Staff Major General Yousef Huneiti said “claims that have been published about his highness Prince Hamzah having been arrested are not true.”

According to Huneiti, Prince Hamzah had been asked to “stop movements and activities that are employed to target the security of Jordan and its stability.”

“Investigations are ongoing and the outcome will be announced with all due transparency,” he noted, adding, “All measures have been taken according to the law, and no one is above the law. Jordan’s security is above all considerations.”

In a video passed by his lawyer to the BBC, Prince Hamzah denied reports of him being part of a foreign-backed conspiracy but described the ruling system as corrupt.

“[Jordan's] well-being has been put second by a ruling system that has decided that its personal interests, financial interests, that its corruption is more important than the lives and dignity and future of the ten million people who live here,” he asserted. 

Prince Hamzah also said that he was effectively under house arrest. 

“Since then, a number of the people I know — or my friends — have been arrested, my security has been removed, and the internet and phone lines have been cut,” the prince lamented. “This is my last form of communication, satellite internet, that I have, and I have been informed by the company that they are instructed to cut it so it may be the last time I am able to communicate.”

Prince Hamzah was keen to deny any ties to a foreign-backed intrigue, a move that raised questions about whether some accusations of conspiring with a foreign group or country were in the cards. 

The Jordanian government has so far refrained from leveling the accusation of interference against a certain country but regional news media outlets were abuzz with reports of a potential Saudi and Emirati role in the Jordanian melodrama. 

Awadallah and bin Zaid both had close connections to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Despite having quickly expressed support for King Abdullah II, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman together with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed emerged as standing behind the failing plot against the Jordanian king. 

Awadallah worked as Minister of Finance and Planning, and former head of the Jordanian Royal Court, then King Abdullah appointed him as an envoy to Saudi Arabia. In 2018, he was fired from his job and became close to bin Salman and one of the people in charge of the Neom project. He also enjoyed close relations with the UAE, where he was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of the Dubai School of Government in 2008, according to Al-Khaleej Al-Jadid.

The strong relationship between Awadallah and bin Salman is confirmed by the former’s appearance at the economic conference held by Saudi Arabia in October 2018, days after the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. Awadallah also accompanied the Saudi crown prince during Eid prayers, Al-Khaleej Al-Jadid said. 

Hassan bin Zaid, who holds Saudi citizenship alongside his Jordanian one, served as the Jordanian king’s envoy to Saudi Arabia, a position that was previously held by Awadallah. 

Malik al-Othamna, a political analyst, believes that the Jordanian government’s move to arrest Awadallah is considered a strong message to Saudi Arabia, which now faces accusations of orchestrating the plot against a king long seen as a close ally of Riyadh. 

Israeli media also reported that bin Salman and bin Zayed may have been implicated in the palace intrigue. Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the Saudi crown prince and his counterpart in Abu Dhabi were aware of what happened in Jordan, according to the Alaraby Aljadeed. 

Citing Jordanian sources, the newspaper said, “The Saudi Crown Prince and one of the leaders of one of the [Persian] Gulf states, apparently the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, were aware of the attempted coup in Jordan.”

The Jordanian government has not yet pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia and the UAE but it said that Prince Hamzah was implicated in a foreign-backed plot against King Abdullah.
 

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