JERUSALEM (AP) – A new audio recording that surfaced on Tuesday indicates that Jordanian authorities tried to silence a former crown prince for encountering internal critics and casts doubt on their claim he was involved in a foreign plot aimed at destabilizing the monarchy allied with the West.
He appears to capture the explosive encounter between Prince Hamzah and the Army Chief of Staff that sparked a rare public rift in the highest echelons of the royal family. It also highlights deep tensions between the prince and the security apparatus that could cause more headaches for King Abdullah II, his half-brother.
The recording, allegedly made on Saturday, circulated shortly after the palace and an ombudsperson close to Prince Hamzah said the royal family was in the process of resolving the crisis. Hours after the recording was released, Jordan announced a publication ban on any details related to the incident.
It appears to be a clandestine recording of the meeting between Hamzah and General Yousef Huneiti, the military chief of staff, who came to the princely palace on Saturday to inform him that he was being placed in a form of house arrest. In the recording, the army chief says the prince is being punished because of encounters he has had with individuals who “have started talking more than they should.”
The prince raises his voice in anger, accusing the general of threatening him and saying he has no right to give orders to a member of the royal family.
“You come to see me and tell me in my house what to do and who to meet in my country and my people? Are you threatening me? … You come to my house and tell me that you and the security officials are threatening me? Don’t leave your house, go see your family and not tweet? “
“Is the poor performance of the state because of me?” The failure is because of me? Forgive me but the mistakes are my fault? he says.
Huneiti, speaking in a calm voice, denies threatening him and says he is only delivering a message from the heads of intelligence and general security. But by then, Hamzah is screaming at him. “Get in your car, sir!” Neither man mentions the king.
The recording appeared to be genuine and is consistent with the Prince’s earlier description of the meeting. It was unclear how this would affect the Royal Family’s mediation efforts. There was no word on the status of the prince or of those who were arrested.
The day after their meeting, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced that the authorities had arrested more than a dozen people and foiled a foreign plot, without specifying which country was involved. But there is no reference to such a conspiracy in the recording.
Hamzah, in a video statement released Saturday evening, denied participating in a conspiracy and criticized authorities for what he called years of corruption and incompetence. He said they were trying to silence him because of his criticism.
Abdullah and Hamzah are both sons of King Hussein, who remains a beloved figure two decades after his death. Upon ascending the throne in 1999, Abdallah appointed Hamzah as crown prince, only to revoke the title five years later and give it to his eldest son.
While Abdullah and Hamzah are said to have a good relationship in general, Hamzah has spoken out against government policies at times and more recently has forged links with powerful tribal chiefs in a move seen as a threat to the king.
Jordan, which borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, has long been seen as a bastion of stability in a troubled region. But the coronavirus pandemic has damaged its economy and is hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Jordanian analyst Amer Sabaileh, speaking before the ban was imposed, said the dispute “puts more pressure on the king” to reform the system. “The mistakes the prince pointed out should be approached differently.”
He said the feud has also divided Jordanians, with many on social media expressing support for Hamzah.
“We don’t need a division in society, even on an emotional level,” Sabaileh said. “He (the king) must go for swift action that saves the image of the family and the monarchy and the unity of society.”