As Jordan seeks to quell royal dispute, prince’s allies remain in detention

AMMAN, Jordan – Employees and associates of a Jordanian prince accused of conspiring to undermine the government were still being held incommunicado by security forces on Tuesday, relatives said, casting doubt on previous claims by the royal court of Jordan. that he had resolved an unusually public situation and bitter breach.

The royal court issued a statement less than a day ago saying that the prince, Hamzah bin Hussein, had pledged his allegiance to King Abdullah II, his older half brother. But Prince Hamzah’s chief of staff, Yasser Majali, and Majali’s cousin, Samir Majali, are still being held at an unknown location, according to his family, who hails from one of Jordan’s major tribes.

The two were arrested on Saturday, the day the government claimed the prince had been involved in a plot to destabilize the stability of the kingdom.

“Every time we call someone, they say we will contact you,” said Abdullah Majali, Yasser’s brother, in an account corroborated by a second high-ranking member of the Majali family. “We still don’t know where they are.”

Prince Hamzah’s whereabouts were also unknown as of Tuesday morning. And the Jordanian government issued a gag order on Tuesday that banned Jordanian media and social media users from discussing the case.

The events are the latest twists and turns in a real dispute that erupted in public view over the weekend, overturning the family’s reputation for discretion and the country’s image as a rare haven of stability in a troubled region.

Jordan is a key partner in regional counterterrorism missions, a base for US troops and aircraft, and a major recipient of US aid. Bordering Syria, Iraq, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it is considered an important interlocutor in regional diplomacy and a lynchpin of any possible Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Over the weekend, the Jordanian government arrested several members of Prince Hamzah’s staff and associates, and accused the prince himself of working with a former royal aide and cabinet minister, Bassem Awadallah, to undermine the country’s stability.

Government statements hinted that those arrested had been involved in a foreign-backed coup attempt, but fell short of using such direct language.

Prince Hamzah responded with two videos in which he criticized his brother’s government, but denied his involvement in any plot and said he was being held under house arrest, a charge that the government denied.

On Monday night, tempers appeared to have calmed down as the royal palace issued a written statement in the prince’s name pledging to “support His Majesty in his efforts to protect Jordan and his nation’s interests. “.

But Tuesday’s uncertainty about the whereabouts of the Majalis and the prince himself suggested that tensions had not completely dissipated.

The government’s narrative was also challenged on Tuesday by the leak of a recording of a conversation last week between the prince and the head of the Jordanian army, Major General Yousef Huneiti.

In the recording, which was obtained by The New York Times and other media, the general seems to acknowledge that the prince had not personally moved against the king, but had attended social gatherings where others criticized the government.

With coronavirus-related deaths on the rise in Jordan, the prince’s allies say he had attended more wakes and funerals than usual.

“During these meetings, the performance of the government and the performance of the crown prince were discussed,” General Huneiti said, according to the recording.

“Did this talk come from me?” Prince Hamzah replied.

“No,” said the general. “From the people he was meeting with. We both know, sir, this crossed the red lines. People have started talking more than they should. Therefore, I hope that His Royal Highness will remain and refrain from attending such occasions. “

The Majali family expressed doubts that any relative would ever be in a position to support an alleged plot to destabilize the kingdom.

Samir Majali had met Prince Hamzah for lunch a few times, in his formal capacity as a tribal elder, Samir’s cousin Hisham Majali said.

Yasser had been convalescing at home after a heart attack followed by a coronavirus outbreak, and had not been to work in several weeks, said his brother, Abdullah Majali.

Neither man had a connection to Awadallah, relatives said.

“They don’t even know him,” Abdullah said. “It is unacceptable that they link their names.”

Many Jordanians also believe that Prince Hamzah himself and Mr. Awadallah would be unlikely co-conspirators. Prince Hamzah is closely associated with Jordan’s indigenous tribes such as the Majalis, while Mr. Awadallah, a former head of the royal court, is one of many Jordanian citizens from families of Palestinian origin.

The couple have different views on economic and political policy. And although Mr. Awadallah was often the target of government critics while in office, the prince presents himself as an advocate of good governance.

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