Amman announces gag order on all coverage of row involving King Abdullah II's half brother, Prince Hamza, hours after a new recording surfaced online indicating authorities tried to silence former crown prince for meeting with internal critics.

While King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza are said to have good ties, Hamza has at times spoken out against government policies, and recently had forged ties with powerful tribal leaders.
While King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza are said to have good ties, Hamza has at times spoken out against government policies, and recently had forged ties with powerful tribal leaders. (AFP)

A new audio recording has surfaced indicating that Jordanian authorities tried to silence a former crown prince for meeting with internal critics but contains no mention of a foreign plot to destabilise the Western-allied monarchy that officials alleged he was involved in.

On Tuesday, Jordan slapped a sweeping gag order on all coverage of the dispute involving King Abdullah II's half brother, Prince Hamza, hours after the recording circulated online, indicating authorities are increasingly nervous about how the rare public rift at the highest levels of the royal family is being perceived.

The recording circulated shortly after the palace and a mediator close to Hamza said that the royal family was in the process of resolving the crisis. It's unclear how the new recording might affect those efforts.

READ MORE: Jordan's Prince Hamza vows loyalty to king after mediation

The recording appears to capture Saturday's explosive meeting between Hamza and General Yousef Huneiti, the military chief of staff, who came to the prince's palace to inform him that he was being placed under a form of house arrest. 

That meeting seems to have triggered the political crisis, the most serious in the kingdom in decades.

In the recording, the army chief says the prince is being punished because of meetings he had with individuals who "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 issue orders to a member of the royal family.

"You come to me and tell me in my house what to do and who to meet with in my country and from my people? Are you threatening me? ... You come to my house and tell me you and security leaders are threatening me? Not to leave your house, only go to your family and don’t tweet?"

"The bad performance of the state is 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 was simply delivering a message from the heads of intelligence and general security. But by then, Hamza is shouting over him. "Get in your car, sir!" he says. Neither man mentions the king or a foreign plot.

The recording is consistent with the prince's earlier description of the encounter.

READ MORE: Jordan's former crown prince: I will disobey army orders to keep silent

Allies back Jordan 

Jordan, which borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, has long been seen as a bastion of stability in a turbulent region. 

Reflecting concerns about any sign of instability there, several allies, including the United States, have expressed their strong backing for the king. 

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Jordan on Tuesday in support of Abdullah, according to Saudi state TV.

The coronavirus pandemic has battered Jordan's economy, and Hamza's unprecedented criticism of the ruling class — without naming the king — could lend support to growing complaints about poor governance and human rights abuses.

Jordanian analyst Amer Sabaileh, speaking before the publication ban was imposed, said the dispute "puts more pressure on the king" to reform the system. He noted that the feud had also divided Jordanians, with many on social media expressing support for Hamza.

The king "needs to go for fast action that saves the image of the family and the monarchy and the unity of society," Sabaileh said.

READ MORE: Arab states voice support for major security sweep in Jordan

Prince Hamza denies being part of conspiracy

Instead, Jordanian authorities have leveled accusations against Hamza. On the day after the prince's meeting with the military chief of staff, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced that authorities had arrested more than a dozen people and foiled a foreign plot, without saying which country was involved.

Hamza, in a video statement, denied being part of any such conspiracy and lashed out at authorities for what he said was years of corruption and incompetence. 

He said they were trying to silence him because of his criticism. There has been no word since on his status or that of those who were arrested.

But Hamza's tone changed after Abdullah sent another royal to speak with him on Monday. The job of mediator was handed to Hamza's uncle, Prince Hassan, 71, himself a former heir to the throne who was sidelined.

After their talk, the palace released a statement in which the prince did not step away from all his criticism, but loyally pledged: "I will remain... faithful to the legacy of my ancestors, walking on their path, loyal to their path and their message and to His Majesty."

Solution to royal political crisis?

Analyst Ahmed Awad, who heads the Phoenix Center for Economic Studies and Informatics, said, "there has been a solution within the royal family, but not a solution to the political crisis in the country.

"The real political crisis is not over ... as long as there are not more democratic reforms."

Others raised doubts about the suggestion of a foreign plot.

"Among the countries whose names have been bandied about — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel — none have an interest in stoking instability in Jordan or could have believed that an amateurish plot built around a disaffected prince and a handful of acolytes might possibly have overthrown the well-entrenched Abdullah," Ghaith al Omari and Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute, a US think tank, wrote in a policy briefing.

Abdullah and Hamza are both sons of King Hussein, who remains a beloved figure two decades after his death. Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, Abdullah named Hamza as crown prince, only to revoke the title five years later and give it to his oldest son.

While Abdullah and Hamza are said to have good relations generally, Hamza has at times spoken out against government policies, and more recently had forged ties with powerful tribal leaders in a move seen as a threat to the king.

Ban on media coverage 

On Tuesday, Amman's prosecutor general banned the publication of any information about the investigation into what the government has called a "wicked" plot against Jordan involving unnamed foreign entities.

"In order to keep the security services' investigation into Prince Hamza and the others secret, (it is decided) to ban the publication of anything related to this inquiry at this stage," prosecutor Hassan al Abdallat said in a statement.

"The ban on publication involves all audiovisual media and social networks, as well as the publication of all images or video clips relating to this subject on pain of legal action."

The gag order highlights how restrictions on speech have been tightened in recent years, something the prince alluded to in his statements.

"They always impose gag orders on controversial issues," said Adam Coogle, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. 

"The only surprising thing is that it wasn’t imposed on Sunday."

"There’s been a real slide in terms of respect for basic rights like free expression," he said. "The scope of free media reporting has shrunk to almost nothing. There's almost no critical coverage in the local press, it’s not really allowed."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies