U.S. rushes to support Jordan as royal intrigue threatens Mideast stability

The Jordanian monarchy is in turmoil after 15 people, including a high-ranking king, were arrested over the weekend in connection with what the country’s government called a “malicious plot” against the throne.

Prince Hamzah Bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II, is one of the former ministers and tribal leaders arrested for allegedly attending meetings criticizing the king.

The palace intrigue has rocked the Arab nation of 10 million, but it could also have far-reaching implications for global allies like the US, who view Jordan as a reliable partner in an often turbulent region.

Experts say the country’s location, surrounded by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, has resulted in Jordan being viewed throughout history as a “great asset” to act as a “geographic buffer” within conflict areas.

The Jordanian Prince Hamzah bin Al-Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdallah, takes part in a press event in Amman in 2015. The former crown prince says he has been under house arrest since Saturday after attending a meeting that raised criticism of the king.Khalil Mazraawi / AFP – Getty Images File

“Jordan played a conduit role. It’s that anchor in the middle of what is arguably the most fragile and unstable part of the Middle East, ”Tobias Borck, Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London, told NBC News.

The swift response by President Joe Biden’s administration underscores the importance of Jordan for US interests.

“We are closely following the reports and are in contact with Jordanian officials. King Abdullah is an important partner of the United States and he has our full support, “said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“In the last 48 to 72 hours there will be many people in Washington and London who have had to work hard and are deeply concerned about the continued stability of Jordan,” added Borck. “That will have been a big driver of an incredibly quick and fairly high-level response that shows absolute support for King Abdullah.”

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Jordan is ruled by the Hashemite family, whose ancestors once ruled the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina and claimed the descent of the Prophet Muhammad.

And the news of this weekend comes as President Joe Biden’s administration tries to get more involved with Middle Eastern countries. Jordan, according to Borck, is critical to Biden’s goal of adopting a “more diplomatic stance” towards military interventions in the region.

Jordan is among the highest recipients of US economic aid in the region. Got just over $ 1 billion last year. The Jordanian economy has limited natural resources and one of the world’s largest influx of Syrian refugees.

While that aid continued under former President Donald Trump, the kingdom was largely excluded from Jared Kushner’s peace plans for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of the growing influence of the Gulf States. An annual visit by King Abdullah to the White House has been halted under Trump.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, Queen Rania of Jordan and family during Jordan’s 70th Independence Day in 2016 in Amman, Jordan. The monarchy holds a tight grip on public opposition to the king, and his half-brother is accused of participating in a “malicious conspiracy” to undermine the monarchy. Jordanian Royal Household / Getty Images File

In contrast to neighboring countries, there were no widespread demonstrations in Jordan in 2011 that swept much of the region to bring about regime change. The kingdom has a firm grip on public opposition to the monarchy.

This perception was shaken by scathing remarks from the family over the weekend.

In a video shared by his lawyer with the BBCPrince Hamzah said although he was not accused of criticizing the monarchy itself, he was accused of attending gatherings where concerns were raised against the king. Prince Hamzah, who enjoys an appeal among the Bedouin tribes in traditional kingdom society, attacked the “incompetence” prevalent in the Jordanian government.

“It has reached a point where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened,” he said on the video.

NBC News attempted to reach the prince’s attorney on Monday but received no immediate response.

In a press conference on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi fueled rumors of foreign involvement in the foiled conspiracy and said the Jordanian secret service had intercepted communications within the prince’s “inner clique”, which was “a person with ties to foreign intelligence services” showed.

Tensions within the Jordanian ruling family have been high since the late King Hussein bin Talal named his eldest son Abdullah, his successor, at the last minute shortly before his death in 1999. At that time, Prince Hamzah was named Crown Prince, but was ruled out four years later after King Abdullah appointed his eldest son Hussein to succeed him.

41-year-old Prince Hamzah, who has been described as one of his father’s favorites, had been prepared for the accession to the throne by his Syrian-American mother, Queen Noor. Given the course of action, Noor suggested that Saturday’s arrests were unfair.

“The prayer that truth and justice may reign for all innocent victims of this evil slander,” she wrote in one Tweet.

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