EXCLUSIVE: Jordan’s army chief heard warning Hamzah against talking to tribal leaders

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A surreptitious recording of a conversation between Yousef Huneiti and the former crown prince on Saturday reveals no accusations of plotting a coup were made

Jordanian Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, pictured here on 17 April 2012, says he has been under de facto house arrest since Saturday (AFP)

https://www.middleeasteye.net-By David Hearst

A surreptitious audio recording has revealed that the head of Jordan’s military, Major General Yousef Huneiti, warned Prince Hamzah bin Hussein against talking to tribal leaders and others disaffected in the kingdom, as he placed him under house arrest on Saturday.

Huneiti did not accuse the former crown prince of attempting a coup or maintaining contacts with foreign powers, according to the tape of that conversation on Saturday, the contents of which have been shared with Middle East Eye.

Others in Hamzah’s entourage have been arrested and accused of “undermining the security” of Jordan – notably Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a member of the royal family, and Bassem Awadallah, a former head of the Jordanian royal court.

Hamzah, 41, is the son of the late King Hussein and his fourth wife, the US-born Queen Noor. He was Jordan’s crown prince until 2004, when King Abdullah II replaced him with his own son Hussein bin Abdullah.

As his house arrest became apparent and his security guards were withdrawn, Hamzah sent the tape of that conversation to his contacts abroad as an insurance policy – one of whom released the recording to MEE.

In another audio recording passed to MEE on Sunday, Hamzah stated: “I have recorded what he [Huneiti] said. It was distributed to my family and friends outside Jordan to preserve myself.”

MEE now reveals what happened on Saturday morning in the prince’s Amman palace.

‘How dare you speak to me?’

The conversation between Huneiti and Hamzah was recorded secretly by the prince, who can be heard asking the chairman of the joint chief of staff of the armed forces to repeat his message just to make it clear what was being demanded of him.

Huneiti told Hamzah that he was passing on a message on behalf of the army, security and intelligence services. He made clear he was not speaking on behalf of King Abdullah II, Hamzah’s half-brother.

On the tape, the major general is heard addressing the former crown prince respectfully as “sidi” – Arabic for “sir”.

Huneiti conveyed to the prince that he should cease talking to disaffected tribal leaders and others in Jordan who complain about the kingdom’s perilous state of affairs.

‘You all have destroyed this country and spread corruption, and now you are blaming me for this’

– Prince Hamzah

The army leader said security and intelligence forces had become aware that Hamzah was in contact with tribe members who in coversations with the prince had been very critical of the royal family – including current Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah.

Security forces, Huneiti said, wanted to stop the prince from having these contacts, arguing that they were causing a disturbance in the kingdom.

At this stage, Hamzah is heard shouting.

“How dare you speak to me? Who are you to pass me this message? Don’t you know to whom you are speaking? I am the son of [the late king] Hussein.”

Hamzah then shouts to his aides: “Bring back the car of the pasha. He is leaving now.”

Huneiti, clearly taken aback, did not change his respectful tone.

“I just want to pass this message,” he is heard saying.

The prince turns on the army chief of staff. “Did I say anything wrong in these meetings?” he asked.

“No, but the people you were speaking to did,” the military chief replied.

Hamzah replied confidently, sticking to his guns: “No one can stop me from talking to my people.

“You all have destroyed this country and spread corruption, and now you are blaming me for this,” he added.

Criticism of the government

Significantly, neither the subject of an alleged attempted coup being mounted by others arrested in the security sweep, nor contacts with foreign powers and their security services, were raised by Huneiti during the conversation.

The recording of the conversation corroborates Hamzah’s own account made in a video aired by the BBC on Saturday.

“I had a visit from the chief of general staff of the Jordanian armed forces this morning, in which he informed me that I was not allowed to go out, to communicate with people or to meet with them because in the meetings that I had been present in – or on social media relating to visits that I had made – there had been criticism of the government or the king,” Hamzah is heard saying in the video.

He said he was not accused of making those criticisms.

“I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse… And I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in their institutions,” he added.

In the video, Hamzah positioned himself under a portrait of his father, a visual interpreted as seeking to align himself with the late King Hussein’s rule.

Hamzah, who looks and sounds like Hussein, has become increasingly popular in the kingdom amid unrest over economic stagnation, political impasse and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When six coronavirus patients died in a government-run hospital in the town of al-Salt because of failing oxygen supplies, King Abdullah got a mixed reception upon visiting the medical facility. While some supporters of the Hashemite monarch were in the crowd, others shouted: “The country has drowned!”

Shortly after the king’s visit, a tanker with supplies of oxygen turned up at the hospital.

When Hamzah paid his condolences to the family of one of the patients who died in al-Salt, he got a very different reception – as Mamoun Khreisat, the eldest son of the deceased, expressed his thanks to the prince for his generous gesture.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

 

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