What exactly happened in Jordan last week remains unclear: the Jordanian authorities claim to have foiled a “malicious plot” involving the king’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah; Hamzah says he was only criticizing corruption; some reports described a failed coup; and Amman has forbidden any further media coverage of the matter. But the incident clearly ended on Monday when Hamzah declared in a signed statement that he has “put himself at the disposal” of King Abdullah. Whatever occurred, writes Hussein Ibish, Jordan’s allies and neighbors shouldn’t ignore it:
Plainly, all is not well in the kingdom as it prepares to celebrate its centenary this coming Sunday. The U.S. nonprofit Freedom House recently downgraded Jordan from “partly free” to “not free” in its annual assessment of the state of democracy worldwide. . . . The 100-year-old monarchy faces serious challenges at home and abroad. The Jordanian government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the longstanding public dissatisfaction over endemic corruption and general economic malaise. By casting himself as a crusader against corruption, Hamzah might have scored powerful points against the status quo represented by his half-brother.
On the foreign-policy front, Jordan has long felt taken for granted by the U.S., Israel, and Gulf Arab countries, all of which rely on the kingdom to play a quiet but essential regional role. The resentment in Amman deepened during the administration of President Donald Trump, when Washington seemed to go along with Israeli plans to annex large swathes of the West Bank. Jordanians regard annexation with existential dread because it could export Palestinian nationalism into the kingdom, given that over half its population is made up of Palestinians displaced by Israel in the 1948 and 1967 wars.
[T]he specter of instability in Amman should have set off alarms in capitals across the Middle East, and in Washington. A collapse of order could easily turn much of Jordan into a facsimile of parts of Iraq and Syria just over the border, with militias, Islamic State-like terrorist groups, tribal warlords, and other forces battling it out in a situation of protracted chaos. The Hamzah affair is a useful reminder of how much all the other parties stand to lose if, like many of its neighbors, Jordan begins to fall apart.