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Jordan: Who are the people arrested over the alleged coup plot?

The Saudi connections of two detained male associates of Prince Hamzah have sparked speculation about Riyadh’s relationship with Amman
Former head of the royal court Bassem Awadallah was arrested by Jordanian forces on 3 April for "security reasons". (Pictured June 2006, AFP)

On Saturday evening, Jordanian forces carried out a large-scale arrest campaign reportedly targeting at least 14 people accused of "undermining the security" of Jordan, including Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II and former crown prince of Jordan.

While Jordanian authorities have stressed that Prince Hamzah is not under arrest, the Jordanian royal released a video on Saturday evening in which he said he had been instructed by the army chief of staff to limit his movements and communications while an investigation was ongoing.

Those arrested are reported to include people close to the former crown prince - including his office manager, bodyguards, and palace manager - in addition to  a number of former state officials.

So far, Jordanian authorities have revealed only the identities of two detainees: Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah, as Jordan's state news agency Petra reported that both had been "arrested, among others, for security reasons".

Prince Hamzah, the son of late King Hussein and his last wife, Queen Noor, is a well-known figure who has reportedly been critical of the Hashemite monarchy under his half-brother's reign.

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There has been much speculation about the others accused of involvement in what some have described as an alleged coup attempt.

Both bin Zaid and Awadallah's strong ties with the Saudi leadership have led to speculation inside Jordan about what role, if any, Riyadh may have played in the recent events.

Who is Bassem Awadallah?

Awadallah served as economic secretary to the Jordanian premier from 1992 to 1996. He was appointed head of Jordan's royal court in 2007, before being sacked from the position less than a year later. 

Following his dismissal, Awadallah moved to Dubai and established a company, Tomouh, reportedly living between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

According to the records of Companies House in the UK, Awadallah has extensive partnerships with Saudi businessmen in the Arab National Bank (ANB) and heads the bank's London branch, along with a number of Saudi partners.

He is also known for maintaining a network of prominent business connections, including through his presence on the board of directors of Al Baraka Banking Group in Bahrain.

Awadallah is reported to have spent the last few years working as a consultant for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with some news outlets calling him one of the masterminds of the privatisation of Saudi Arabia's energy giant Aramco.

Awadallah, 56, appeared alongside bin Salman at the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) held in Riyadh in January.

Who is Sharif Hassan bin Zaid?

Sharif Hassan bin Zaid al-Nasser is a somewhat obscure member of the Jordanian Hashemite royal family, who is known to be close with Prince Hamzah.

Unconfirmed reports have states that bin Zaid formerly served as King Abdullah's special envoy to Saudi Arabia.

He is also said to have significant business ties to Riyadh. Jordanian news website al-Ghawas reported that bin Zaid "lives and owns investments in Saudi Arabia".

Some Jordanian news outlets have reported that bin Zaid holds dual Jordanian-Saudi citizenship.

Speculation on Saudi connection

Shortly after news broke of Saturday’s arrests, Saudi Arabia issued an official statement to express solidarity with the Jordanian king, making it the first country to comment on the recent turbulence.

"We stand with Jordan and support the decisions of King Abdullah to preserve the security of his country," the Saudi royal court said.

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The connections between Awadallah, bin Zaid and Riyadh have raised some eyebrows, but Jordanian MP Omar Al-Ayasra ruled out the possibility of Saudi Arabia's involvement in internal Jordanian tensions.

"I do not think that what happened has any external ties or has anything to do with neighbouring countries," he told Middle East Eye. "The theories about [Prince Hamzah’s] ability to replace the king are internal files par excellence. I do not think that any foreign party can bet on him because he lacks the necessary qualities that could allow him to dethrone the king and take his place."

The deputy attributed the crackdown to claims that "Prince Hamzah has become a source of inconvenience for the political system, with the presence of social forces and some protesters who sympathize with him, which prompted the authorities to take firm measures to contain the issue once and for all".

King Abdullah II himself is no stranger to Riyadh. As recently as 8 March, the monarch flew to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by his son, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah. Little information came out about the purpose of the meeting, with Jordan's royal court only stating that King Abdullah had met with the influential Saudi crown prince, for whom Awadallah has done consulting work.

Saudi Arabia's quick response to Saturday's events may have two explanations, Ayasra hypothesised.

"First, the nature of relations between the two countries has always been characterised by mutual and unconditional solidarity on any given file," he said. "The second reason is explained by the implication of Awadallah in the case, which made Saudi Arabia rush to dismiss any doubts about its role in what is happening in Jordan."

As the story of the alleged coup unfurls, more light may well be shed on the allegations currently levelled against Awadallah and bin Zaid - as well as on Prince Hamzah.

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