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

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)

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.

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As his house arrest became apparent and his security guards were withdrawn, Hamzah sent the tape of that conversation to his contacts abroad as an insurance policy - one of whom released the recording to MEE.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

' We are telling you, sir, that you have crossed red lines'

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 told the prince that he should  stop tweeting, and 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 to raise his voice.

"Shabab (folks), bring the car over, please! Bring the Pasha’s car. Please, you are now in Al-Hussein’s house. You come to me to tell me what to do and who to meet with for the sake of my country? And in my own house? Are you threatening me Sir?"

The army leader replies that he is not. 

"Sir, I am a free Jordanian, the son of my father, I have every right to mingle with the sons of my people and country and to serve my country as I promised him and made an oath to him while he was on his death bed. And now you come, Sir forgive me, where were you twenty years ago? I was the Crown Prince in this country by order from my father, may Allah have mercy on him. I made an oath to him that I would continue to serve my country and people so long as I am alive. And now, you, after all the muddling that is taking place, and that is not because of me, and that I have nothing do with, you come to tell me to adhere?"  Hamza says.

"Sir, your highness the Prince, I came to tell you that our master (meaning the King) does not know about this. I am telling you this is the intelligence agencies." Huneit insists.

"So, you, the intelligence agencies are threatening me?"Hamza replies

The Army chief denies he is threatening the prince . "We are telling you Sir, that you have crossed the red lines."

Hamza interupts : "The state’s mismanagement is because of me? The failure that is happening is because of me? Forgive me, the muddling that is taking place is because of me?"

The five minute interview ends with Hamza telling Huneiti to get into his car,

"Get into your car and drive away. The family … the muddling that is taking place within it is not caused by me. You know who is causing it and I know who is causing it. So, please Sir, go away."

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.

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"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.