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Jordan's Prince Hamzah affair: Why the state narrative failed

Calls for political reform in the aftermath of the crisis point to a collective realisation that there is a political vacuum in the country
Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R), Prince Hassan Bin Talal (L) and Prince Hamzah (C) arrive at Raghadan Palace on 11 April 2021 (Jordanian Royal Palace/AFP)

Politicians close to decision-making circles in Amman say the state narrative in Prince Hamzah’s case - which has dominated public attention in the kingdom for weeks - has been overshadowed by the opposition narrative. 

Adversarial media personalities, particularly from abroad, have flooded Jordanian cyberspace, and hashtags in support of the prince continue to dominate. Hundreds of thousands of fake social media accounts from neighbouring Arab countries are working to disrupt the official narrative and internal state stability, Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh told reporters. Journalists close to the government have reported such claims uncritically. 

But the state narrative has not convinced many average Jordanians, despite a segment of society that leans towards the “conspiracy” perspective upon which the government has depended. Indeed, many continue to sympathise with Prince Hamzah. 

Such wisdom is today often absent from government decisions, which explains the confusion in dealing with crises - some of which begin small, but grow out of control

Analysts cite two main reasons for the apparent failure of the state narrative. The first is inconsistencies and lack of cohesion in the story itself, from early claims of a failed coup attempt involving regional parties that was foiled at “zero hour”, to accusations that Prince Hamzah was involved in the scheme, to conflicting suggestions that the prince’s role was limited to siding with the popular opposition movement. The king ultimately asserted that the threat had been contained. 

The state account fluctuated between two extremes: that Prince Hamzah’s contentious online behaviour and frequent visits to various governorates marked an unprecedented threat to the royal family’s heritage and political stability, amid public demands that Prince Hamzah be reinstated as crown prince. At the other extreme were state claims that Prince Hamzah was involved in a conspiracy, coordinated alongside external hostile powers, and was eyeing the throne. 

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The second reason for the public’s lack of faith in the state narrative, analysts say, is the growing gap in trust and credibility from which successive Jordanian governments have suffered for years. This has prompted many to question the state’s version of events.  

Fragile state institutions

Yet there is a third reason that may be more important than the previous two: the political vacuum in Jordan, evident through the weakness and fragility exhibited by the government and state institutions. Even those who have a political presence in the streets and the ability to advise the king - including those whose views differ from his preconceived notions, as long as it is in the interests of stability - are absent. 

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The late King Hussein was surrounded by world-class statesmen from various political backgrounds, who served as advisers and participated in lengthy policy discussions. Some opposed the king on certain matters and ultimately convinced him to change course, as can be seen through the diaries of former military chief Zaid ibn Shaker, former politician Mudar Badran and former diplomat Adnan Abu Odeh. 

Such wisdom is today often absent from government decisions, which explains the confusion in dealing with crises - some of which begin small, but grow out of control due to the “crisis-management crisis”.

The Prince Hamzah affair would not have reached this stage of polarisation with regards to domestic public opinion if state institutions were confident and able to fill the void, and if there were statesmen with the wisdom and courage to respond properly and to bear the consequences vis-a-vis the Jordanian public.

Instead, from the outset, most ministers went into hiding, and it was clear that former officials who wanted to justify the state’s behaviour lacked accurate information, causing great damage to the country’s image internally and externally, while weakening the credibility of the state narrative. 

Confidence shaken

Despite support for Jordan from the world’s governments during this crisis - in particular, from the Biden administration in the US - coverage by western media shook the confidence of local officials and sent them into retreat. A particularly harsh Foreign Policy article titled “Jordan Has Become a Banana Monarchy” was shared widely online, angering political insiders.

The issue, however, extends beyond Prince Hamzah’s case to the general political situation in Jordan overall. Even if the recent crisis has been contained - at least in the short term - and most of those accused have been released, calls for political reform in the aftermath of the crisis point to a collective realisation that there is a political vacuum in Jordan that needs to be filled, and that the country’s political life must be rehabilitated.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Mohammad Abu Rumman is Associate professor of politics at the University of Jordan and an academic advisor at the Politics and Society institute.
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