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High-profile trial in Jordan royal drama begins with two top officials in the dock

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II (right) talks to his half-brother Prince Hamzah (third from left) at a wedding in 2004. (Photo by Jordanian Royal Palace)

A high-profile trial of two former Jordanian government officials, facing charges of sedition and incitement, is set to get underway at the country’s security court on Monday.

The indicted officials are onetime head of the royal court Bassem Awadallah, and Jordan’s former special envoy to Saudi Arabia, Sharif Hassan bin Zaid.

They are accused of fomenting unrest against the country’s monarch King Abdullah II by conspiring with his half-brother Prince Hamzah and seeking foreign help in the plot.

The royal drama unfolded in early April, when Prince Hamzah was placed under house arrest after being accused by the country’s military of “undermining security and stability” of Jordan.

The former crown prince, who was sidelined as heir to the throne in 2004, was accused of a plot to destabilize his half-brother’s government in Amman with the help of foreign parties, most notably Riyadh, and the two senior officials facing trial on Monday.

The explosive case, which saw the arrest of at least 18 people, brought to light internal family rifts in the kingdom’s Hashemite dynasty and sparked unprecedented public criticism of the monarch.

Charges against prince

The indictment, leaked to state-affiliated media, alleged that Hamzah “was determined to achieve his personal ambition” of becoming the king, while bin Zaid and Awadallah helped him in stirring discontent.

It further said that Hamzah and the two defendants were working on social media messages they were to post, with the aim of “inciting some groups in society against the ruling system and state agencies.”

Hamzah denied sedition claims, saying he was being punished for calling out corruption and mismanagement in the kingdom. He was later acquitted on the orders of the king.

While Hamzah seems to be out of trouble for now, the royal court has not commented on whether he is allowed to leave his Amman palace or communicate with others.

The 16 other detainees were also released earlier this month, barring Awadallah and bin Zaid.

“As far as I know, there has not been a case this big in the history of Jordan,” defense lawyer Ala Khasawneh, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Defendants plead not guilty

Khasawneh, who represents bin Zaid, a relative of the king, has said his client is “in shock" and plans to plead not guilty. Beside sedition and incitement, bin Zaid is also charged with narcotics possession after two pieces of hashish were allegedly found in his home.

The lawyer said he plans to call Hamzah to the stand, apparently to mount the defense of his client. But it remains unclear if the palace would allow the prince to make his case on such a public stage.

Awadallah and bin Zaid are expected to be confined to the cage as well, wearing the blue uniforms of detainees, former state security court president Mohammad al-Afeef, who represents Awadallah, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The defendants, who are held at an intelligence compound in Amman, face up to 20 years in prison.

Foreign angle to case

What has made the case complicated is the alleged foreign help sought by the co-conspirators to exploit the king's perceived vulnerability at a time when he was under pressure from Washington and Riyadh to normalize ties with the Israeli regime.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States had joined forces to pressure King Abdullah II to partake in the US-sponsored "normalization deals" with Tel Aviv, according to the Washington Post.

The Jordanian monarch resisted the attempts, leading to a plot to "destabilize" the country.

According to the report, Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, former Israeli regime premier Benjamin Netanyahu and former US president Donald Trump were at the center of the intrigue.

Abdullah is recognized as the custodian of the Haram esh-Sharif and the al-Aqsa Compound, and other Muslim sites in the Old City, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six Day War.

Citing an American who knows the king, the newspaper wrote that Abdullah felt the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia were trying to push him out as the custodian.

The report also quoted from a Jordanian investigative report on the coup plot, saying Awadallah, who holds Jordanian, US and Saudi citizenship, was “working to promote the ‘deal of the century’ and weaken Jordan’s position and the King’s position on Palestine and the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in al-Quds.”

According to the same report, bin Zaid, the other senior Jordanian official implicated alongside Awadallah, met in 2019 with two officials from a foreign embassy in Amman “to inquire about their country’s position on supporting Prince Hamzah as an alternative to the King.”


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