Jordan security trial sheds light on palace intrigue

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AMMAN – Jordan’s security court will pass a verdict on July 12 in the case against Bassem Awadallah, once a confidant of Jordan’s King Abdallah, who is on trial charged with backing the aspirations of former heir to the throne Prince Hamza to replace the monarch.

Awadallah and Hamza’s friend and relative Sherif Hassan Zaid, a minor royal who is also on trial, were allegedly helping Hamza to exploit public anger at economic mismanagement and corruption to rally support for him as an “alternative” to the king, officials and public prosecutors say.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Here is what we know about a case that has exposed faultlines in Jordan’s royal family.

MILITARY COURT

Authorities wanted a quick secret trial in a special military court, saying a public hearing would compromise national security.

The court’s dismissal of a defence request to callwitnesses, including Hamza, has speeded up the trial. [nL2N2OD14Q]

Any sentence can be appealed in a higher court.

Hamza, the half-brother of King Abdullah, avoided punishment after pledging allegiance to the king, defusing the crisis that had led to his house arrest.

Legal experts have questioned the legality of a trial when the man at the centre of the case, Hamza, is not in the dock. The authorities have said the trial process is fair.

EVIDENCE

Much of the prosecution case is based on intercepted internet messaging, that has now been leaked on social media.

Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the messages independently. They purportedly expose conversations between Hassan and Hamza in March, when the country saw a wave of protests over growing economic hardships.

Awadallah, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin drawn from outside the traditional palace entourage whose liberal economic reforms challenged the tribal establishment, allegedly advised Hamza on critical tweets the prince wanted to send to further his ambitions.

The messages show an English-speaking Hamza deliberating on what steps to take.

“What I need is some advice right now, these decisions need well thought out responses,” he says in one conversation.

Awadallah counselled him against publishing a draft tweet saying Jordan was on the verge of a “revolt of the poor”, since this could raise suspicion and make it impossible to keep their activities secret.

In other messages, Hassan raises Hamza’s morale by passing on messages from Awadallah.

“Things are happening faster than we expected “It’s H’s time,” Awadallah allegedly told Hamza’s co-accused relative on March 14.

Authorities say the recordings are irrefutable evidence of how Hamza was exploiting popular anger against the state.

They say the suspects prodded Hamza to step up his agitation among disgruntled members of powerful tribes that traditionally support the monarchy.

Hamza’s supporters describe the leaks as character assassination.

FOREIGN PLOT

Officials say the prosecution evidence shows that Hamza wanted Awadallah to use his close relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to seek support for Hamza’s bid to become king.

Awadallah, who challenged a conservative establishment opposed to his liberal policies and has close ties to senior U.S. officials, promised to lobby on Hamza’s behalf in Western capitals and Saudi Arabia.

At one point, Hamza allegedly asked Awadallah “If something happens to me in Jordan would the Saudi officials come to my help?”, according to a copy of the charge sheet leaked to several pro-government news portals.

Awadallah said he visited Saudi Arabia only rarely during the pandemic but would seek support for Hamza’s accession to the throne at the earliest opportunity.

Officials say they halted what could have developed into a foreign-inspired plot. They also say Awadallah tried to get Hamza to weaken King Abdullah’s resistance to a Middle East peace plan unveiled by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

But Hamza showed no interest in that topic and focused only on his aspirations to the throne, officials say.

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