King Of Jordan Issues Statement Concerning Royal Feud As Stress Among Citizens Rises
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Jordan's King Abdullah said today that a plot of sedition against his country has been thwarted. His half-brother, Prince Hamzah, is at the center of these allegations. He's criticized corruption in the kingdom and says he had been confined to his home. Jordan has lifted a local gag order it briefly put on reporting about the rift. But Jordanians have been frustrated by the secrecy and want solutions to their country's problems. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from the Jordanian capital, Amman.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Jordanians have been shocked by the royal family feud and claims of sedition by a beloved prince.
MUIN KHOURY: Oh, my God. Yes, that was our reaction. This has never happened before.
ESTRIN: Muin Khoury used to work for the royal court as a pollster. After Prince Hamzah put out videos claiming he was under house arrest last weekend, Khoury ran to the bank and took out cash to last him a few months. He was scared of instability in a country considered an oasis of stability in the Middle East.
KHOURY: At the end of the day, it's a wake-up call.
ESTRIN: Prince Hamzah claimed he was confined to his house not for attempted sedition, but just for speaking his mind. He spoke about corruption and bad governance. And that message resonates with regular Jordanians who complain about poverty and high unemployment that's gotten worse as the pandemic has choked off its vital tourism industry. The country boasts of its stability, which attracts a lot of foreign aid, but Jordanians wonder where the money goes. Khoury says they're tired of this.
KHOURY: People want to see results on the ground. I don't want to hear the narrative on Jordan television or in the newspaper that we are doing so and so without seeing any result.
ESTRIN: But Jordanian television and newspapers were under gag order from the government not to discuss the crisis about Prince Hamzah. Instead, Jordanians got most of their news from foreign media. The prince's videos were published by the BBC from Britain. And officials briefed U.S. media. We meet Mohammed Al Rayan in his clothing shop.
MOHAMMED AL RAYAN: (Through translator) It was a bit crazy that - hearing the news from the, you know, the out of the country media. They're saying that there's something happening. And we're - as Jordanians, no one knows what's really happening.
ESTRIN: A community radio station in Amman - Radio Balad - dedicated its afternoon call-in show today to discussing the media blackout imposed in Jordan. An interpreter and I watch from the control room.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING, CROSSTALK)
ESTRIN: This is the second or third caller.
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: (Speaking Arabic).
UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: This caller is saying - is defending Al-Amir Hamzah. He wasn't saying anything that is wrong. And he's like just feeling the pain and problems of the people that's really currently happening in Jordan.
ESTRIN: The caller says it's important the royal family talk to the people and address their concerns, especially about Jordan's bad economy that's gotten worse with the pandemic. Another caller says there's a bright side to the upheaval.
UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: It's like a new opportunity for the government and for the system in Jordan to rethink and rebuild their priorities.
ESTRIN: As the show is on air, officials announce an end to the media gag order, and the news breaks that the king will make a public statement about the crisis for the first time. The manager of the radio station, Daoud Kuttab, says this crisis could spark more accountability from the leadership.
DAOUD KUTTAB: You need to listen to people. You cannot run a country of 10 million people without engaging with your own public.
ESTRIN: Just as Jordanians went into their nightly coronavirus curfew, the king issues his written statement. It's read on Jordanian television. He says his half-brother, the prince, is safe at home and that an attempted sedition has been defeated. And he acknowledged the difficult economic challenges facing his citizens, a problem that will persist even if the royal feud has been contained.
Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.