By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) – Bassem Awadallah, once a confidant of Jordan’s King Abdallah, 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 exposed faultlines in Jordan’s royal family.
Authorities want a quick secret trial in a special military court, saying public hearings would compromise national security.
The defence could call Hamza as a witness but the court is unlikely to allow that, judicial sources say.
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.
While Hamza escaped legal process, political analysts say he is the real target of the trial, while the tribal establishment that rules the country also sees it as an opportunity to settle scores with Awadallah.
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 hardships.
Awadallah, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin drawn from outside the traditional palace entourage, 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 step 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 relative on March 14.
The 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.
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.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Giles Elgood)