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Jordan's Prince Hamzah prince makes first public appearance since arrest

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Jordan’s King Abdullah II, center, Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein, second left, and others visit the tomb of the late King Hussein, in Amman Jordan. April 11, 2021.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, center, Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein, second left, and others visit the tomb of the late King Hussein, in Amman Jordan. April 11, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP/AP

Jordan's Prince Hamzah on Sunday made his first public appearance since he was placed under house arrest last week.

He attended a ceremony with King Abdullah II in what appeared to be an attempted show of unity on a major Jordanian holiday.

But it remained unclear whether the king and his popular half brother had put aside the differences that escalated last week into the most serious public rift in the ruling family in decades.

Hamzah joined members of the Jordanian royal family marking the centenary of the establishment of the Emirate of Transjordan, a British protectorate that preceded the kingdom.

The royal palace released a photo and video with Abdullah, Hamzah, Crown Prince Hussein and other dignitaries at the grave of King Talal in Amman, Jordan's capital.

It was the first time that Hamzah was seen in public since he was placed under a form of house arrest on April 3 following accusations that he was involved in a “malicious plot” to destabilise the kingdom.

In statements leaked to the media, Hamzah denied the accusations and accused the country's government of corruption and incompetence.

Abdullah subsequently said authorities had thwarted an attempt at sedition involving his half brother and 18 suspects while saying he was angry and in shock.

Abdullah also suggested there was continued control over Hamzah's movements, saying the prince was “with his family at his palace, under my care.”

Authorities have imposed a sweeping gag order on any coverage of the royal dispute in a sign of how sensitive they are to how it is perceived.

The gag order and the king’s willingness to sanction his own brother also reaffirmed what Jordanians understand as their “red line” — an absolute ban on criticizing the monarch or the royal family.

The appearance by Hamzah indicated that he was safe, but it remained unclear whether he had come voluntarily or truly been released from the restrictions on his movement.

Hamzah, wearing a suit, traditional headdress and blue surgical mask, joined his relatives in prayers but did not comment.

There also has been no sign that authorities have released up to 18 other detainees, including members of one of the powerful tribes on which the monarchy has historically relied.

Even before the palace drama, Jordan was grappling with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with one in four people out of work. Longstanding complaints about corruption and misrule have fueled scattered protests in recent months.

At the same time, the region’s strategic landscape is shifting as powerful Gulf states pursue closer ties with Israel, potentially undermining Jordan’s role in the Middle East peace process.

The United States, along with regional allies, have all rallied behind the king. Jordan has long been seen as a relatively stable western ally in the Middle East in a turbulent region but the past year of the coronavirus has rocked the country’s largely tourism-dependent economy.

Abdullah and Hamzah are both sons of King Hussein, who ruled Jordan for nearly a half-century before his death in 1999.

Abdullah had appointed Hamzah as crown prince upon his succession but stripped him of the title in 2004 and gave his eldest son the title instead.

Jordan has a large Palestinian population, including more than 2 million refugees from past wars with Israel and their descendants.

The monarchy has granted most of them full citizenship but has historically viewed them with suspicion.

Its main base of support is powerful tribes from east of the Jordan River, who dominate the security forces.

For decades, the monarchy has cultivated close ties with the US and other Western nations, which it has used to press for the creation of a Palestinian state including the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.

That strategy has hit a wall in recent years as the peace process has ground to a halt. Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994 and maintain close security ties, but relations have soured amid a series of recent diplomatic spats.

At the same time, Gulf countries have been cultivating closer ties with Israel over their shared antipathy toward Iran, relations made public last year when the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalise relations with Israel in a US-brokered deal. Saudi Arabia has at times appeared to be weighing a similar move.