The verdict of guilt issued by the Jordanian State Security Court to a former finance minister and a royal minor on charges of sedition received a dull reaction from the Jordanians, although it left many unanswered questions about the nature of ‘a plot that supposedly aimed to overthrow the country’s longtime monarch.
Bassem Awadallah, a former minister and head of the Royal Hashemite Court, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a distant relative of Jordan’s ruling family, were convicted on Monday in 15 years in prison for conspiracy with Prince Hamzah bin al-Hussein, stepbrother of the King of Jordan, Abdullah, to destabilize the country, which is a key US ally in the region.
The indictment of the two men indicated that they were working to promote Prince Hamzah as king, while inciting concern among the powerful tribes of Jordan over economic grievances and mismanagement of the coronavirus.
The two men were arrested along with 18 other people on April 3 when the Jordanian government announced that it was thwarting a plot to destabilize the Kingdom. Prince Hamzah was placed under house arrest and later signed one letter promising their support for the monarch. The Jordanian king said the Hashemite family handled his half-brother’s case in private.
Awadallah and Sharif Hassan were the only two figures tried in connection with the plot, which exposed deep cracks within the Jordanian royal family and challenged the country’s image as a bastion of stability in the region.
Process surrounded by secrecy
The trial began last month and ended after only six sessions. It was shut down in the media and the government strictly restricted public knowledge of events in the classroom.
The defense’s efforts to call witnesses were rejected by the court, while prosecutors only shared the alleged transcripts, but not audio, of the surveillance of the two defendants. Lawyers for the two men said their clients will appeal the verdict while questioning the fairness of the trial.
Amer Sabaileh, an Amman-based political analyst who is also part of a 92-member committee set up by King Abdullah to deal with the consequences of the plot, said the trial was handled in a way that sent the wrong message about Jordan’s intention to enact political reform.
“From the way things went with the trial, this result was expected,” he said, adding: “We missed the opportunity to build trust in society. In general, all that lacks transparency. it suffers from not being accepted by the people. “
The day before the verdict, Awadallah, who also holds U.S. and Saudi citizenship, claimed he had been tortured while in custody. Michael Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor hired by the Awadallah family in the U.S. to represent him, said the trial “was completely unfair” and warranted a guilty verdict.
Khaled al-Qudah, an Amman-based political commentator, said it was up to Awadallah to prove the serious allegations of torture: “He looks tired, but he does not look beaten and paralyzed as he described. And he waited until the last day to say something through your lawyer. “
Many Jordanians believe that Awadallah got rich by privatizing state assets and see him as the public face of a corrupt ruling class responsible for the deterioration of the country’s economic situation.
One of the complaints directed against the government by the trial was that Awadallah faced charges of inciting the monarchy, but was not charged with any of the allegations of corruption with which ordinary Jordanians associate him.
“People wanted to see him in prison for the economy and for all his corrupt dealings to be exposed in public. They hoped the government would hold him responsible for it,” al-Qudah said.
For many Jordanians facing an unsatisfactory economy, high cost of living, and widespread corruption, judgment ranks low on their list of priorities.
“This case is no longer important to the people,” he told Al Jazeera Saud al-Sharafat, a former brigadier general in Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate. “The Jordanians are more interested in the Tawjihi [final high school examination] that some secret trial “.
One explanation for the apathy is that many Jordanians saw the trial as a carefully organized display for the public, but they believe the true fate of the two men will be decided behind closed doors.
It is already speculated that King Abdullah could issue a royal pardon while trying to deal with the consequences of allegations of foreign involvement in the case of sedition.
During the trial, the state prosecution claimed that Awadallah was enlisted in the plot because of his foreign connections. The former finance minister was an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, which sparked rumors that Riyadh was involved in the sedition plot.
The Saudi government has rejected claims of any involvement and backed King Abdullah immediately after the plot was made public. They have also denied making requests to return Awadallah to Saudi Arabia after his arrest.
While Riyadh is a major donor to Amman and the two neighbors are close allies, they also have a historic rivalry. The Hashemites were custodians of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam, and ruled the Hejaz, the western part of present-day Saudi Arabia, until they were replaced by the Saudi family after the First World War. World War.
Some analysts believe that Saudi Arabia saw King Abdullah as an impediment to the Abraham Accords and the Trump administration’s efforts to reach a possible normalization deal between Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
The Hashemite monarch has custody of the Christian and Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem and it has been speculated that MBS was trying to replace the Jordanian position in the city as part of any normalization agreement.
“Amman handled this file very carefully to avoid consequences on the Jordanian-Saudi relationship,” said Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.
“The political will is not to make a big deal with the Saudis, it’s the last thing we need,” he added.
If there was any Saudi involvement in the case, it has not publicly affected the bilateral relationship that Sharafat says remains strong: “The border is open, embassies are working and Saudi business and aides in Jordan are continuing as usual.”
Still, Rantawi says an early pardon would indicate Jordan’s desire to repair any private loopholes between Hashemite and Saudi families.
“If Awadallah remains in prison for a long time, it will be a reflection of the poor state of Saudi-Jordanian relations,” he said.