Every afternoon at around three, Jordanians angry with how bad their lives have become call Rainbow Street, a drive-time radio show in Amman, and complain heartily about the lack of jobs and the economic hardship wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
But in recent months, Mohammed Ersan, the show’s popular host, noticed something he had never seen before. The callers blamed King Abdullah, the western ally and moderate force in power for 22 years, for their woes.
“People are now saying that the King is to blame for all the nepotism, the corruption — they are now saying that out loud, on the radio, in demonstrations,” Ersan said.
King Abdullah this week put down what he describes as an attempt at sedition by his own half- brother — a charismatic young prince who has tapped into a vein of deepening discontent in the tiny kingdom’s increasingly impoverished people.
The 10m population of Jordan, which borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria and Saudi Arabia, includes 3m refugees and guest workers. The unprecedented drama sparked concern about the stability of the resource poor Hashemite kingdom, which has been run by the same family since 1922.
Much about the attempted sedition remains unknown. The King and his government have said that Prince Hamzah, the 41-year old son of Jordan’s revered late King Hussein and heir apparent until his demotion in 2004, had moved from open criticism of the government’s failures to acting against it. They say he was working in tandem with a former finance minister with ties to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince Hamzah remains “under my care,” the King said on Wednesday, describing a form of house arrest for his half-brother, saying the attempted sedition has been contained.
At least 18 people, including Bassem Awadallah, the deeply unpopular former finance minister, who once served as the King’s chief of staff, and members of the prince’s staff, remain under arrest as a sweeping investigation continues.
But Jordan’s economic woes remain in plain view, leaving unresolved the issues that Prince Hamzah has built his popularity on.
Even before Jordan tumbled into the pandemic, it was deeply indebted, growing at barely 2 per cent a year, and with one in four adults of working age unemployed. A year later — after some 7,600 coronavirus deaths and strict lockdowns — nearly half the country’s youth is unemployed after the collapse of tourism.
While Jordan’s economy has been buffeted by external factors — the conflicts in Syria and Iraq cut off trade routes and squeezed markets while sending nearly a million refugees across the border — frequent changes of government have also rattled investors, said Mazen Homoud, the deputy chairman of the Jordan Economic Forum. “Consecutive governments missed great opportunities that could have had a very important impact on the unemployment crisis in Jordan,” he added.
In recordings leaked over the weekend, the Prince criticised the corruption and nepotism that Jordanians routinely associate with their failure to find jobs. “Prince Hamzah was smart — he used the language of the people on the street, who feel that their lives are constantly moving backwards,” said Ersan, the radio host.
For decades, Jordan’s successive governments — King Abdullah is on his 14th prime minister in his 22-year reign — have promised more jobs and reforms to an economy reliant on US aid and loans from financing institutions such as the IMF, as well as tourism revenues.