Haaretz is emphatic:
Jordanian King Abdullah II fired several senior officials over the past week following reports of a plot to destabilize the kingdom, including the general intelligence chief, the king’s adviser on policy and information and several other senior advisers.
Citing a Kuwait newspaper, Al-Qabas, Haaretz describes a potential plot by the Hashemite Kingdom’s intel head, General Adan al-Jundi, and several palace insiders to spark protests that would target Prime Minister Omar Razzaz in an attempt to destabilize the Kingdom.
It’s all very 1970s, right down to the fake protests designed to ripple influence in the shadows, and while we know that the King did in fact reshuffle his top intel heads and fire a few palace advisors, we should stop short of calling it a coup attempt – at least right now.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions. Why would insiders risk the stability of the Kingdom? Why would the King merely sack them and not arrest them? What else were they angry about? And could this have been something simply personal, the factional tussles that royal courts are prone to?
Jordan’s collapse is the nightmare scenario of every strategic planner in the region: from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the United States to the Jordanians themselves, fear of Jordan falling apart has lurked in the back of their collectives minds since the 1970 civil war that nearly shattered the Kingdom. And of course there is Syria nearby, where the still-smoldering border remains an object lesson to those who might push for change too hard.
Yet that object lesson perhaps has diminishing value each day. There is a Trump peace plan coming for Palestine, and it seems quite likely it will mean there is no path for an independent Palestine. That will anger Jordan’s Palestinians, many of whom still believe they will one day return to a Palestinian state, and will push unprecedented tension on the 1994 treaty with Israel. Already nationalists and Islamists have gotten the King to dump a small but symbolically important lease attached to the treaty – a sop by King Abdullah to the anger of Jordanians who see the treaty not as valuable peace but as a humiliating submission.
Then there is the matter of austerity, Prime Minister Razzaz’s burden to bear. Jordan’s economy is deeply under strain: it has some $39.9 billion in debts, nearly 100% of GDP, and its trade ties have been hammered with wars in Iraq and Syria, two of its biggest trading partners. Throw on a dollop of hundreds of thousands of increasingly expensive Syrian refugees, plus a permanent population of Palestinians in exile, on top of a resource base that still relies on relatively cheap agriculture, and you have a wobbly economy that even in better decades struggled to improve living standards.
Jordan’s economy must have aid to survive – aid that has strings attached. From the Gulf Arabs, aid means hewing to their regional priorities, something Amman is loathe to do. From the West, it means restructuring the economy – and remaining true to the treaty with Israel. Jordanians are increasingly tired of such external demands, and moreover one would be hard pressed to find a population that takes austerity measures with a smile.
That there is pressure is real: that there was a coup attempt is to be said to be not proven, rather than not guilty. King Abdullah of Jordan is walking a fine line with ever fewer pathways forward.