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Jordan: Two ex-officials sentenced to 15 years' hard labour over sedition plot

Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid received sentences over alleged attempts to destabilise kingdom in April
A still from a video showing Sharif Hassan bin Zaid being led away by security services (Twitter)

Two former officials have received 15-year jail sentences in Jordan over an alleged sedition plot in April

Former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah and minor royal Sharif Hassan bin Zaid were sentenced to hard labour over their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to replace King Abdullah II with his half-brother Prince Hamzah.

An AFP reporter said the court convicted the pair of "incitement against the ruling system" and "sedition".

Although the charge sheet acknowledges Prince Hamzah's direct involvement in the plot, he himself was not on trial.

The verdict in the trial, which has been ongoing since 21 June, was announced by the State Security Court, a military tribunal that also includes civilian judges.

Though both men are known to have ties to Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has strongly denied any involvement in the plot.

Jordanian authorities in April announced that they had foiled a plot to destabilise the kingdom in April, a revelation that shocked foreign observers who saw the country as a reliably stable ally.

Eighteen suspects were originally arrested, but 16 were later released.

The trial of the alleged coup plotters was held behind closed doors in the capital Amman.

Saudi links

Middle East Eye first reported on 13 April that Awadallah had been arrested following the revelation that he had been exchanging voice and text messages with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A source close to the investigation told MEE that the two had discussed how and when to use mounting popular unrest in Jordan, stoked by the kingdom’s flagging economy and the Covid-19 pandemic, to destabilise Abdullah.

The messages between Awadallah and Mohammed bin Salman were regarded as definitive enough proof of a plot hatched by a foreign power for the Jordanians to share it immediately with their US counterparts. They then reported back to US President Joe Biden.

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Based on this intelligence, Biden called King Abdullah before issuing a strong statement of support in the hours after the unrest in Jordan was made public.

Biden then supplemented the statement with his own words. Asked if he was worried about the situation in Jordan, Biden told reporters: “No, I’m not. I just called to tell him that he has a friend in America. Stay strong.”

The Jordanians took this as Biden personally warning Mohammed bin Salman off overthrowing Abdullah.

A second source close to the Royal Court in Amman said the message was also believed to be directed at the crown prince’s strategic partners Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

“That message was as much a warning to MBS and his regional supporters MBZ and Netanyahu, who were also involved, as it was a statement of support for Abdullah,” the source said, referring to the Saudi and Emirati crown princes by common nicknames.

Awadallah previously served as King Abdullah’s envoy to Saudi Arabia and also has close links with MBZ, while Zaid, a relatively low profile member of the royal family, is also reported to have formerly also served as a special envoy to Saudi Arabia.

Zaid is said to have significant business ties to Riyadh, with Jordanian news website al-Ghawas reporting that bin Zaid "lives and owns investments in Saudi Arabia".

Local media in April published alleged confessions by Awadallah in documents leaked to the press, purportedly revealing details of meetings that took place last year that he held with Prince Hamzah and were arranged by Zaid.

"Sharif Hassan informed me that Prince Hamzah is dissatisfied with the internal situation, and he wants to talk to me about this, and get advice from me, because I was a senior official in the royal court, and I am currently working in Saudi Arabia, and he is close to officials there," the document, which were part of a State Security Court report, quoted Awadallah as saying.