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Inside Jordanian Prince Hamzah's Rift With The Royal Family

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Just who is the Jordanian prince who shook the kingdom this week when he said he'd been detained in his home? Some of his associates were arrested. The kingdom said it had quelled a threat to the country's stability, something that makes it a key partner in the tumultuous Mideast. NPR's Daniel Estrin has this look at Prince Hamzah and why he matters to Jordanians.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Prince Hamzah sent a video plea to the BBC last weekend from his palace. He said he'd been confined there, his friends arrested. He denied the government's accusations that he'd sought to undermine the country. But he had a message he wanted the world to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE HAMZAH: This country has become stymied in corruption, in nepotism and in misrule. And the result has been the destruction or the loss of hope. That is apparent in pretty much every Jordanian.

ESTRIN: Hamzah used to be the crown prince in line for the throne before his half-brother, King Abdullah, stripped him of the title in 2004. But he did not stay quiet. He joined Twitter. And in recent weeks, he made high-profile visits to a traditional power base for the monarchy, Jordan's Bedouin tribes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Arabic).

ESTRIN: This video shared online shows tribal supporters chanting, the country is gone. Where are you, Hamzah, Son of Hussein, the late king who's still revered? We meet Dahham Al Fawwaz (ph) from a prominent Bedouin family. He says he met Prince Hamzah a couple months ago. He explains why Jordanians like the prince.

DAHHAM AL FAWWAZ: (Through interpreter) 'Cause he look like King Hussein, and his voice is close to King Hussein's voice. And that shows that until now, people - they love King Hussein.

ESTRIN: He says Prince Hamzah meets with the tribes more than the current king does. And his community is struggling.

FAWWAZ: (Through interpreter) The number of unmarried people is large because the youth are unable to afford to get married. If the government behavior stays like this, there's no hope that they will have a good economic situation for the public.

ESTRIN: About 1 in 4 Jordanians is unemployed. That number likely increased during the pandemic under one of the world's strictest lockdowns. Underwear salesman Majdi Yasim closed one shop during the pandemic and might close another. His kids haven't found work in years.

MAJDI YASIM: My son, the biggest one, he finish - he graduated from London. He take master - two masters, one from London, one from Turkish. And the three years now, he did not find any job. Also, my daughter - she finished her education at the university - Jordan University - and as engineer. And two years now, she did not have any work.

ESTRIN: Pollster Muin Khoury has surveyed Jordanian youth. Most think the main obstacle to finding a job is nepotism among a relatively small circle of people.

MUIN KHOURY: I call a cousin, you know, to say, oh, my child just graduated. Can you help me find him a job? This is the way it's done.

ESTRIN: Fertile ground for a prince sidelined from the throne to champion Jordanians who themselves feel sidelined. the U.S. and Western countries pour lots of money into Jordan to keep it a stable ally in a turbulent region. But many Jordanians don't feel that's improved their lives.

KHOURY: Excuse me? Stabilization? You stabilize the country, you give people progress. That's how you stabilize Jordan. You don't maintain the status quo - as France, as U.K., as Britain, as EU, as U.S.

ESTRIN: Jordanians don't want to overthrow their monarchy. They've seen what instability has done to their neighbors. The royal family says Prince Hamzah has now sworn allegiance to the king, and the king has reassured his people he's attuned to their economic pain. But the prince's tribal supporters have called a sit-in to demand the release of their relatives close to Hamzah who are still under arrest.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.