Jordanian authorities have evinced enormous sensitivity over public discussion of what they have said was an effort, backed by unnamed foreign entities, to disrupt the kingdom’s security and stability. Describing it at times as an attempted coup against King Abdullah II, they said they have arrested about 18 people and restricted Hamzah, the king’s half brother, to his home.
Kuttab said he pointed out to the intelligence liaison that the station, Al-Balad Radio, had also published news items about statements of support for the king from other countries.
“He told me, ‘Yes, but this is illegal,’ ” Kuttab recalled. When Kuttab argued against that claim, the intelligence liaison responded, “No, it’s not illegal, but we don’t want it.”
Kuttab later explained in an interview that these kind of calls require a delicate dance and that he always fields calls to the station from the security services to protect his reporters, who, unlike him, do not have the protection of a U.S. passport.
By Tuesday, as more details about turmoil inside the royal family continued to leak or surface on social media, the government imposed a gag order on the publication of any details about the investigation into Hamzah’s case.
That further intimidated Jordanians, who have already become accustomed to the government using official measures, such as a cybercrimes law, and fear to quiet public opinion and quell dissent over the kingdom’s economic and political troubles. Hamzah himself has criticized what he called the “breakdown in governance, the corruption and . . . the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure.”
But on the streets of the capital, Amman, Jordanians were still willing in recent days to whisper their opinions about the alleged coup attempt. Some people were eager to believe the dispute had been resolved, after Hamzah signed a letter affirming his loyalty to Abdullah, who then issued a statement saying that the discord had been brought to an end.
“It was a black cloud that passed away,” an electronics shop owner said, dismissing the issue as “solved.”
A grocer blamed Facebook and Twitter for spreading strife and rumors. “It’s all media. Social media ruins everything,” he said, saying outsiders had tried to sow strife inside the royal family.
A food deliveryman said it’s easy to criticize the king and the royal family, but taking the reins is more challenging than one would think. He said it’s like someone who yells obscenities at soccer players over their performance, “but if you give him two minutes in the game, he wouldn’t know how to run from the beginning of the field to the end. If you put him in the same position, he wouldn’t know how to do a quarter of [that of] the person he’s replacing.”
These Jordanians spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for their security.
Other Jordanians have continued to show concern for Hamzah, who is popular in some quarters of the kingdom, including among influential tribes. On Friday, the top trending hashtag on Twitter was “Where is Prince Hamzah?”
Last weekend, Hamzah said in a video that army head Maj. Gen. Youssef al-Huneiti had asked him to refrain from speaking or meeting with nonfamily members and to cease tweeting.
“Have you not seen Facebook?” he asked the prince, who had begun yelling at the general.
Jordan has long drawn criticism for curbing public dissent. Freedom House demoted Jordan earlier this year from “Partly Free” to “Not Free,” following a year of government crackdowns on assembly and protests. Facebook is monitored, and people have been detained under the cybercrimes law.
Gag orders are not infrequent in Jordan. After protests erupted last year over the government’s closure of the teachers union headquarters, authorities imposed a gag order and arrested at least two journalists covering the protests, Human Rights Watch reported. At least three senior journalists have been arrested since October over reports on the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and vaccination efforts.
About a day after issuing the gag order on discussion of the royal turmoil, the government eased the restriction following an interview Deputy Prime Minister Ayman al-Safadi gave the Wall Street Journal about the episode. Critics said Jordanian media had been unfairly targeted by the order.
An independent local media organization, 7iber, published an editorial titled: “Is journalism in Jordan still possible?” It noted that local media is often forced to rely on leaks to the foreign press in lieu of firsthand reporting, since officials frequently refuse to grant interviews to independent local news organizations.
Kuttab spoke passionately about trying to navigate Jordan’s challenging media environment and how his radio station gets away with some reports, while it is forced to take down other reports.
“I try to push the envelope,” he said. “But I cannot push too hard.”
While he did not remove the two-paragraph item about Hamzah’s video after the call from the intelligence liaison, Kuttab said he would publish several other stories to push the offending item off the main page of the website.
“If this place is closed because we stand on principle, what good does it do? So you have to choose your battles,” he said.