Jordanian authorities have shown enormous sensitivity to public discussion of what they have said was an attempt, backed by unnamed foreign entities, to disrupt the security and stability of the kingdom. They described it at times as a coup attempt against King Abdullah II and said they had arrested about 18 people and confined Hamzah, the king’s half-brother, to his home.
Kuttab said he pointed out the intelligence link that the station, Al-Balad Radio, had also published news of statements of support to the king from other countries.
“He told me, ‘Yes, but this is illegal,'” Kuttab recalled. When Kuttab argued against this claim, the intelligence contact replied: “No, it is not illegal, but we do not want it. ”
Kuttab later explained in an interview that this type of call requires a delicate dance and that he always sends calls to the station from the security services to protect his journalists, who unlike him do not have the protection of a US passport.
Then on Tuesday, as more details of unrest inside the royal family continued to leak or appear on social media, the government imposed a gag order to release details of the investigation into Hamzah’s case.
This further frightened Jordanians, already accustomed to the government through official measures, such as a law on cybercrime, and feared to silence public opinion and quell disagreements over the kingdom’s economic and political problems. Hamzah himself has criticized what he called “the collapse of governance, corruption and. . . the incompetence that has prevailed in our government 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 was resolved after Hamzah signed a letter confirming his loyalty to Abdullah, who then issued a statement saying the disagreement had been brought to an end.
“It was a black cloud that went away,” said an electronics store owner, dismissing the issue as “resolved.”
A merchant blamed Facebook and Twitter for spreading strife and rumors. “It’s all media. Social media destroys everything, ”he said, adding that outsiders had tried to sow strife inside the royal family.
A food supplier said it is easy to criticize the king and the royal family, but it is more challenging to take the reins than one might think. He said it’s like shouting obscenity at footballers over their performances, “but if you give him two minutes in the game, he would not know how to run from the start of the pitch to the end. If you put him in the same position, he would not know how to do a quarter of it [that of] the person he replaces. ”
These Jordanians spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety.
Other Jordanians have continued to show concern over Hamzah, which is popular in some quarters of the kingdom, also among influential tribes. Friday was the most popular hashtag on Twitter “Where’s Prince Hamzah?”
Last weekend, Hamzah said in a video that Army Chief of Staff Major General Youssef al-Huneiti had asked him to refrain from speaking or meeting with non-family members and to stop tweeting.
In response to the conversation that later surfaced, Huneiti told the prince that although he had not criticized the king himself, his comments were used by opponents and that “people are starting to talk more than usual.”
“Haven’t you seen Facebook?” he asked the prince, who had begun to shout at the general.
Jordan has long drawn criticism for curbing public disagreement. Freedom House downgraded Jordan earlier this year from “Partially Free” to “Not Free” after a year of government breakdowns on assembly and protests. Facebook is being monitored and people have been detained under the cybercrime law.
Gag orders are not uncommon in Jordan. After protests erupted last year over the government’s closure of the teachers’ union’s headquarters, authorities set up a kneeling table 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 of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and vaccination efforts.
About a day after issuing the gag order discussing the royal unrest, the government eased the restriction after 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 entitled: “Is Journalism in Jordan Still Possible?” It noted that local media are often forced to rely on leaks to the foreign press rather than first-hand reporting, as officials often refuse to give 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 being forced to remove other reports.
“I’m trying to push the envelope,” he said. “But I can not push too hard.”
While not removing the article in two sections on Hamzah’s video following the call from the intelligence contact, Kuttab said he would publish several other stories to push the offending topic off the website.
“If this place is closed because we stand on principle, what good is it? So you have to choose your matches, ”he said.