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Middle East Correspondent: Jordan 'Still Stable' Following High-Profile Arrests

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A country that has long been a key U.S. ally and a source of stability in the Middle East is claiming an internal threat to its own stability this weekend. Authorities in Jordan say they've arrested several high-level officials who are part of a plot to destabilize the kingdom. Those arrested include a half-brother of King Abdullah, the former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein. In a leaked video, the prince denied he was part of any foreign-backed conspiracy. He said he was under house arrest solely for expressing dissent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAMZAH BIN HUSSEIN: Even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services. And it's reached the point where no one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened.

FADEL: Here to give us more insight on what is happening in Jordan is Nabih Bulos. He's Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and he joins us from Amman, Jordan.

NABIH BULOS: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

FADEL: So break this down for us because there's a lot of intrigue surrounding this situation. What's happening in Jordan?

BULOS: Well, so, first of all, it should be said there's not much information still. I mean, today, the deputy prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, by the way, gave a pretty lengthy statement. But it was nevertheless quite low on details. So far, what has been said is that essentially, the prince was in touch with various groups, including Jordanian opposition groups based abroad. And the intention was to destabilize the country - in theory, to eventually replace the king with the former crown prince.

FADEL: So as we mentioned earlier, Jordan is thought to be one of the most stable countries in the Middle East. How could this development upset that stability?

BULOS: Well, the fact of the matter is that so far, I have to admit there is still stability.

FADEL: Yeah.

BULOS: I mean, this morning, you know, the day after all these shocking allegations - and really, I mean, this was unprecedented in recent Jordanian history - the country nevertheless functioned. And you didn't see tanks on the street. You didn't see, you know, necessarily a huge police presence. I mean, in fact, I actually drove across the country today. I had an appointment in the north of Jordan, and I was able to get there and back with no trouble and indeed was able to do my work without any interruption.

So, you know, I would argue that actually so far, the country is still stable. But in the long run, I think this will be a problem because the fact of the matter is that the prince is actually quite a popular figure, especially among the traditional power base in the country - you know, the tribal figures, et cetera, right? He was seen as someone who was closer to those traditional power brokers. And so the fact of the matter is this won't go down very easily. That's where I expect the problem will be.

And, of course, it's also worth noting that the kingdom is going through a terrible time economically now because of the coronavirus and several other factors. So there is already discontent.

FADEL: Now, we're seeing a lot of regional allies backing the moves by King Abdullah. We're also - as we're hearing the crown prince, or the former crown prince, now say that really, this is just a crackdown on any type of criticism or dissent. And this is a key U.S. ally. So does the U.S. perhaps face a tough choice here? Do they stand up for a key ally, or do they stand up potentially for the right to dissent in the kingdom?

BULOS: Well, historically speaking, Jordan has been, you know, a country that has always punched above its weight in terms of its importance. I mean, the fact is, its sheer landmass and its resources don't make it that important, but its location does because finally, it's bordered by Israel, by Iraq, by Syria, Saudi Arabia, et cetera. And it has managed to actually remain quite stable even though the neighborhood is not very stable at all, as you imagine.

And so the fact of the matter is that Jordan now plays host to about 600,000 Syrian refugees and roughly 2 million Palestinian refugees and their offspring. You know, so we're not talking about a country that is, you know, just dealing with its own population. There are others there. So the fact of the matter is that you cannot just let Jordan fall. The fear is that if you do, you will have another huge problem in the Middle East that will cause, you know, a ripple effect in other areas.

FADEL: That was Nabih Bulos, Middle East correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. Nabih, thank you so much for being with us.

BULOS: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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