King Abdullah of Jordan reportedly fired his brothers Prince Feisal and Prince Ali and his cousin Prince Talal on Friday, relieving them of important military posts.
Unconfirmed rumors are reportedly bubbling in Jordan, according to the Times of Israel, that the princes were colluding with Saudi leaders in a coup plot against the king, although the official story offers a far less sensational account of bureaucratic restructuring, and perhaps a royal power play.
King Abdullah has been active in Jerusalem recently, meeting with Pope Francis last week and promising that he would continue to fulfill his role as “Hashemite Sovereign” and “custodian of the holy places,” as the Vatican put it. This was a reference to the Jordanian royal family’s traditional role in both Islamic theology and pre-Islamic history.
Abdullah has generally been seen as a solid U.S. ally, both in regional diplomacy and in the war against ISIS. He was one of the Middle Eastern leaders told in advance of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abdullah did not approve, warning Trump that the move could have “dangerous repercussions for the stability and security of the region.”
The Jordanians have been somewhat skeptical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rapid cultural, economic, and strategic realignment in Saudi Arabia. In particular, Jordan is said to be worried that the Saudis are moving too quickly to normalize relations with Israel at the expense of Palestinian political interests. This is a major concern for Jordan because it has a large Palestinian population.
A Jordanian official complained anonymously in November that Crown Prince Mohammed “deals with Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority as if they are the servants and he is the master and we have to follow what he does.”
Salman’s crusade against corruption in Saudi Arabia included the detention of a Jordanian Palestinian billionaire named Sabih al-Masri, who also holds Saudi citizenship. He was arrested on his way to the airport after attending meetings of his companies in Saudi Arabia and released several days later, commenting only that he was treated with “respect” by Saudi authorities and was not charged with any crime.
Al-Masri’s detention was a stunning event in Jordan, where there was speculation he was detained to put pressure on King Abdullah to avoid attending an Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting on Jerusalem called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Saudis are seen as moving closer to President Trump and opposing the Jerusalem move less vigorously than Jordan. Abdullah did attend the OIC meeting, however, while the Saudis sent a junior minister instead of their own king or crown prince.
That does not seem like enough turbulence in the Saudi-Jordanian relationship to explain a coup plot involving King Abdullah’s brothers, especially given that the relationship is sound in other important respects – the Jordanians strongly denounced the recent missile attacks on Saudi Arabia’s capital by Iran-backed insurgents in Yemen, for example.
As for the king’s brothers, Prince Faisal reportedly met with a delegation from the NATO Defense College to discuss military cooperation and counterterrorism efforts just two weeks ago. Prince Ali has served in the Jordanian special forces and commanded the king’s Special Security team; he is also an important figure in the world of Jordanian soccer. Prince Talal is also a special forces veteran.
The official word from Jordan is that all three have “retired” with honors, although none of them would seem to have reached retirement age; Faisal, the oldest, is 54 years old, while Ali just celebrated his 42nd birthday. King Abdullah reportedly sent the three princes letters in which he expressed pride and gratitude for their service but said “modernization, development, and restructuring” called for them to step aside.