Jordan’s King Abdullah claimed on Wednesday he had quashed an attempt at sedition and restored stability to the vital western ally in the Middle East, even as his half-brother Prince Hamzah remained out of view along with 18 other people arrested over the weekend.

In his first public statement since the family feud burst out into the open, Abdullah said he was shocked and pained that a sibling had been involved, but also added that the former crown prince remained “at his palace, under my care”.

The careful wording of what is essentially the house arrest of a senior royal came as supporters of Prince Hamzah used social media to demand news of his whereabouts, turning to radio stations to air discontent about their economic woes — a proxy for criticism of the government in an autocratic country where insulting the king is illegal.

The head of state insisted the dispute had been resolved within the family, pointing to the intervention of their uncle Prince Hassan, himself a crown prince before being demoted in 1999, and a statement signed by Hamzah pledging loyalty to the king.

The king did not refer by name to his former finance minister and chief of staff, Bassem Awadallah, who was arrested alongside at least 17 others, nor to unsubstantiated suggestions made by senior officials that foreign parties were involved in the attempt to destabilise the Hashemite Kingdom.

“The challenge of the last few days was not the hardest or the most dangerous to the stability of our nation, but it was the most painful because those who are party to the sedition were from our own home,” Abdullah said in the statement, which was read out by a newscaster on national television rather than by the king himself.

The king’s grasp of classical Arabic has become a crucial issue in comparisons between himself and Prince Hamzah, whom he removed as crown prince in 2004. The prince’s Arabic is modelled on that of his eloquent late father King Hussein, still revered in Jordan, while the current monarch’s is described by his detractors as coarser, given his western education.

“He didn’t even speak to us in our language,” said a senior member of the Majali tribe who has organised protests in the country’s south demanding the release of tribal members from Prince Hamzah’s retinue, including his chief of staff. “Instead of coming to meet us, he is sending us letters.”

Four family members of detainees and a lawyer for a fifth said they had not been informed where those arrested were being held. Awadallah’s whereabouts remain unknown, too, and none have been charged or brought before a court.

The rare public feud has rattled the vital Western ally, and highlighted the stress within the Hashemite family, which traces its lineage to the Prophet Mohammed, as Jordan’s economy has floundered.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened unemployment, even as public debt remains uncomfortably high in a country deeply dependent on foreign aid, especially from the US.

Abdullah referred to the economic challenges that have accompanied this royal crisis, but outlined no changes to economic policy, nor to the political reforms that Prince Hamzah had mentioned in videos leaked over the weekend from his palace.