The Strategist

Prince Mohammed bin Salman falls out of favor of the West

11/22/2018 - 11:11

Heir to the throne is blamed in the murder of the opposition journalist, military failures in Yemen and a brutal anti-corruption campaign, during which royals and billionaires suffered.

Glenn Fawcett
Glenn Fawcett
Among the members of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, there is a ripening protest against 32-year-old Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud inheriting the royal throne. The protests are based on accusations of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This was reported on Tuesday, November 20, by Reuters, citing three sources close to the royal court.

They told the agency that dozens of princes and cousins from the influential branches of the ruling Al Saud family do not support ascension of the Crown Prince to the throne. However, they will not openly speak while his father, 82-year-old King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, is alive, because they understand that the King will not go against his beloved son.

Currently, the ruling family members are discussing other candidates for the throne, which in Saudi Arabia does not automatically pass from father to eldest son, as in European monarchies. The heir most worthy of the throne is chosen by the King and senior members of the royal family from each of its branches.

Among the most talked about candidates for the throne are the brother of the King and the uncle of the Crown Prince, 76-year-old Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. One of the agency’s sources stressed that Prince Ahmed is supported by many members of the royal family, the security services and a number of Western countries. Other Reuters interlocutors told that some high-ranking officials in the United States also support the candidacy of Prince Ahmed. In the past few weeks, they made it clear to colleagues in Riyadh that they would support Prince Ahmed, who had been deputy minister of internal affairs for 40 years, as a potential successor.

The Saudi elite are discussing a possible replacement for the crown prince not only because of the scandal over the murder of an opposition journalist. This is connected with the tough anti-corruption measures taken by the prince. During the anti-corruption campaign, more than a dozen members of the royal family, several billionaires and almost fifty officials were arrested. Another cause is the military failures of Saudi aviation in Yemen. 

According to agency sources in Saudi Arabia, Washington also lost interest in the Crown Prince, who had a reputation as a Westerner and modernizer a couple of years ago. Now the prince is the main initiator of the transaction for the purchase of S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia. In a letter from the heir to the kingdom’s Ministry of Defense dated May 15, which came to Reuters, he would ask “to focus on acquiring systems and weapons” from Russia, including the C-400. Negotiations on the purchase of Riyadh C-400 began in 2017 and continue now, despite the threat of US sanctions.

The clouds over the Crown Prince piled in the fall of 2018 after the murder in the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. For many years the journalist was close to the royal family. But after Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the king of Saudi Arabia in 2015, and his son Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud was declared Crown Prince two years later, the journalist fell into disfavor. In 2017, he moved to the United States, became a columnist for The Washington Post and toughened criticism of Riyadh. In particular, he criticized the anti-corruption campaign, due to which $ 100 billion were returned to the kingdom’s treasury. The journalist called the arrest of 11 princes and 40 government officials “selective justice”.

On October 2, 2018, the journalist entered the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul to submit divorce documents and did not leave the building. The Turkish authorities have raised the alarm, saying that they have at their disposal audio recordings of conversations inside the diplomatic mission, from which it follows that the journalist was tortured and brutally murdered. In addition, Ankara distributed photographs of 15 Saudi nationals who flew to Istanbul on the eve of Khashoggi’s disappearance, spent a long time in the consulate building and almost immediately left Turkey. According to the Turkish authorities, this was a special command sent by Riyadh to kill the journalist.

Saudi Arabian Prosecutor’s Office has filed charges against 11 people suspected of involvement in the assassination of Khashoggi. But she emphasized that Mohammed bin Salman was not involved in the murder and was not aware of the mission against the journalist.

On November 16, The Washington Post published information about findings of the CIA, according to which responsibility for the murder of the journalist lies with the Crown Prince. The very next day, President Trump announced that in the near future, most likely, on November 20, a “very complete report” on the assassination of Khashoggi would be published in the United States. Trump stressed that the report would contain information about those responsible for the murder of the journalist.