Observing palace intrigue in Saudi Arabia is something of a sport for the international press and today they have plenty to write about.
Sources close to the throne in Saudi Arabia have confirmed that a potential palace coup was thwarted when King Salman’s brother and nephew were arrested for the plot. The brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, has kept a low profile since returning from abroad in 2018 following the king naming his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a virtual regent. The 84-year-old king was said to have approved the arrests.
Prince Mohammed, or “MbS” as he is known, has tried some modest social reforms in the ultra-conservative country and also attempted to diversify the economy, making it less dependent on oil revenues. But he has also made many enemies within the 10,000-member royal family, not least of which were those that King Salman has apparently passed over for succession.
Five sources told Reuters that Prince Ahmed and Mohammed bin Nayef were detained in the latest operation. Three of the sources, including a regional source, said Mohammed bin Nayef and his half-brother, Nawaf, were picked up at a private desert camp on Friday. Two sources said Ahmed was taken from his home.
Crown Prince Mohammed, also referred to as MbS, “accused them of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat,” the regional source said.
“With these arrests, MbS consolidated his full grip on power. It’s over with this purge,” the source added, indicating that no rivals remain to challenge his succession to the throne.
MbS is popular among younger Saudis, but he’s no democrat. He has purged the palace of opposition while carrying out a crackdown on human rights.
Crown Prince Mohammed, 34, has fueled resentment among some prominent branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power. Some critics have questioned his ability to lead after the 2018 murder of a prominent journalist by Saudi agents and the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil infrastructure last year, sources have said.
They said royals seeking to change the line of succession view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice who would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers.
Prince Ahmad is well-liked by the conservative tribes and clergy that form the backbone of the Saudi regime. But the king wanted a more modern outlook on the throne and named his 34-year-old son as his successor and virtual regent.
MbS may be the designated successor to the throne. But the coup plot shows he has some work to do to hold on to it.