Members of the Saudi royal family reportedly looking for ways to keep Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king


mohammed bin salman
Saudi
Arabia Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the G20
opening ceremony at the Hangzhou International Expo Center on
September 4, 2016 in Hangzhou, China. World leaders are gathering
for the 11th G20 Summit from September 4-5.

Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty Images

  • Amid international uproar over the killing of journalist
    Jamal Khashoggi, some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family
    are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from
    becoming king, three sources close to the royal court
    said.
  • Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other
    family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin
    Abdulaziz, 76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle
    of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the
    sources.
  • When the king dies or is no longer be able to rule, the
    34-member Allegiance Council, a body representing each line of
    the ruling family to lend legitimacy to succession decisions,
    would not automatically declare MbS the new king.

LONDON (Reuters) – Amid international uproar over the
killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some members of Saudi
Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king, three sources close to
the royal court said.

Dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al
Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession but
would not act while King Salman — the crown prince’s 82-year-old
father — is still alive, the sources said. They recognize that
the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son, known in
the West as MbS.

Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family
members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz,
76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle of the crown
prince, could take the throne, according to the sources.

Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, would
have the support of family members, the security apparatus and
some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said.

Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after 2-1/2 months
abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi
leadership while responding to protesters outside a London
residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He
was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up
of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming
crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.

Neither Prince Ahmed nor his representatives could be reached for
comment. Officials in Riyadh did not immediately respond to
requests from Reuters for comment on succession issues.

The House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes. Unlike
typical European monarchies, there is no automatic succession
from father to eldest son. Instead the kingdom’s tribal
traditions dictate that the king and senior family members from
each branch select the heir they consider fittest to lead.

(Saudi royal family: tmsnrt.rs/2OGPHTB)

Senior US officials have indicated to Saudi advisers in recent
weeks that they would support Prince Ahmed, who was deputy
interior minister for nearly 40 years, as a potential successor,
according to Saudi sources with direct knowledge of the
consultations.

These Saudi sources said they were confident that Prince Ahmed
would not change or reverse any of the social or economic reforms
enacted by MbS, would honor existing military procurement
contracts and would restore the unity of the family.

One senior US official said the White House is in no hurry to
distance itself from the crown prince despite pressure from
lawmakers and the CIA’s assessment that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s
murder, though that could change once Trump gets a definitive
report on the killing from the intelligence community.

The official also said the White House saw it as noteworthy that
King Salman seemed to stand by his son in a speech in Riyadh on
Monday and made no direct reference to Khashoggi’s killing,
except to praise the Saudi public prosecutor.

President Donald Trump on Saturday called the CIA assessment that
MbS ordered Khashoggi’s killing “very premature” but “possible”,
and said he would receive a complete report on the case on
Tuesday. A White House official referred Reuters to those
comments and had “nothing else to add at this time”.

The Saudi sources said US officials had cooled on MbS not only
because of his suspected role in the murder of Khashoggi. They
are also rankled because the crown prince recently urged the
Saudi defense ministry to explore alternative weapons supplies
from Russia, the sources said.

In a letter dated May 15, seen by Reuters, the crown prince
requested that the defense ministry “focus on purchasing weapon
systems and equipment in the most pressing fields” and get
training on them, including the Russian S-400 surface-to-air
missile system.

Neither the Russian defense ministry nor officials in Riyadh
immediately responded to Reuters requests for comment.

US role key

The brutal killing of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the crown
prince, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month has drawn
global condemnation, including from many politicians and
officials in the United States, a key Saudi ally. The CIA
believes the crown prince ordered the killing, according to US
sources familiar with the assessment.

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has said the crown prince knew
nothing of the killing.

The international uproar has piled pressure on a royal court
already divided over 33-year-old Prince Mohammed’s rapid rise to
power. Since his ascension, the prince has gained popular support
with high-profile social and economic reforms including ending a
ban on women driving and opening cinemas in the conservative
kingdom.

His reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, a
purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges, and a
costly war in Yemen.

He has also marginalized senior members of the royal family and
consolidated control over Saudi’s security and intelligence
agencies.

He first ousted then-powerful crown prince and interior minister
Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), 59, in June 2017. Then he removed
Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, 65, son of the late King Abdullah, as
head of the National Guard and detained him as part of an
anti-corruption campaign.

Some 30 other princes were also arrested, mistreated, humiliated
and stripped of their wealth, even as MbS splashed out on
palaces, a $500 million yacht, and set a new record in the
international art market with the purchase of a painting by
Italian Renaissance engineer and painter Leonardo Da Vinci.

The entire House of Saud has emerged weakened as a result.

According to one well-placed Saudi source, many princes from
senior circles in the family believe a change in the line of
succession “would not provoke any resistance from the security or
intelligence bodies he controls” because of their loyalty to the
wider family.

“They (the security apparatus) will follow any consensus reached
by the family.”

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

The United States, a key ally in economic and security terms, is
likely to be a determining factor in how matters unfold in Saudi
Arabia, the Saudi sources and diplomats say.

Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner have
cultivated deep personal relationships with the crown prince. One
Saudi insider said MbS feels he still has their support and is
willing to “roll some heads to appease the US.”

But Trump and top administration officials have said Saudi
officials should be held to account for any involvement in
Khashoggi’s death and have imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis for
their alleged role – including one of MbS’s closest aides.

US lawmakers are meanwhile pushing legislation to punish Riyadh
for the killing, and both Republican and Democratic senators have
urged Trump to get tough on the crown prince.

King Salman, 82, is aware of the consequences of a major clash
with the United States and the possibility that Congress could
try to freeze Saudi assets. 

Those who have met the king recently say he appeared to be in
denial about the role of MbS in what happened, believing there to
be a conspiracy against the kingdom. But they added that he
looked burdened and worried.

Allegiance council

When the king dies or is no longer be able to rule, the 34-member
Allegiance Council, a body representing each line of the ruling
family to lend legitimacy to succession decisions, would not
automatically declare MbS the new king.

Even as crown prince, MbS would still need the council to ratify
his ascension, one of the three Saudi sources said. While the
council accepted King Salman’s wish to make MbS crown prince, it
would not necessarily accept MbS becoming king when his father
dies, especially given that he sought to marginalize council
members.

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

The Saudi sources say MbS has destroyed the institutional pillars
of nearly a century of Al Saud rule: the family, the clerics, the
tribes and the merchant families. They say this is seen inside
the family as destabilizing.

Despite the controversy over Khashoggi’s killing, MbS is
continuing to pursue his agenda.

Some insiders believe he built his father a new but remote Red
Sea palace in Sharma, at the Neom City development site — thrown
up in a record one year at a cost of $2 billion — as a gilded
cage for his retirement.

The site is isolated, the closest city of Tabouk more than 100 km
(60 miles) away. Residence there would keep the king out of the
loop on most affairs of state, one of the sources close to the
royal family said.

Officials in Riyadh did not respond to a request for comment.

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