Khashoggi murder: Saudi royals manoeuvring in the shadows to keep MbS away from the throne
The murder of the Saudi journalist re-ignited the power struggle for King Salman’s succession. Dozens of Al Saud family members support the return of the king’s brother, Prince Ahmed. For now, the White House backs MbS, but Trump is waiting for the intelligence report.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) - The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has triggered a war inside the Wahhabi kingdom.
Despite official denials, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is believed to have ordered the assassination. For this reason, some members of the royal family and top government officials want to prevent the 33-year-old crown prince (now the country's strongman) from ascending the throne when the current monarch, King Salman, dies.
According to anonymous Saudi sources cited by Reuters, dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession.
However, they won’t do by going against King Salman, 82, who designated MbS as his heir, a choice that must be ratified by a 34-member Allegiance Council after the king’s death.
Diplomats and experts think it is highly unlikely that King Salman would turn against his son and deny him the throne.
For this reason, other family members have started a behind-the-scenes operation, without clashes or violent blows, to ensure that 76-year-old Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s younger brother and uncle of the crown prince, comes to throne when he dies.
Prince Ahmed, the king’s only surviving brother, can count on the support of many members of the royal family who are tired of MbS’s plots.
He can also benefit from the help of the domestic security services and some Western powers. It should also be noted that he was the only one to oppose MbS becoming crown prince in 2017.
The kingdom’s strong man can count on a privileged relationship with Donald Trump’s White House, after years of tensions with the previous Obama administration.
But something is happening in Washington and Saudi government sources indicate possible US support for a change at the top in Riyadh.
For more than 40 years, Prince Ahmed held the Defence portfolio and is well-connected internationally.
He has already said that he would honour contracts to purchase US weapons systems (the real priority for the White House) and would not stop the crown prince’s economic and social reforms. He would also work to restore "unity" within the royal family.
In the past year, MbS has tried to show the world – and international investors – the country’s reformist face, with an "innovative" economic and social agenda in the context of his Vision 2030 programme.
Reforms include some minimal change in human rights, such as the right of women to drive.
However, the arrest of senior officials and businessmen, the crackdown on activists and critical voices, the bloody war in Yemen with its civilian victims and the Khashoggi affair have cast a broad shadow on MbS.
At present, the White House does not show particular in a hurry to distance itself from the crown prince (rejecting CIA allegation that he is behind the Khashoggi murder), but it cannot be excluded that Trump may change his mind in the (near) future. In this sense, the final intelligence report on the death of the Saudi journalist will be crucial.
Well-informed sources say that cooling relations between the US president and Riyadh's number two could also be linked to Saudi Arabia’s decision to consider buying the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.