Another royal purge in Saudi? Here’s what has happened
Saudi King Salman’s younger brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and nephew Mohammed bin Nayef have been viewed as threats to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's claim to his father's throne, and hence have been arrested.
In what seems to be the latest crackdown to help Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) consolidate his reign, the kingdom security officials have arrested two senior members of the royal family – King Salman’s younger brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and nephew Mohammed bin Nayef.
These two men were once seen as contenders for King Salman’s throne. Royal guards wearing masks and dressed in black arrested the princes from their homes early in the morning, according to The Wall Street Journal. The two men, who are among Saudi’s most influential figures, are accused of treason and risk execution or lifetime imprisonment.
Mohammed bin Nayef’s brother, Nawaf bin Nayef, has also been detained, according to The New York Times.
A threat to MBS?
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz is one of the last surviving sons of the country's founder, King Abdulaziz, and widely respected amongst older members of the ruling family.
The other senior prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, was next in line to the throne before he was suddenly replaced three years ago. He was among several royals who were arrested by MBS in 2017 in an anti-corruption campaign. Before that, as Interior Minister, Mohammed bin Nayef was credited with defeating the Al Qaeda insurgency that gripped Saudi Arabia in the 2000s.
Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment and the Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.
MBS tightening grip on power
MBS has fuelled resentment among some prominent branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power and some question his ability to lead following the 2018 murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents and the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil infrastructure last year.
He has steadily accumulated power in his clan since gaining his position in 2017, shattering the old tradition of dividing power and seeking consensus among different branches of the family. He has also flexed his muscles by targeting other influential figures, arresting scores of high-ranking Saudis and activists and kidnapping Lebanon’s Prime Minister.
Reports, citing sources said that 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.
Saudi insiders and Western diplomats say the family is unlikely to oppose the Crown Prince while the 84-year-old king remains alive, recognizing that the King is unlikely to turn against his favourite son. The monarch has delegated most responsibilities of rule to his son but still presides over weekly Cabinet meetings and receives foreign dignitaries.
Prince Ahmed has largely kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 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 Al Saud family's senior members, who opposed Mohammed bin Salman becoming Crown Prince in 2017, reports said earlier.
Mohammed bin Nayef's movements have been restricted and monitored since then, sources previously said.
The latest detentions come at a time of heightened tension with regional rival Iran and as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman implements ambitious social and economic reforms, including an initial public offering by oil giant Saudi Aramco on the domestic bourse last December. Saudi Arabia is also the current chair for the Group of 20 major economies.
Prince Mohammed has been lauded at home for easing social restrictions in the Muslim kingdom and opening up the economy. But he has come under international criticism over a devastating war in Yemen, the murder of Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate and the detention of women's rights activists seen as part of a crackdown on dissent.