Top - level changes could be com­ing in the Saudi rul­ing fam­ily

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Ab­del Bari At­wan

Many ques­tions were raised about the pro­longed stay in Lon­don of Prince Ah­mad Bin-Ab­de­laziz, youngest of the seven Su­dairi sons of Saudi Ara­bia’s found­ing monarch – es­pe­cially af­ter he told a group of protestors out­side his res­i­dence that they should not blame the rul­ing fam­ily as a whole for the war in Ye­men. Even big­ger ques­tions are now raised by his re­turn to Riyadh and the fact that he was greeted by Crown Prince Muham­mad Bin-Sal­man.

Spec­u­la­tion is rife about the ‘sur­prises’ that the Saudi roy­als may have in store.

Prince Ah­mad left Saudi Ara­bia be­fore the crim­i­nal mur­der of Ja­mal Khashoggi. But it is un­likely he would have re­turned, or been ac­corded such a warm wel­come, were it not for that crime, and the cur­rent Saudi lead­er­ship’s ad­mis­sion that it was car­ried out by an 18-mem­ber ‘death squad’ whose mem­bers were sent to Is­tan­bul for the pur­pose.

Muham­mad Bin-Sal­man, who due to his fa­ther’s ill­ness is the king­dom’s de facto ruler, has never shown the least tol­er­ance to­wards his op­po­nents or those who failed to sup­port his el­e­va­tion to the post of crown prince, be they mem­bers of the royal fam­ily or com­mon­ers. Some 1,500 of them re­main be­hind bars, by his own ad­mis­sion, in­clud­ing princes. So it was strik­ing that he should ac­cord a re­spect­ful wel­come home to the most prom­i­nent of those op­po­nents. His un­cle Ah­mad never pledged al­le­giance to him, and re­fused to hang his por­trait along­side those of his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther in the re­cep­tion hall of his palace in Riyadh.

Ac­cord­ing to re­li­able Saudi sources in Lon­don, Ah­mad – who is mar­ried to the sis­ter of the Saudi am­bas­sador to the UK, Prince Muham­mad Bin-Nawwaf — had been plan­ning on an ex­tended stay in the British cap­i­tal. His un­ex­pected re­turn four weeks af­ter the mur­der of Khashoggi could not have hap­pened with­out some ar­range­ment hav­ing been made, in con­junc­tion with U.S. and British au­thor­i­ties, for re­order­ing the royal house in Riyadh via a blood­less coup.

It is hard to spec­u­late about the for­mula that could tran­spire as a re­sult of Prince Ah­mad’s con­tacts with Amer­i­can and British of­fi­cials in Lon­don and the meet­ings he will have in Riyadh. Key in­ter­locu­tors there

Un­ex­pected re­turn of Prince Ah­mad Bin-Ab­de­laz­iz­four weeks af­ter the mur­der of Khashoggi could not have hap­pened with­out some ar­range­ment hav­ing been made, in con­junc­tion with U.S. and British au­thor­i­ties, for re­order­ing the royal house in Riyadh via a blood­less coup.

in­clude Prince Talal Bin-Ab­de­laziz, deputy chair­man of the royal fam­ily’s al­le­giance coun­cil, and Prince Muqrin Bin-Ab­de­laziz, the for­mer crown prince who was re­placed by King Sal­man as soon as he as­sumed the throne, de­spite his pre­de­ces­sor King Ab­dal­lah’s in­sis­tence that he should re­main next in line to the throne.

Chang­ing the crown prince has ceased to be a dif­fi­cult un­der­tak­ing since King Sal­man as­sumed the throne in 2015. He re­placed two crown princes within a mat­ter of months – first his brother Muqrin, and then Muham­mad Bin-Nayef, who he shunted aside in fa­vor of his own son Muham­mad. It is not un­likely that we may see an­other move of this kind in the weeks ahead, as nu­mer­ous leaks and news re­ports sug­gest.

A num­ber of ques­tions need an­swer­ing in this re­gard.

First, if there is an in­ten­tion to give a top post to Prince Ah­mad, what will it be: king, or crown prince? And if he be­comes king, who will be­come his heir ap­par­ent?

Sec­ond, has he met with King Sal­man since he re­turned or not? There are con­flict­ing sto­ries af­firm­ing and deny­ing that such a meet­ing took place.

Third, what is the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­ti­tude to Prince Ah­mad? Does it ac­qui­esce to him be­com­ing king or crown prince?

Fourth, what role is to be given to Prince Khaled Bin-Sal­man, the cur­rent Saudi am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton?

Un­til re­cently, he had been tipped to take over from Adel al-Jubeir as for­eign min­is­ter. Might he be named crown prince if, in a ‘pre-emp­tive strike’, the king ab­di­cates and Muham­mad Bin-Sal­man for­mally of­fi­cially the throne?

It is per­haps sig­nif­i­cant, though not widely known, that through­out his time as a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial — whether as deputy in­te­rior min­is­ter un­der his brother Prince Nayef, or af­ter he took over from him as min­is­ter – Prince Ah­mad never vis­ited the U.S. Nor, ac­cord­ing to a Saudi friend who of­ten vis­ited him at his of­fice in the in­te­rior min­istry, did he re­ceive any U.S. of­fi­cials. Con­tacts with the U.S. were han­dled by Prince Muham­mad Bin-Nayef, who was in charge of se­cu­rity. The two men were at odds be­cause the lat­ter would of­ten by­pass him and deal di­rectly with King Ab­dal­lah and the royal court on cer­tain is­sues.

The Saudi royal fam­ily has al­ways been se­cre­tive about its in­ter­nal af­fairs, so ev­ery­thing that can be said about this sen­si­tive mat­ter must re­main in the realm of spec­u­la­tion, hearsay and anal­y­sis. That se­cre­tive­ness also means that its de­ci­sions are for the most part an­nounced sud­denly, with no prior stage-set­ting.

As for the U.S., and es­pe­cially the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, all it cares about in its strate­gic al­liance with Saudi Ara­bia is for the arms deals to keep com­ing. We doubt any of the rul­ing fam­ily’s princes, whether in or out of power, dis­pute that.

The fall­out from Khashoggi’s as­sas­si­na­tion is set to con­tinue pro­duc­ing sur­prises and changes, in­clud­ing at the very top. We have only just be­gun to see them. More are sure to fol­low.

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