Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has had his relatives arrested for plotting a coup against him and King Salman with the help of “foreign powers, including the Americans,” Western media claim. RT asked Middle East analysts to weigh in.
Three senior members of the Saudi Royal family were arrested on Friday, several Western media outlets have reported, citing sources. The list of detainees includes prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former crown prince, and Nawaf bin Nayef, the younger half-brother of Prince Nayef, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has allegedly accused them of treason, namely “conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat” against King Salman and his son, Reuters, which has also picked up the news, added, citing own sources.
Saudi game of thrones
While Western media is not above publishing unverified rumors about the ‘regimes’ they dislike, some of which have turned out to be utterly fake, there is no easy way to verify reports on the secretive world of Saudi court affairs. One has to bear in mind the possibility someone in Riyadh has purposefully fed the news to the media.
While the reports of the high-profile arrests have yet to be confirmed by Saudi Arabia, they wouldn’t be unprecedented.
The crown prince, who is often referred to as MBS, secured his current position in succession line in 2017, sidelining Mohammed bin Nayef. He is considered by many the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, as the 84-year-old king mostly leaves daily affairs of the kingdom to his 34-year-old son.
After securing his current position, MBS launched an anti-corruption campaign, during which dozens of senior members of the royal family and business figures were held in custody at a posh hotel. Their freedom was later restored in exchange for returning to the kingdom’s coffers billions of dollars in allegedly misappropriated funds.
Just like other Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia saw its share of palace coups, including the one that brought MBS to his current position, analysts told RT. However, what role the US played in the developments is an open question, Ruslan Mamedov, a Middle East analyst from the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a Moscow-based think tank, believes. Especially since the aforementioned “Americans” have their own factions and players with different agendas, just like the Saudi royals do.
“MBS and his father have close ties with the people, who came to power with the Trump administration,” Mamedov told RT.
So which side in the US is supposedly involved? Is that CENTCOM and the Pentagon? Is that the CIA? Is that somebody in the Democratic Party? There are so many players in Washington, DC.
Trump’s enemies in the US could perceive a plot against MBS as a way to get to the US president by proxy, he added. “There is plenty of room to speculate because we only have open-source reports on this. What we can be sure in is that there was a conflict within the Saudi elite and that it resulted in a redistribution of wealth and power among factions… MBS has been consolidating power and, perhaps, someone is unhappy about it.”
Diversion from domestic struggle?
The allegations of foreign involvement may be meant for domestic consumption in Saudi Arabia and nothing to do with international politics, believes Sergey Balmasov from the Moscow-based Institute for the Near East. “What other foreign meddler could they have named? Accusing, for example Iran would have not been credible,” he explained.
The US has great influence in the Saudi military and intelligence services, thanks to decades of training their members, Balmasov added. So if the US as a nation were actually determined to effect a regime change in Saudi Arabia, “a different person would have now been in the palace.”
If the US really needed this, a bloodless coup would have happened already, and I’m sure many Americans wouldn’t have even noticed.
We have yet to see where things go in Saudi Arabia. MBS may have made some bad shots in international affairs, like starting the resource-draining war in Yemen or the diplomatic quarrel with Qatar, but he remains a very popular figure at home, so toppling him would have been a difficult task, believes Boris Dolgov, a Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies.
“Let’s wait and see if those princes are officially charged and with what exactly,” Dolgov told RT. “Saudi Arabia has quite harsh laws… but I wouldn’t expect members of the royal family to be subjected to the full weight of the law.”