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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A coup attempt by two senior royals would have been a long shot, particularly when the crown prince’s tight hold on the kingdom’s security bodies is considered.
Swirling rumours. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud reads a document as he receives two newly appointed Saudi ambassadors at his palace in Riyadh, March 8. (AP)
LONDON - Although not officially confirmed, high-profile arrests in Riyadh reportedly involved senior members of the royal family, including the king’s younger brother and a former crown prince.
Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 78, a former interior minister and one of the last surviving sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz, 60, a former crown prince, who served as Saudi interior minister from November 2012 until his sacking in June 2017, were arrested March 6.
That no formal announcement was made regarding reasons for the rumoured arrests created speculation about Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s health. To address the rumours, officials released photos of King Salman, 84, conducting normal activity.
Sources in Saudi Arabia said Prince Ahmed and Prince Mohammed along with two other members of the royal family had been detained. Arrests included Interior Ministry officials and senior military officers. The Wall Street Journal said the arrests stemmed from a “coup attempt” to unseat King Salman and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
A coup would be difficult in Saudi Arabia, considering Crown Prince Mohammed’s tight hold on the kingdom’s security bodies.
Western media also reported that those detained may have planned to influence the kingdom’s Allegiance Council.
Set up in 2007 by King Abdallah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to address succession within the ruling generation of the royal family, the Allegiance Council was intended to guarantee a smooth transition with regards to the choice of the crown prince. Previously, the issue was resolved through informal consensus within the royal family.
Prince Ahmed was widely reputed to be opposed to Crown Prince Mohammed becoming heir to the throne in 2017. In 2018, while in self-imposed exile in London, Prince Ahmed was quoted as telling protesters outside the Saudi Embassy that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed were to blame for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Prince Ahmed and Prince Mohammed reportedly had talks on using the Allegiance Council “to block the accession” of Crown Prince Mohammed if King Salman died or became incapacitated, the Guardian newspaper reported.
Sources told the Guardian that the senior royals were trying to install Prince Ahmed as chairman of the Allegiance Council, currently a vacant position.
A source told Thomson Reuters that Crown Prince Mohammed accused the two men of “conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat.”
Prince Ahmed and Prince Mohammed were known for having ties with the traditional Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment, which is unhappy with the reforms the kingdom is undertaking, particularly in women’s rights and the entertainment sector.
However, the reforms are very popular in the kingdom and most Saudis consider Crown Prince Mohammed as the catalyst behind the changes. Besides being popular with the kingdom’s youth, the crown prince also has staunch supporters in the royal family, which numbers around 10,000 members.
With Crown Prince Mohammed’s consolidation of power, which includes intelligence and security agencies, the prospects of a coup succeeding were slim.
It remains to be seen whether any more arrests will take place. If there was a coup attempt, it has clearly reached opposite results than those that would have been pursued by the plotters.
A Saudi source told Thomson Reuters that “with these arrests, [Crown Prince Mohammed] consolidated his full grip on power. It’s over with this purge.”
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