Murder of Khashoggi: Is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ready?

Murder of Khashoggi: Is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ready?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: October 2018image rights
Reuters

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Muhammad bin Salman's rise to power was insane – but can he survive the Khashoggi scandal?

"He is toast". "He is poisonous". "He is my hero". "We love him". The opinions about the man they call MBS are controversial – Saudi Arabia's controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 in the Saudi consulate, the MBS brand has become positively toxic in the West.

Saudi official denials that he himself had anything to do with the murder – a conspiracy hatched within his inner circle in Diwan al-Maliki, the royal court – aroused great skepticism.

  • Who is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed?

In a part of the world where almost nothing is done without signing from the top, the current Saudi version that this was some sort of rogue operation sounds implausible.

One theory quietly recounted in the Gulf of the United States is that while MBS demanded "something against Khashoggi's outspoken criticism," he never approved of the murder, and the man in charge, Saud al-Qahtani, surpassed his orders while he was telling The participants had signed everything from the Crown Prince.

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Reuters

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There were a number of protests against the Saudi crown prince

The problem is that, outside of Saudi Arabia, hardly anyone believes the Saudi story.

For days, the Saudi media denied any suggestion Khashoggi had made in the consulate, claiming instead that they had walked the streets of Istanbul.

Then we were told that he had died in a "fist fight".

The latest version of the Saudi Arabian prosecutor states that his murder was indeed premeditated.

The Saudi treatment of the aftermath of the murder was as crazy as the operation itself.

One can only assume that the MBS, if he listened to the good advice of his well-paid media consultants, did not take him.

turning point

All this leaves MBS in the dock of global public opinion, and you do not want to be in contact with most Western governments and multinational companies.

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For Saudi Arabia, a nation that was only formally united in 1932, this represents a turning point.

Do the princes alleviate this almighty personality by taking just enough strength to appease the US Congress and other Western bodies, some of which are now calling for a gun boycott?

Did they "dethrone" him altogether and give him some promotion to a pointless remedy?

Or are you trying to survive the storm, as you tried unsuccessfully after this story was interrupted a month ago?

In fact, very serious discussions are taking place behind closed doors in the Saudi royal circle.

The severity of the crisis of the ruling al-Saud family can be seen in the sudden return of Prince Ahmed bin Abdelaziz, the last surviving full brother of the 82-year-old King Salman, to Riyadh.

He arrived from London in the middle of the night to be greeted with Bukhur incense and hugs from other princes, including MBS.

The quiet and thoughtful Prince Ahmed had become a cult hero among MBS opponents after he spoke out against the war in Yemen, blaming the Crown Prince and his father.

He was afraid to return to Riyad for fear of house arrest – but now he's back helping the family to turn the wagons around senior management.

No obvious challengers

What factors are you considering when it comes to the future of MBS?

First, he has no obvious challengers, he did that some time ago.

At the age of only 33, his rise to power was catastrophic. Since becoming Crown Prince in June of last year, replacing the older, wiser, but boring Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, MBS has successfully taken over all areas of power.

He controls the Ministry of the Interior (which owns the dreaded Mabahith secret police), the National Guard (a huge and loyal Praetorian Guard protecting the ruling family and their interests) and Defense Secretary.

He directs the Royal Court, economic policy and – although his sick father is king – it is the MBS that really rules the country.

Even before the crisis erupted in Khashoggi in October, MBS's policies became increasingly controversial, which led several high-ranking Saudis to ask whether it turned into a debt rather than an asset.

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Top confidant and blessed with a green light from his father, MBS led Saudi Arabia and its allies in 2015 to a costly and seemingly unattainable war in Yemen.

Last year, he locked dozens of princes, business people, and senior figures at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, until they agreed to repay huge sums allegedly earned through corruption.

This was very well received by the Saudi youth, even though MBS had recently talked about a $ 450 million superyacht.

Then there is the ongoing row with neighboring Qatar, a great Western ally.

On the final weekend in Manama, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis mentioned the coalition's important air force base, which hosts 17 nations, and recalls that the US is calling for an end to this attack.

This year, there was a pointless quarrel with Canada over a single tweet from his foreign minister calling for respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia and a series of arrests of peaceful reformers.

It has been clear for some time that MBS was not a Democrat – a person who dealt with him called him a "ruthless, out-of-control thug" – but so far most Saudis have been willing to overlook his excesses.

Hi-tech future hopes

For millions of young Saudis, MBS is still their hope for the future: a courageous, charismatic leader and visionary reformer who has taken back the power of the conservative clergy, giving women the right to talk and reinstate the sterile public life of the kingdom.

His plans to reform the oil-based economy, embodied in his Vision 2030 program, have given Saudis an ambitious view of a highly technological future with significant jobs for all.

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For diplomats and policymakers in Washington, London and Paris, MBS is likely to be removed or at least held back.

For Saudi Arabia's conservative, risk-averse ruling family, this is a decision she would far rather not have made.

Is he done? It's hard to say at this point.

Remember, by the middle of 2011, just months after the Arab Spring uprising, almost everyone assumed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be dismissed at Christmas.

Seven years later, he is still in power.

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