The Saudi crown prince has crushed dissent within the kingdom and moved to silence potential rivals, such as his cousin Muhammad bin Nayef and his uncle Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz.
A group of British politicians and lawyers will investigate the disappearance of Saudi princes under the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Since coming to power, the heir to the throne has launched a broad crackdown on opposition figures, including within the Saudi royal family.
The campaign has most notably resulted in the disappearance of two senior royals who were seen as potential rivals for the throne.
Muhammad bin Nayef, was the Saudi crown prince, until he was deposed by MBS in a 2017 palace coup.
Bin Nayef served as the country’s interior minister and developed close contacts with western intelligence agencies during their shared fight against the Al Qaeda terrorist group after the September 11th attacks.
Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, a full brother of Saudi King Salman, is one of the few living sons of the kingdom’s founder and was notable for his open criticism of Saudi military intervention in Yemen, which he blamed on the monarch and the crown prince.
When rounded on by Yemeni and Bahraini protesters in London, Prince Ahmed said: “There are specific people that are responsible. Don’t blame the entire family.” The royal further clarified that he was referring to the king and his son.
While Prince Ahmed was not immediately arrested, Saudi security forces detained both him and Bin Nayef in a March 2020 raid. The pair have not been heard from since and reports suggest they have been denied legal counsel, medical care, and contact with their families.
The investigative team, which is chaired by the Conservative party MP Crispin Blunt, said it had filed a request with the Saudi embassy in London to be allowed to visit Bin Nayef and other imprisoned political dissidents.
In a statement, Blunt said: “We have requested a visit to review the conditions under which they are being held along with permission to carry out an independent medical evaluation of their current health.”
The MP further explained that Saudi cooperation on the matter would be an “opportunity to address difficult issues around administration of justice and the Kingdom’s reputation.”
Ambitious and repressive
MBS came to prominence in 2015 when he was named deputy crown prince and defence minister.
Observers have recounted a subsequent dramatic rise to power, which involved behind the scenes scheming against rivals, most notably Bin Nayef.
US officials initially steered clear of the power struggle between the cousins but the ascent of the Trump White House, senior figures in Washington, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner grew close to MBS.
Assured of US non-interference, MBS made his move in July 2017 against a by-then beleaguered Bin Nayef.
Despite winning out against his rival, Bin Nayef and his loyalists continue to present a nuisance for the crown prince.
Earlier this year, a case filed by former Saudi intelligence official, and Bin Nayef confidante, Saad al Jabri, accused MBS of sending a hitsquad to find and kill him at his hideout in Canada, where he has sought sanctuary.
The operation was due to be carried out just weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials at the country’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Canadian border guards foiled the plan after questioning the members of the hit squad and finding inconsistencies in their reasoning for visiting Canada.
The March 2020 arrest of Bin Nayef and Prince Ahmed came with allegations that the pair were seeking ways to block the ascent of MBS to the Saudi throne.
While reportedly cold on the idea of becoming Saudi monarch themselves, dissidents within the royal family had wanted to rally around the pair in an attempt to restore the pre-MBS order.
MBS has made enemies within the royal family through his shakedowns of senior princes, ostensibly on the grounds of wanting to recover state money lost through corruption.
In the most infamous incident, scores of Saudi royals and other senior figures in the country were imprisoned in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh where a number of them were tortured into handing over assets to the Saudi state.