Mohammed bin Salman arrested his cousin and uncle during a crackdown on Friday after what officials claimed was a ‘coup’ event.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has arrested a number of potential rivals to the Saudi throne in a crackdown over the weekend.
Those detained include former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, a cousin of MBS who was deposed by him in 2017, and King Salman’s younger brother Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a senior royal who is opposed to the succession of the crown prince.
Upto around 20 people in total have been arrested in what is seen as the latest move by the crown prince to tighten his grip on power.
Although there is no evidence that either bin Nayef or Ahmed bin Abdulaziz were planning to oust MBS, unnamed Saudi officials provided Reuters with briefings suggesting so.
According to Middle East Eye, Ahmed, has ruled himself out from contention for the throne despite his opposition to MBS.
The news outlet said that the prince was ‘politely’ encouraged to drop his opposition to MBS and was arrested when he refused to do so.
Ahmed, a son of the kingdom’s founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud, and a full brother of the Saudi king, had openly criticised MBS for his decision to invade Yemen.
While on a trip to London, Ahmed told protesters who were heckling him that it was not the Saudi royal family that was to blame for the war but rather the king and MBS.
The senior royal had reportedly considered exile but returned to his homeland upon assurances that he would be left unharmed. Nevertheless he had kept a low profile since his return.
Bin Nayef, who once served as Interior Minister, was once considered a powerful figure within the Saudi establishment, having led a successful campaign against al Qaeda in the 2000s and having nurtured strong ties with western intelligence agencies.
Middle East Eye puts forwards a number of possibilities for why MBS has acted as he has now.
One is that he wants to consolidate power before the US presidential election in November, in which key MBS ally, Donald Trump, might lose power to a Democratic Party candidate, who might privately or publicly clamp down on Saudi Arabia.
The second possibility is that with a global economic slump induced by the coronavirus outbreak, and the consequent likelihood of a drop in oil and pilgrimage revenues, MBS is acting before his handling of those issues becomes a reason for discontent within the Saudi establishment.
Once ruled according to a policy of consensus among princes, MBS has consolidated power around himself.
The prince has brought in a radical shift in Saudi society, liberalising social norms, while severely cracking down on opponents, both secular and religious.
On foreign policy also, MBS has taken an unconventional line. Riyadh under his influence has drawn close to the Israel’s and has used financial incentives to get the Palestinians to agree to a ‘peace’ plan that will largely formalise Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
Despite an initial honeymoon period, in which he was courted by western leaders, MBS has earned notoriety for ordering the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and the kidnap of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri.