Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, has returned to Saudi Arabia after a prolonged absence in London, to mount a challenge to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or find someone who can.
The septuagenarian prince, an open critic of bin Salman (MBS), has travelled with security guarantees given by US and UK officials.
“He and others in the family have realised that MBS has become toxic,” a Saudi source close to Prince Ahmad told Middle East Eye.
“The prince wants to play a role to make these changes, which means either he himself will play a major role in any new arrangement or to help to choose an alternative to MBS.”
The source said that the prince returned “after discussion with US and UK officials”, who assured him they would not let him be harmed and encouraged him to play the role of usurper.
Last November, bin Salman conducted a sweeping purge of dissident royals, yet was not able to touch any sons of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern Saudi state, who are regarded as too senior a target for him.
The 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne’s dominance in the kingdom has come under intense scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October, leading to speculation that he could be replaced.
MEE understands that while Prince Ahmad was in London he held meetings with other members of the Saudi royal family who are currently living outside the kingdom.
Prince Ahmad also consulted figures inside the kingdom who have similar concerns and have encouraged him to usurp his nephew.
MEE also understands there are three senior princes who support Prince Ahmad’s move, who cannot be named for fear of compromising their security. All have held top positions in the military and security forces.
Writing in the New York Times, former national security advisor to the Obama administration and US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said: “Looking ahead, Washington must act to mitigate the risks to our own interests. We should not rupture our important relationship with the kingdom, but we must make clear it cannot be business as usual so long as Prince Mohammed continues to wield unlimited power.
“It should be United States policy, in conjunction with our allies, to sideline the crown prince in order to increase pressure on the royal family to find a steadier replacement,” she added.
Prince Ahmad’s return will only increase the pressure on bin Salman, who is at the centre of a standoff between Saudi Arabia and Turkey after Khashoggi was murdered in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
The Turkish authorities are demanding the Saudis tell them where Khashoggi’s body is, and the Saudis are insisting that Turkey hand over the audio tapes of the execution, details of which have routinely been leaked to the media
In a thinly veiled attack on the crown prince, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused the Saudis of protecting the person responsible for the murder.
“A game to save somebody lies beneath this,” Erdogan told reporters following a speech in parliament on Tuesday. “We won’t leave Khashoggi’s murder behind.”
The Turkish president, who outlined some of the investigation into Khashoggi’s murder in an address last week, has promised to reveal more details about the killing but has so far refrained from doing so.
The Saudis are continuing to refuse Turkish investigators access to the well in the grounds of the consul-general’s home, which is 500 metres from the consulate.
After first denying that Khashoggi had been murdered in the consulate, the Saudis now say they have arrested 18 suspects, 15 of which were members of a death squad sent to kill the prominent critic of the crown prince.
Bin Salman has repeatedly denied knowledge of the operation, which included five members of his personal security detail, three of whom accompanied him on high-profile trips to London, Washington and Paris.
On Monday Mujeb offered Fidan the suspects’ testimony. Turkey, though, demands their extradition, so they can stand trial and give evidence to a Turkish court. Saudi Arabia is refusing this.
First, in the summer of 2017, when the king’s brother was one of three members of the Allegiance Council, a body of senior royals tasked with choosing the succession, to oppose bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince.
Prince Ahmed pointedly did not give an oath of allegiance to his nephew when he was made King Salman’s heir.
Second, when Prince Ahmad and King Salman’s brother, Abdelrahman bin Abdulaziz, died last year. Only two pictures were hung at the reception given by Prince Ahmad, that of King Abdulaziz and the current monarch. The crown prince’s portrait was notably missing.
Third, last month, when Prince Ahmad approached Yemeni and Bahraini protesters outside his London home who were calling the al-Sauds
He told them the family as a whole does not bear responsibility for the war in Yemen, only the king and crown prince do.
“They are responsible for crimes in Yemen. Tell Mohammed bin Salman to stop the war,” Prince Ahmad was recorded as telling them in Arabic.
He is believed to have the support of significant figures in the family who now believe after the Khashoggi affair that the crown prince is permanently tainted in the West and toxic to the reputation of the family as a whole.
A Saudi dissident prince in Germany, Prince Khaled bin Farhan, told MEE in May that princes Ahmad and Muqrin bin Abdulaziz could both restore the reputation of the family, which has been destroyed by King Salman’s “irrational, erratic and stupid” rule.
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