Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, fancies himself as a champion of “moderate Wahhabism,” something that does not actually exist, and clean government. In fact, this fast-rising son of the decrepit 81-year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was a prime motivator behind the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or “Da’esh,” in Iraq and Syria, the chief architect of the genocidal Saudi-led war in Yemen, and the driving force behind the Gulf Cooperation Council’s economic and travel sanctions imposed on Qatar.
Rather than being a reformer or “moderate,” MBS, as he is known in Saudi Arabia and abroad, hearkens back to an age when rival sheikhs and tribal leaders vied for control over wide patches of desert lands in Arabia. MBS’s ongoing coup d’état against some of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful and wealthiest princes points to his determination to become an autocratic ruler over Saudi Arabia once his father, King Salman, leaves the scene. MBS has curbed the power of Saudi Arabia’s dreaded religious police and allowed women the right to drive in an effort to gain popular support for his own “Salmanist” movement in Saudi Arabia, one that brooks no dissent and rules with an iron fist. MBS will use Wahhabism for his own advantage and when it is against his interests, he will not hesitate to clamp down on Wahhabist domestic clerics and foreign missionaries. Indeed, some Middle East experts see MBS’s rapid rise to power as eventually achieving the same autocratic rule over Saudi Arabia as that commanded by the founder of the modern Saudi state, Abdulaziz bin Saud, in the 1930s.
MBS’s rise to a prominent role within the House of Saud began in October 2011 when Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz died. Salman, who had been governor of Riyadh province, and, as WMR reported, a major bankroller for Al Qaeda mercenaries traveling to Afghanistan, became second deputy prime minister and defense minister in November 2011. Salman made MBS his personal adviser and with that wide portfolio, the young prince helped initiate the jihadist rebellion in Syria against President Bashar al Assad and the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. MBS also aided his father, the defense minister, in helping to brutally crush a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain.
In November 2012, Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Salman’s brother, died. Salman was named crown prince and first deputy prime minister. Salman basically ran Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs while his half-brother, King Abdullah, was out of the country, which was often. Crown Prince Salman’s penchant for charitable contributions to poor majority Muslim countries, which was shared by MBS, saw Saudi funds flow into the coffers of Wahhabist radical groups in Somalia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Sudan.
In January 2015, King Abdullah died at the age of 90 and Salman succeeded to the Saudi throne. The former chief of the Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was named Crown Prince by Salman. Muqrin’s reign did not last long. In April 2015, Salman replaced Muqrin with his nephew, the interior minister, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef al-Saud. MBS was named defense minister. On June 21, 2017, in what can be described as the beginning of a “creeping coup,” Crown Prince Nayef was deposed by royal decree. In what would portend future events a mere four months later, Nayef was reportedly held under house arrest at his palace and pressured to renounce his claim to the throne. King Salman moved quickly to name MBS the new Crown Prince.
In September 2017, MBS detained some of the top clerics in Saudi Arabia, including Salman al-Ouda, who, as being independent from the Saudi state Wahhabist infrastructure, was known to favor reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Al-Ouda’s two compatriots, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary, were also arrested.
Former Crown Prince Nayef is said to have remained under house arrest until MBS made his sudden move against other members of the House of Saud on November 4, 2017. Declaring the foundation of a new Saudi anti-corruption committee, MBS put under house arrest at least 12 Saudi princes, including multi-billionaire international investor and Kingsom Holding Company Chairman Prince Alaweed bin Talal al-Saud, MBS also fired and arrested the commander of the Saudi National Guard, the son of the late King Abdullah, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and replaced him with MBS loyalist Prince Khalid Bin Ayyaf Al-Muqrin. Also arrested was the Saudi minister of economy and planning, Adel Fakieh, a close reform adviser of MBS. In Fakieh’s place was appointed another MBS loyalist, Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri.
Many senior officials of the late King Abdullah’s government are being systematically purged by MBS and his loyalists. They include Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh province, and Khaled al-Tuwaijri, the chief of the Royal Court under Abdullah.
No coup would be complete or successful without seizing control over the media. MBS ordered the arrests of Saleh Kamal and Waleed al-Ibrahim, the co-founders of the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation, which operates the Al Arabiya satellite news network. News out of Saudi Arabia is being strictly controlled by the new MBS regime, with the international corporate media dutifully echoing Saudi government press releases as “news.”
In all, some 14 current ministers, officials and businessmen have been arrested. Dozens of former ministers have also been arrested. The Saudis have not confirmed all of the identities of those arrested. MBS has ordered the bank accounts of the princes and others in Saudi Arabia and abroad frozen. Most of the detainees are being held under house arrest in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. MBS has vowed a complete investigation of all the detainees for corruption, a crime for which the penalty is death.
One execution may have been carried out early. At the same time MBS was rounding up princes and ministers in Riyadh, a helicopter carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the deputy governor of Asir province and seven other senior Saudi officials, crashed near Abha in Asir Province, near the border with Houthi-controlled north Yemen. Prince Mansour was the son of former Crown Prince Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who was ousted in 2015 in favor of Salman.
Saudi official news organs reported that the helicopter carrying Mansour and his aides was returning from an “inspection tour” near the border with Yemen. However, other reports indicated that the aircraft was shot down by the Saudis after they learned it was flying to Houthi-controlled Yemen where the prince and his party had been assured of political asylum. Parallels were immediately drawn to the Chinese attack on the plane carrying Chinese vice premier Lin Biao in 1971, following an abortive coup in Beijing. Lin and his party were fleeing China and their plane was shot down by Chinese MiGs over Mongolia. MBS’s coup in Riyadh has been likened to the type of leadership purge that routinely takes place in China.
King Salman went through the motions, Cosa Nostra-style, in paying his respect, in person, to deposed Crown Prince Muqrin at the prince’s palace in Riyadh. Saudi press reports failed to indicate whether Murqin was even free to leave his palace in the wake of MBS’s coup.
|Update 1X—In yet another indication that MBS’s coup has been anything but peaceful, on November 6, the Saudi Royal Palace expressed its condolences on the death of Saudi Prince Abdul Aziz, 44. Reports out of Saudi Arabia stated that the prince died as a result of gunshot wounds after he exchanged fire with police loyal to MBS who were sent to arrest him. Prince Abdul Aziz, the youngest son of the late King Fahd, maintained a significant interest in Saudi Oger Ltd, a company that until this past summer, was owned by the family of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Hariri was reportedly called to Riyadh, where MBS forced him to resign as prime minister of the Hezbollah-supported government of Lebanon. MBS desires to create a civil war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and its Christian allies on one side and Saudi-supported Sunnis on the other side. It was unprecedented for a Lebanese prime minister to be forced to resign on foreign soil. The killing of Prince Abdul Aziz and the sacking of Hariri by MBS indicates that the MBS-Kushner “strategy sessions” likely involved meddling in Lebanon and the murder of Saudi princes Mansour and Abdul Aziz.|
Mansour’s safe passage to Houthi-controlled Yemen may have been arranged by his father, Muqrin, who was known to favor dialogue with the majority Shi’as of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, as well as with Iran, the Houthis major benefactor.
The role of the Trump administration and Israel in MBS’s coup is an issue that is on the minds of every Middle East professional and lay observer. Trump son-in-law and Middle East special envoy, Jared Kushner, visited Saudi Arabia last month where he and MBS reportedly stayed up until 4 am for several nights “planning strategy.” Kushner was accompanied to Saudi Arabia by Trump’s special adviser on Israeli matters, Jason Greenblatt. Both Kushner and Greenblatt are known to represent the interests of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Trump White House.
MBS has promised Trump a military showdown with Iran and a public Saudi rapprochement with Israel. The Saudi National Guard chief was fired after he was blamed for an alleged Houthi missile attack on Riyadh from Yemen. The Saudis and Americans are blaming Iran for the attack, however, there is a belief that it may have been a Saudi false flag designed to provide domestic support for MBS’s coup and further ratchet up tensions with Iran.
The power struggle within the House of Saud also affects surrounding countries. Opponents of MBS can be assured of tacit support from the Al Thani governing family of Qatar, which has its own issues with MBS over the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar.
MBS’s counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, referred to as “MZN” and who is also the deputy commander of the UAE armed forces, does not see eye-to-eye with MBS on certain issues. MBS is backing the extremely corrupt exiled government in Jeddah of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi against the Houthis and South Yemeni separatists. MZN, on the other hand, supports the South Yemeni independence restoration movement and has taken advantage of Yemen’s civil war to extend virtual UAE control over Aden, the islands of Socotra, Abd al Kuri, Darsah, and Samhah in the strategic Gulf of Aden, and the former Mahra Sultanate in the Hadhramaut region of South Yemen.
An official of the former Sultanate of Mahra and Socotra, Sheikh Abdullah Al Afrar, has received Abu Dhabi’s support in representing the mainland Mahra state and Socotra on behalf of his General Council of the Sons of the Province of Al Mahra and Socotra Island. Meanwhile, the former sultan of Hadhramaut, Ghalib Al Quaiti, who has lived in exile in Saudi Arabia, has sought a role in an independent restored Qu’aiti State in Hadhramaut or a new federation of South Yemen. The al-Quaiti royal house was apparently double-crossed by MBS and MZN when it was discovered that Saudi and Emirati funds had flowed to Hadhramaut tribal leader Abdallah Faysal Sadiq al-Ahdal, someone identified as an ally of “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (AQAP). The royal family of the former Sultanate of Lahej, near Aden, has also been resurgent in politics, thanks to the patronage of the UAE, a federation of emirates that, unlike the sultanates and emirates of Arabia, survived the throes of British decolonization of the Arabian peninsula.
Meanwhile, the heirs of the Zaidi Imams’ long-reigning Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, overthrown in 1962, may be angling for a place in a restored North Yemen, which may be a republic or a reincarnation of the Kingdom of Yemen. The Houthis and other North Yemeni tribes, as well as those in the Saudi province of Asir, continue to hold the imams of the Kingdom of Yemen in great reverence.
The Khalifa royal family in Bahrain is firmly in the MBS camp. The Hashemites royal family of Jordan, which has its own grievances with Riyadh, can expect to stay neutral in the House of Saud civil war. The Bin Said’s of Oman and Sabahs of Kuwait would also prefer neutrality, although neither is happy with the MBS war in Yemen and the saber-rattling against Iran. The Al Rashids of Dubai have also shown a dislike for the Saudi treatment of Qatar and they have like-minded allies among the ruling royal families of the northern emirates of Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Qawain, and Fujairah. Without an over-arching referee like Britain or the United States calling the shots, the political chessboard on the shifting sands of Arabia has never been more unpredictable.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).