Palace intrigues in Saudi Arabia

Lost in the news about the coronavirus is a big story emerging from Saudi Arabia about the arrest of several members of the family of the 84-year old ruler King Salman, along with other leading figures.

Among those held in the sweeping crackdown are two of the most prominent royal family members: Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a younger brother of Saudi King Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former crown prince.

The sweep broadened on Saturday, the Journal later reported, to include dozens of interior ministry officials, senior army officers and others suspected of supporting a coup attempt. Prince Nayef bin Ahmed, a former army head of intelligence, was also among the detainees.

It looks like this might be a pre-emptive move by the king’s favored son Mohammed bin Salman, the close friend of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the man behind the murder and butchering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, to eliminate potential rivals to pre-empt the power struggles that will undoubtedly ensue in the event that King Salman dies or otherwise loses power. Some reports suggest that the ambitious bin Salman wants to become king before the annual G20 summit in November.

King Salman had multiple wives and many children and this is the kind of maneuvering that happens when you have a corrupt monarchical system with multiple hereditary claimants to power. Whether bin Salman can achieve and hold on to power without actually murdering his rivals remains to be seen. There is no doubt that he is willing and capable of doing so. The question is whether he can do it without triggering a palace revolt. It is also not clear whether the decision by Saudi Arabia to drastically lower oil prices is part of his strategy though it is not clear how it will help, since it would lower the country’s revenues.

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst governments in the world and is long overdue for a revolution that sweeps the monarchy away and democratizes the society.


  1. bmiller says

    Except that given the culture and history of the place, you are most likely to get an ISIL-style fanatical caliphate rather than anything we in the west could recognize as “moderate”. Whether it could be as bad as the Head-Chopping House of Saud is an interesting question, but I would be cautious about looking forward to “revolutions”.

  2. says

    All monarchies are corrupt like this -- petri dishes for refining the worst of humanity. Anyone who cozies up to monarchial power should be suspect -- monarchs have no friends only subjects.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Lost in the news about the coronavirus

    ?? Al Jazzera, South China Morning Post and RT have been giving it considerable coverage.

    Oh, US media? Could be but I would never read /listen to them for international news so I don’t know.

    @ 1 bmiller
    you are most likely to get an ISIL-style fanatical caliphate
    I am not so sure about that. The real obstacle to that is that much of the Saudi oil infrastructure (and oil wells?) is in the Eastern Province and, IIRC, a plurality if not majority of the native Saudi population there is Shi’ite who seem to hate the Salafi (Wahabi so to speak[1]) fanatic Saudi Gov’t.

    I get the impression that many Saudis in the Eastern Province feel culturally and religiously closer to Iran than they do to those camel-riding barbarians in Riyadh, who, btw, have been exploiting them since oil was first discovered in the Eastern Province. In Dammam IIRC.

    With a little bit of support from Iran or even a Shiite-dominated Iraqi Gov’t I can see the Eastern Province with an alliance with a rebellious Bahrain (again heavily Shite) splintering the Kingdom.

    If Riyadh loses its oil wealth in the east there may be no reason that the Hijaz ( Mecca & Medina) have any loyalty to the House of Saud.

    We could get a ” ISIL-style fanatical caliphate”, probably not that unlikely, but stuck out in the desert and hated by all its formerly Saudi fellow citizens. Oh, and broke.

    1. Wahabi applies to a tribe and they do not always like being associated with religious nut cases.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 Marcus
    All monarchies are corrupt like this

    How true. I am sure everyone in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada & Japan will agree.

    Come to think of it, was it not George IV of the UK who was so corrupt that he helped destroy the rotten borough system in the UK?

    Thank heavens we have honest examples like the current US President to show us the advantages of a republican system.

  5. publicola says

    I think Marcus was referring to absolute monarchies, not constitutional monarchies.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 publicola & 6 Marcus
    Term are useful. 🙂

    So republics are just monarchies with elected jesters as heads of state?

    And no true Scotsman ….

    John Lackland could be called a “constitutional monarch” as could the Emperor of Japan, today. I think we have a continuum here. Monarch == dictator has not been a thing down through the ages.

    Also, I think Marcus underestimates the “residual” powers that often reside with the constitutional monarch similar to those that reside with any other non-executive head of state (that is a non-US model).

    Is he calling the President of Germany a jester in the same way that he is calling the King of the Netherlands a jester?

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