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.