Rabat – Disagreements between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) have grown to such an extent that the royal court is allegedly taking measures to curb the crown prince’s increasing authority.
The Guardian reported yesterday that rumors of growing tensions between the King and the crown prince have been the most debated subject in Saudi royal circles in recent days.
According to the article, the King is significantly upset by a number of moves from MBS, both at the domestic and diplomatic levels.
“There are growing signs of a potentially destabilizing rift between the king of Saudi Arabia and his heir,” the newspaper reported.
Tensions between the two reportedly date back to the global backlash that followed news of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Khashoggi was trenchantly critical of the crown prince’s high-handed rule, and US intelligence agencies have concluded that MBS was involved in the journalist’s murder.
According to the British news outlet, however, the Khashoggi affair was one among many reasons for the “growing rift” between father and son.
Citing a “detailed account from a source,” the Guardian indicated that the divergence between the two reached its most critical point during King Salman’s visit to Egypt late in February.
While in Egypt, the King “was warned by his advisors he was at risk of a potential move against him.”
So “alarmed” was King Salman’s entourage by MBS’s perceived defiance that a 30-member security team from the interior ministry flew to Egypt to replace the existing security crew believed to be loyal to MBS. “The king’s advisers also dismissed Egyptian security personnel who were guarding him while he was in Egypt,” the article noted.
A subsequent incident that may add legitimacy to the reported friction occurred when, upon the King’s return from Egypt, MBS was not among the officials to welcome his father at the airport.
“There are subtle but important signs of something amiss in the royal palace,” the Brookings Intelligence Project’s director Bruce Riedel told the British newspaper.
Riedel elaborated, “A healthy crown prince is expected to welcome the king home from a foreign trip, it’s a sign of respect and the continuity of government.”
Royal appointments without royal approval
But more critical still are suggestions that King Salman was not informed of some recent important decisions made in his absence.
The King and his entourage reportedly learned of recent royal appointments, including those of the first Saudi female ambassador to the US and of MBS’s brother Khalid bin Salman to the Ministry of Defense, from TV.
Asked about such deviance from traditional protocol of royal appointments, however, a spokesperson from the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., sugarcoated the significance of the moves. He said it was “customary” for the King to delegate his powers to his deputy. The spokesperson also dismissed as “baseless” suggestions that MBS was challenging the King’s authority.
MBS has faced sustained global outcry since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Four months after the incident, Muslims around the world protested en masse against MBS’s presence at the Mecca Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.
Scores of Muslims vented their anger on social media platforms, mostly saying that it was inconceivable that a “murderer” could set foot on the holy site.
King Salman has also reportedly not been happy with MBS’s handling of the Khashoggi affair. He has been allegedly trying to mitigate the damage that MBS’ miscalculated moves have cost the kingdom’s reputation on the world stage.
The father-son rift also involves MBS’s stance on foreign policy issues such as Jerusalem and President Trump’s “deal of the century” for Palestine.
The crown prince is believed to favor Trump’s plan for Palestinians, whereas King Salman is known to maintain the traditional Arab stance on the Palestinian case: He supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.