Fri, Nov 23, 2018 - Page 9 News List

After Khashoggi killing, some Saudi royals turn against crown prince

Sources say senior royals want a change in the line of succession, with King Salman’s younger brother, Prince Ahmed, seen winning support

Reuters, LONDON

Illustration: Mountain People

Amid international uproar over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king, three sources close to the royal court said.

Dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession, but would not act while King Salman — the crown prince’s 82-year-old father — is still alive, the sources said.

They recognize that the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son.

Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the 76-year-old uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, the sources said.

Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, one of the Saudi Arabian sources said.

Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh last month after two-and-a-half months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi Arabian leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty.

Prince Ahmed was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed Prince Mohammed becoming crown prince last year, two Saudi Arabian sources said at the time.

Neither Prince Ahmed nor his representatives could be reached for comment.

Officials in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment on succession issues.

The House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes. Unlike typical European monarchies, there is no automatic succession from father to eldest son. Instead the kingdom’s tribal traditions dictate that the king and senior family members from each branch select the heir they consider fittest to lead.

Senior US officials have indicated to Saudi Arabian advisers in recent weeks that they would support Prince Ahmed, who was deputy minister of the interior for nearly 40 years, as a potential successor, according to Saudi Arabian sources with direct knowledge of the consultations.

The Saudi Arabian sources said they were confident that Prince Ahmed would not change or reverse any of the social or economic reforms enacted by Prince Mohammed, would honor existing military procurement contracts and would restore the unity of the family.

One senior US official said the White House is in no hurry to distance itself from the crown prince, despite pressure from lawmakers and the CIA’s assessment that he ordered Khashoggi’s murder.

The official also said that the White House saw it as noteworthy that King Salman seemed to stand by his son in a speech in Riyadh and made no direct reference to Khashoggi’s killing, except to praise the Saudi Arabian public prosecutor.

The Saudi Arabian sources said US officials had cooled on the crown prince not only because of his suspected role in the murder of Khashoggi. They are also rankled because Prince Mohammed recently urged the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense to explore alternative weapons supplies from Russia, the sources said.

In a letter dated May 15, seen by Reuters, the crown prince requested that the ministry “focus on purchasing weapon systems and equipment in the most pressing fields” and get training on them, including the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

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