Saudi Arabia’s King Salman could have his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), replaced to restore the credibility of the monarchy which has faced global rebuke following the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to Colonel Brian Lees, Britain’s former defense attaché to the kingdom and the author of a famous book on the Saudi royal family.
The crown prince is believed to have been ordered the assassination of the dissident journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The world has reacted angrily to the murder amid weeks of repeated denials from Saudi authorities that the kingdom had nothing to do with his disappearance.
Khashoggi – a US resident, The Washington Post columnist, and a leading critic of bin Salman — entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document certifying he had divorced his ex-wife, but he did not leave the building.
Saudi officials originally insisted that Khashoggi had left the diplomatic mission after his paperwork was finished, but they finally admitted several days later that he had in fact been killed inside the building during “an altercation.”
On Thursday, Saudi prosecutors said the murder was planned and suspects were being interrogated.
Several countries, including European ones, Turkey and the US, a major ally of Riyadh, have called for clarifications on the murder.
Colonel Lees, who once served as Britain’s defense attaché to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, said in an interview on Wednesday that the crown prince’s days as de facto ruler are numbered. He added that the 82-year-old monarch may now look to replace him.
“The Saudis will never admit that MBS was culpable but this does not mean that he is in the clear. I believe that the king – assuming he is in one of his ‘clear’ periods – will get rid of MBS by replacing him,” noted Lees, the author of A Handbook of the Al Saud Ruling Family of Saudi Arabia.
“He cannot do so immediately, or even in the next few months, because that would look like bowing to foreign pressure. He may use the already established device of using the special advisory council within the family to appoint a successor. This would certainly restore the credibility of the monarchy,” he stated.
US President Donald Trump, who first tried to downplay the importance of the ghastly incident and protect bin Salman, on Tuesday blasted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to hide the killing of Khashoggi as the “worst cover-up ever.”
On Wednesday, Trump went a step further and said the crown prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to the journalist’s killing.
“The Saudi version is not credible in the least,” said Colonel Lees. “The team visiting Istanbul were certainly not tourists and the person seen to leave the consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes was obviously not him. Even Trump now admits that this was the most inept cover-up of all times.”
“The international community’s response has been stumbling,” said Lees. “Trump has changed his mind daily but is likely to bow to Congressional pressure.”
“Britain is sidelined but will hide under the European cloak. Russia and China hope to benefit, but they are not natural allies, although the Saudis will use them to threaten the West,” he stated.
“The Saudis rely on the US and will continue to do so,” Lees added.
‘Crown prince will be replaced with his brother, Khalid.
Last week, the French newspaper Le Figaro citing a diplomatic source in Paris reported that Saudi Arabia’s ruling family is looking to replace the young prince with his less ambitious brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman.
The source told the newspaper that the Saudi Allegiance Council had secretly met to discuss the issue of Khashoggi.
The council, which appointed bin Salman as the new crown prince last year by breaking the customary rules of succession, is now planning to appoint Khalid, the current Saudi envoy to the US, as deputy crown price.
One Saudi source explained to Le Figaro that if Khalid was appointed, it would mean that MBS will leave his position in the coming years. This way power stays in the Salman family, the report added.
Khalid, who is popular both at home and abroad, would gradually take over from his brother and replace him down the road.
Le Figaro noted that MBS had already made himself big enemies in the Allegiance Council by breaking an agreement among first-class princes from various branches of the royal family to hand the power to the last king’s son.
MBS has also created a great deal of animosity towards himself from inside the Al Saud family, many of whose members he has arrested as part of his crackdown on corruption.
The young prince also faces strong opposition at home for his bombing of Yemen, siege on Qatar and his closeness with Israel.