Former Saudi Crown Prince Arrested ‘Over Planned Coup’

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Muhammad bin Nayef (Centre) seen here with King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman.

Dubai: Saudi Arabia has reportedly arrested three members of the royal family for allegedly plotting to oust King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, media reports said on Saturday.

The 34-year-old crown prince ordered the arrest of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s younger brother, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and a former crown prince, on Friday, The New York Times, citing a relative and a person close to the royal family, reported.

Saudi authorities also detained Nayef’s brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, the report further said, adding that no reason for the arrests had so far been given.

However, another report by The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said that MbS accused his uncle and the former crown prince of “treason”, alleging that the pair had been attempting to stage a coup d’état.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in the early hours of Friday, guards from the royal court, wearing masks and dressed in black, raided the homes of the two senior royals, took them in custody and searched their homes.

The two top royals, once-formidable rivals to the throne, are now under threat of lifetime imprisonment or execution, the Wall Street Journal report further said. All the detained have been charged with treason, the report said.

The men are among the kingdom’s most influential figures. Bin Nayef, was once powerful figure who had been the crown prince until King Salman took away the title and put bin Salman first in line for the throne. For the last few years, bin Nayef’s movements have been monitored and restricted.

Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with the then US president Obama

A royal cousin, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef, is also alleged to have been detained. The reports have emerged in US media and have yet to be officially confirmed although palace affairs in Saudi Arabia are often shrouded in secrecy.

Mohammed bin Salman is considered the de facto ruler of the kingdom after he was named crown prince by his father in 2016. He has been lauded at home for easing social restrictions in the deeply coservative kingdom and opening up the economy. But he has also faced severe flak over the devastating war in Yemen and the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

Bin Salman has also fuelled resentment among some branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power. In 2017, he ordered the arrests of dozens of Saudi royal figures, ministers and businessmen.

The Wall Street Journal quoting sources reported that there are royals who are now questioning bin Salman’s ability to lead. They said those royals seeking to change the line of succession view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice. They claim he would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers.

Saudi insiders and Western diplomats told Wall Street Journal that the family is unlikely to oppose the crown prince while the 84-year-old king remains alive, recognising that the king is unlikely to turn against his favourite son.

Prince Ahmed has largely kept a low profile since returning to Riyadh in October 2018 after several months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticise the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling Al Saud family’s senior members, who opposed Mohammed bin Salman becoming crown prince in 2017, sources have earlier said.

The 2017 purge followed an earlier roundup of Muslim clerics, writers, economists, and public figures.

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