If reports doing the rounds are true there is a widening rift between Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The enfant terrible of the Al Saud dynasty has had a rather unchecked run so far as 'King in everything but name'. However, the 33-year-old's stranglehold on Saudi Arabia is on the wane, multiple reports have said.
Prince Mohammad invited worldwide condemnation and infamy after the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year. His role in spearheading the bitter and destructive war on Yemen was also widely criticised. Of late, the Saudi King was also disturbed about the draining of investment from Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder.
Salman revokes crown prince's key powers
The Guardian newspaper reported on Monday that King Salman has stripped the crown prince of some crucial powers. The ageing and ailing king made the move after the crown prince stretched his powers as the deputy king thin when his father was on an official visit to Egypt last month, the paper reported. It is extremely rare for a crown prince to use his temporary powers as the deputy king during the monarch's absence, but MBS moved swiftly to announce key appointments when the king was travelling. He promoted his sister as the kingdom's envoy to Washington and appointed his brother in the defence ministry. Sources told the British newspaper that both the appointments were done without the king's approval.
The King's Egypt visit was marred by lurking fears of a possible coup against the ageing monarch. The fears were so palpable that the King removed his security detail midway through the foreign jaunt and brought in a 30-member team of handpicked loyalists from Riyadh.
To make matters worse, the all powerful crown prince did not turn up at the airport to welcome back the King. This is an age old custom, the flouting of which sends out signals of grave crisis within the royal household. The crown prince's absence at the airport was followed by his no-show at key meetings subsequently. The most glaring act of defiance was his absence at a key cabinet meeting presided over by the King. The crown prince was then summoned again for another cabinet meeting in which the king apparently detailed changes in the power structure. However, Prince Mohammad skipped this meeting too, Saudi sources told the paper.
The report also lays down instances wherein the crown prince's absence attracted attention. He did not turn up when important foreign dignitaries from Russia, India, China and Lebanon visited Riyadh. Middle East observers have also pointed out that the crown prince has not made any formal appearance in a fortnight.
However, it remains a fact that MBS has remained unseen for longer. Around May last year, the prince's continued absence at public events had given rise to wild rumours about his death or serious injury. The whole saga started with the shooting down of a drone in Riyadh on April 21 last year, which was interpreted as a coup attempt aimed at the crown prince. When MBS didn't make any public appearance for weeks on end after this, Iranian media kick-started the death rumours.
He is reckless, he's ruthless, he has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational in his foreign policy approach and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with the United States
MBS gone 'full gangster'
"At least two bullets have hit bin Salman in April 21 clashes in Riyadh and it is even possible that he is dead," wrote Iran's Kayhan newspaper. 'There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of nearly 30 days of Muhammad bin Sulman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public,' it claimed. Something that added fuel to the death rumours was the fact that the crown prince gave a miss to important diplomatic events like the high profile visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Recently US senators accused the kingdom of a series of misdeeds, adding that the Crown Prince has gone "full gangster." The US lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — also slammed the kingdom for the way it handled the civil war in Yemen as well as the series of alleged human rights abuses.
"He is reckless, he's ruthless, he has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational in his foreign policy approach and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with the United States," Senator Marco Rubio said.