Purges, interrogation, claims of torture, accusations of treason, suspicion of murder, an insane war in Yemen and ruinous plans for a “reformed” kingdom, all supported by the US and the west and an often fawning media. So what’s new?
Poor Mohammed bin Salman is surely getting a bum rap. Far from being a frightening and uncontrollable new autocrat in the Gulf – purging his closest relatives, locking up his rivals, and embarking on a ruinous conflict in Yemen – he is following a familiar path in the history of his country. Saudi Arabia was ever a place of coup and counter-coup, of Islamist fury and fear of assassination. Come on, folks, let’s give MbS a break.
Sure, he’s just banged up his uncle, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and the cousin he deposed as crown prince in 2017 and put under house arrest, Mohammed bin Nayef, along with Mohammed’s half-brother Nawaf and a clutch of other family members and supposedly loyal retainers. The current interior minister, Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, was also detained but then released after questioning over the weekend.
The royal family has said nothing – it has certainly issued no denial – but there is much talk, as there always is among the dictatorships of the Middle East, of a plot to overthrow the effective ruler of the kingdom, of an impending coup d’etat, and of rank treachery towards MbS himself.
Intriguingly, Reuters quoted a “source” in the region saying that Crown Prince Mohammed had accused the new detainees “of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat”. Even more intriguingly, the western media – including the Wall Street Journal, which broke the original story – did not speculate on just who the “Americans and others” might be. Instead, MbS’s actions were described in the press as “desperate”, “rash”, “paranoid” and the crown prince himself as “mercurial”.