Power blinds those who seek it. Infighting in the House of Saud for the throne indicates that ascension of Mohammed bin Salman as the next monarch of Saudi Arabia will not be a cake-walk.
The House of Saud is going through a critical phase as the children and grandchildren of Ibn Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are grappling within themselves to assume power. The physical frailty of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz in these times when the kingdom has already locked horns with the belligerent Houthis on its southern border in Yemen, is adding fuel to internal power politics. The rift between Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS) and other power contenders hit the headlines recently when MBS arrested his two archrivals, ex-crown prince Mohammad bin Nayef and Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz, in a bid to thwart an alleged attempt for a coup d'état in the country. Although the Saudi media remains silent on the coup attempts and downplays the ongoing internal power struggle, sources privy to the royal family claim the situation has turned worse and may explode soon.
In the latest sweep, the Crown Prince, acting as a de facto ruler, detained four senior Saudi royals, including Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz – the only surviving full brother of the King, his son, former interior minister and crown prince Mohammad bin Nayef and his younger brother – Nawaf bin Nayef. Among the detainees, the most vocal is Mohammad bin Nayef who once served as interior minister of the country and is considered to have developed close ties with the Americans. During his stint as interior minister between 2012 and 2017, he dealt with the growing threat of extremism with an iron hand in the wake of the Arab Spring and this brought him close to Washington. Later, his nomination as Crown Prince by King Salman in 2015 made him the first grandson of Abdul Aziz to be in line for the throne. However, his foreign contacts and ample governmental experience did not protect him from the wrath of the then Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman, the king’s son, who replaced Mohammad bin Nayef as Crown Prince in 2017. Since then, the former crown prince has been in hot waters.
The dispute over ascension to the throne is not new in the royal family of Saudi Arabia. When Abdul Aziz died in 1953, he was replaced by his son Saud while his other son, Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, was appointed as Crown Prince. Later, their relations turned sour, resulting in the forced ouster of Saud at the hands of Faisal who became King in 1964. Ensuing power politics has prevailed in the family since then. The late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz – the predecessor of King Salman – after realizing the need for having a body that would decide the succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia, founded the Allegiance Council in 2007. The Council comprises 28 Saudi royals, including Ibn Saud’s sons, the eldest sons of princes who have died, the king himself and the Crown Prince. The basic law of the country grants the King authority to select the next in line for the throne. However, the Council is entitled to validate the Crown Prince nominated by the King or completely reject the nomination, if need be.