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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Saudi Crown Prince's Top Royal Rivals Arrested in Apparent Power Consolidation

By Edward Yeranian March 07, 2020

Saudi state media has yet to announce the arrests Friday of top rivals to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, his younger brother Prince Nawaf, and King Salman's last surviving full brother, Prince Ahmed Bin Abdel Aziz. U.S. media outlets broke the story Friday, leaving Arab media to guess what prompted the move.

Arab media continues to speculate over the motives behind the abrupt and unannounced arrest Friday of the Saudi royals.

U.S. newspapers The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that the men were arrested by palace guards wearing masks, and that they were charged with treason over an alleged coup attempt.

Saudi government media did not announce the arrests, but many social media accounts of private Saudis lavished praise on Saudi-heir to the throne Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, told VOA the Saudi royal court is "complex and competitive," and that "there are many issues and threats facing the country," including "the war in Yemen, extremism, the weakening Saudi economy, Iran, the coronavirus, fragile oil markets and other regional conflicts."

Sullivan thinks the move is "likely more than just consolidating power," stressing that what takes place in the ante-chambers of the royal court is "often more complex than Kremlinology" during the days of the former Soviet Union.

Jordan-based analyst Ali Nasseraddin told Qateri-owned al-Jazeera TV he doubts there was any actual coup attempt against Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, but that the Saudi heir faces various pressures related to his efforts to bring about reform in the Kingdom

Nasseraddin said that any leader like Mohammed Bin Salman who attempts revolutionary social changes will face opposition from individuals who oppose those changes. This appears to be a family dispute, he said, more than an actual coup.

Washington-based Gulf analyst Theodore Karasik warned against "speculation" over what is taking place inside Saudi Arabia, but noted that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman "probably needs to consolidate power one more time," before succeeding his father as king.

Karasik argued that "members of the older generation are perhaps trying to stop [Mohammed Bin Salman]," in a tug-of-war involving the Sudairi faction of the royal family (i.e. King Salman's full brothers and their children), but he thinks it is best to let them resolve their own conflict.

Saudi media reported the kingdom had "closed its land borders with Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates," due to the coronavirus. It was not clear, however, if the move had any connection to Friday's arrests.

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