Will the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi bring down Saudi Arabia’s beloved Prince Mohammed bin Salman?
The biggest falls often come from the most unlikely of crises. Just as one fruit-seller in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, brought down Tunisia’s strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saudi Arabia’s favorite son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS,) could lose his crown over the disappearance and alleged brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
‘The Saudi regime is imploding from within.’
‘The evidence is there but people refuse to see it.’
– @MadawiDr speaking at an event we held on 4 September on the UK-Saudi relationship. pic.twitter.com/YHU9CBVfUg
— Chatham House (@ChathamHouse) October 19, 2018
MBS’s fall from grace is no longer conjectural – what experts have whispered in the corridors of power over the past few days is coming to pass. The Crown Prince no longer holds the same reign of power. Authority lies once more with his father, King Salman ibn Saud, so that the Kingdom can find a way to salvage its bruised veneer of respectability.
Amid blood stains and rumors, few among the world elite have shown any inclination to ignore Saudi Arabia’s sullied hands – not this time around anyway. Not when so many voices are clamoring for plausible answers.
Will Trump Wash Over the Saudi Crisis?
U.S. President Donald Trump’s earliest attempt to float the possibility of a ‘rogue killer’ did not echo well with public opinion. If anything it actually empowered the now adopted narrative that the Trump administration is colluding with Al Saud for financial gain – maybe to Trump’s own admission.
At a campaign rally in 2015 Trump was rather keen to define his relations with Al Saud as pecuniary. He boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
USA Today summarised President Trump’s perceived collusion with the Kingdom in the following terms:
“Could it be because as his business empire was hemorrhaging cash, he brokered multimillion dollar deals with Saudi officials — including a $20 million yacht sale to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal? Could it be because the Saudi government bought an entire floor in a Trump-owned building in 2001 for $4.5 million? Could it be because the Saudi crown prince’s five-day stay at the Trump International Hotel in New York earlier this year single-handedly delivered the property its first profitable quarter in two years?”
For all President Trump’s attempted finessing of the Khashoggi’s crisis it simply won’t go away – quite the opposite in fact.
International World Distances Itself From Saudi Arabia
Over the past 48 hours, Saudi Arabia has been shunned by both European capitals and international corporations.
As of October 18, France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands have suspended all official visits to Saudi Arabia. “In the current circumstances we have decided to suspend some visits, political ones,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Brussels.
Moreover, several international banking and business chiefs, including IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, JP Morgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon and Ford Chairman Bill For, have pulled out of a high-profile investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month – signaling not only a loss of trust but increased isolation.
Saudi Arabia is hurting. So much so, that King Salman had to withdraw the running of the affairs of the state from his son, MBS, and delegate the solving of the crisis to his most trusted aide: Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca.
Reuters quoted a source close to Riyadh as saying that ‘”Since the meeting between Prince Khaled and Erdogan, King Salman has been “asserting himself” in managing the affair, according to a different source, a Saudi businessman who lives abroad but is close to royal circles.”‘
Close members of the Kingdom’s ruling elite have confirmed that royals have grown increasingly wary of MBS’s perceived economic and political recklessness. Many see the Khashoggi case as proof that Saudi Arabia needs to rethink its system of governance – at least insofar as power cannot be concentrated in the hands of just one man, as it has been since 2015.
With more and more calls for accountability and retributions, MBS could soon find himself relegated to a junior position within the royal court, as others will look to expunge his many failures.