Saudi purge: Why Mohammed bin Salman can never rest

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Reuters)

Source: Middle East Eye

The sacking of Fahd bin Turki is a sign of permanent insecurity at the highest levels of the royal family

By David Hearst, who is the editor in chief of Middle East Eye. He left The Guardian as its chief foreign leader writer. In a career spanning 29 years, he covered the Brighton bomb, the miner’s strike, the loyalist backlash in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland, the first conflicts in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in Slovenia and Croatia, the end of the Soviet Union, Chechnya, and the bushfire wars that accompanied it. 

The removal of military commander Prince Fahd bin Turki is the latest in a series of purges carried out by the paranoid crown prince. There have been at least five major purges and one mass execution in Saudi Arabia since Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) came to power as crown prince: These were the arrests of the Muslim scholars; the seizure of over 300 businessmen and royals rounded up in the Ritz Carlton; the campaign against women activists and human rights lawyers; the detention of leading members of the Allegiance Council and 300 government employees; and last week the removal of Prince Fahd bin Turki, commanding general of the Saudi Joint Forces and his son.

Purges have become a permanent feature of the paranoid prince’s rule.

He has, of course, every reason to be paranoid, because he has made enemies of so many once powerful cousins and uncles. He has also made so many mistakes at the helm that the kingdom is today weaker militarily and economically than at any time in its modern history. Its regional prestige has shrivelled. Policymaking is a shambles.

On Friday Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, preached a sermon widely interpreted as a prelude to normalisation with Israel. By Sunday King Salman told US President Donald Trump there is no normalisation without Palestinian statehood. The crown prince may have reason to think the knives are out for him. But there has been a method in the madness of decrees issued in the dead of the night. Sons and brothers Mohammed bin Salman has paid particular attention to the rival lines of succession that have a legitimate claim to the throne should a palace coup unseat him. The two branches of the family of most concern to him most are the sons of the Sudairi Seven, the full brothers of his father, King Salman, (the sons that King Abdulaziz had with Hussa Sudairi) and the sons of the late King Abdullah, three of whom are now in detention.

Bin Turki is the last son of the Sudairi Seven of important military significance to be kicked out of office Fahd bin Turki was in Mohammed bin Salman’s crosshairs on both counts. Bin Turki is the last son of the Sudairi Seven of important military significance to be kicked out of office. The other two members of that line, Salman’s brother Prince Ahmad and his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, are both in detention, the targets of previous purges. But if that were not enough, bin Turki’s wife Abeer is also the daughter of the late king Abdullah. Abeer is the mother of Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Turki, who was also removed from his post as deputy governor of al-Jouf region. Abeer was active on social media in her own right. She headed “The Arab Organisation for Traffic Safety” and launched a community partnership prize in her name. Some of the Sudairis have been kept on: Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, a grandson of Prince Nayef, was appointed interior minister.

He could also have been detained during these purges, according to some reports.

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