Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to consolidate his rule (AFP)

By David Hearst

A second member of the Beya, or Allegiance Council, which determines the succession to the Saudi throne, was arrested on Saturday as part of a purge of senior princes launched last week by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Middle East Eye has learned.

The arrested prince is Mohammed bin Saad Al Saud, the son of Saad bin Abdulaziz, the late brother of King Salman.

His apprehension followed that of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, as well as his son Nayef bin Ahmed, and Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince.

At least 20 princes in total have been arrested since Friday.

Well placed sources have also told MEE that Mansour al-Shalhoub, the director of Ahmed’s private office, is under arrest.

A third member of the Beya, Saud bin Nayef, the elder brother of Mohammed bin Nayef and the father of the interior minister, was taken in for questioning but later released. Saud is governor of the Eastern Province.

On Sunday, MEE revealed the crown prince’s plan to install himself as king while his father is still alive, and to do this by forcing Salman’s abdication before Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summit in November in Riyadh.

Such a move would require the endorsement of the Beya.

The pattern of arrests confirms what MEE has reported from sources aware of the crown prince’s plan: that the Beya, not an alleged coup plot, is the focus of the latest wave of arrests.

The role of the Beya in Mohammed bin Salman’s scheme is two-fold.

The first would be to declare that King Salman, who has dementia, is no longer capable of carrying out his duties as king. The council could also – or additionally – lend its authority to a process in which the king abdicated voluntarily.

When it does so, the crown prince would become king.

As MEE reported when Prince Ahmed left his home in London with the assurances of M16 and the CIA that he would not be arrested on his return to Saudi Arabia, his aim was to block his nephew’s ascension to the throne constitutionally by using the powers vested in the Beya to do so.

The council’s second role is to approve a new crown prince, ostensibly from three candidates offered by the new king. Removing all the dissenting voices from it is thus key to Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to take the throne.

Worsening dementia

The current state of the king’s dementia is the subject of conflicting reports.

He stumbled over his speech at the EU-Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in February last year, and had to ask an aide whether he had read the first paragraph.

In a conversation with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodogan in the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi king was incapable of answering questions or engaging in a conversation. He merely repeated the words he was reading on a script.

However, a Kuwaiti delegation who saw him last year claimed that the king could speak freely with them.

MEE can reveal that the latest medical assessment of the king showed that his dementia had worsened.

One source familiar with his condition told MEE: “He is not fully aware of what is happening. He repeats the same sentences. He forgets what he said or what others said a few minutes earlier. He cannot focus.”

The other issue with King Salman is the extent to which he is free to operate independently of his son, who controls his bodyguards and acts as the gatekeeper to his father, even excluding one friend with whom the king liked to play cards, according to another source with knowledge of the inner workings of the royal court.

The arrests of Prince Ahmed and Mohammed bin Saad, in addition to the questioning of Saud bin Nayef and previous arrest of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, mean that a total of four members of the Beya have now been arrested or cautioned.

The membership of the Beya was formed to represent different branches of the sons of Abdulaziz. As a result of this move, the Beya is completely under the control of Mohammed bin Salman and his satellites.

The arrests have been accompanied in the last few days by a renewed wave of social media propaganda by pro-government trolls accusing Mohammed bin Nayef of being a drug taker, a traitor and an ally of Erdogan.

MEE asked the Saudi embassy in London for comment but it had not responded at the time of publication.

Source: Middle East Eye, March 10, 2020