Shifting Sands in the House of Saud with a King’s Declining Health: The Hill
By: Simon Henderson
Is the ailing Saudi King Salman about to die and be replaced by his controversial son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, aka MbS? The monarch is hospitalized in Riyadh, suffering from an inflamed gall bladder. That’s not normally life-threatening but the energy world is abuzz with rumor; after all, the kingdom is the world’s largest petroleum exporter and any disruption in Saudi oil flows is a big deal.
Why should there be any change in Saudi oil exports? Because a transition in power may be challenged from within the Saudi royal family, the House of Saud. Since Salman, now 84, came to the throne in 2015, he has devolved power steadily to MbS, his favorite son. The 34-year-old prince is minister of defense and, since 2017, has been heir apparent. (The previous crown prince, his elder cousin Muhammad bin Nayef — known as MbN — was “persuaded” to step down in favor of MbS.)
MbS is an iconoclast and proud of it. Perhaps many of the royal family actually may be scared of him, some having experienced detention in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton three years ago until they agreed to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, allegedly obtained by corruption. The tough style of MbS, who has a $550 million ocean-going yacht and a $300 million French chateau in his own portfolio, has been burnished since then by his imprisonment of anyone whom he deems a critic. (Some writers would have written “imprisonment or worse,” although MbS denies actually ordering the killing of exiled critic and Washington Post op-ed writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul nearly two years ago.)
Curiously, despite his self-evident power, MbS seems almost paranoid of opposition to him. Earlier this year, elder-cousin MbN was taken from palace arrest to a prison even though, at best, the former crown prince — who has suffered at least one heart attack — is a mere figurehead for other potentially rebellious Saudi princes.
King Salman may not be on his deathbed, but MbS is renowned for not wanting to waste an opportunity.
Source: The Hill