Last month, multiple news outlets reported on what appears to be a “reshuffling” in the line of succession under Saudi Arabia’s 81-year-old King Salman, whose powerful nephew was suddenly forced out as crown prince by royal decree in favor of his much younger, yet impulsive son.
Now, The New York Times and Reuters have gone a bit further, speculating that a coup was in the works for some time and that concern has spread among counterterrorism officials in the US, who are now forced to build new contacts within the monarchy.
Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, was seen as unfit to rule as a result of an alleged drug problem brought about by pain medication. In his place as crown prince comes King Salman’s favored son, 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, who has been elevating his profile for some time now with visits to China, Russia and the United States.
Non-partisan The New Arab describes the younger bin Salman as having “built up a reputation for brashness and lack of political acumen.”
Back in June, news out of Riyadh was presented as it being a smooth transition of power, with images circulating of the younger cousin kissing the hands and feet of his deposed uncle in a show of respect.
However, citing “current and former United States officials and associates of the royal family” speaking on condition of anonymity, the Times reports the replacement process was not seamless. Bin Nayef, who took a hard line against terrorism and was awarded the George Tenet Medal by the CIA in February for his work in that regard, was reportedly “held against his will and pressured for hours to give up his claim to the throne” into the twilight hours of June 21. By the time King Salman finally appeared to close the deal just before dawn, bin Nayef, who reportedly suffers from diabetes, was broken and conceded his role as crown prince.
While it is possible that bin Nayef developed a drug addiction after being wounded in an assassination attempt by al Qaeda in 2009, it is also possible his belief system of getting tough with radical Sunni terrorism networks did not align with certain power circles within a kingdom notorious for extremist sympathies and allegations of logistical and financial support to those networks.
WhoWhatWhy has reported for years on Saudi ties to terror, including shining a light on high-ranking officials within the kingdom having provided support to the 9/11 attackers.
We will continue to monitor developments coming out of Saudi Arabia — the US’s top business partner in the region — and the murky alliance the West holds with that country amid the kingdom’s ongoing proxy war with Iran.