No official comment by Saudi Arabia as reports say authorities broaden crackdown after detention of two senior royals.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the only surviving full brother of Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman, has been detained, according to several reports, in what is widely believed to be an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to consolidate power within the royal family.
Prince Ahmed was detained on Friday as part of a security clampdown that also included the detention of Mohamed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former interior minister and crown prince, several US publications reported. Both senior royals were seen as possible alternatives to MBS, the kingdom’s de facto ruler in succeeding 84-year-old King Salman.
According to the Wall Street Journal newspaper, Prince Ahmed and Mohammed bin Nayef were accused of plotting a coup to unseat the king and his son, MBS. By Saturday, reports points that the sweep had broadened to include dozens of interior ministry officials, senior army officers and others suspected of supporting a coup attempt.
There has been no official comment from Saudi authorities on the arrests.
Prince Ahmed is one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud family.
He and his older brother are the last remaining members of the powerful “Sudairi seven”, a bloc comprised of the seven sons of King Abdul Aziz – considered the kingdom’s modern founder – and his favourite wife, Hussa bint Ahmed al-Sudairi.
The brothers banded together to largely ensure the throne and important ministries passed between them and stayed out of the reach of the king’s dozens of other sons. They include former King Fahd, who ruled the country from 1982 until 2005, Prince Sultan who served as defence minister for almost half a century before becoming crown prince to King Abdullah in 2005, as well as the current king.
Born in the early 1940s, Prince Ahmed received his formal education in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He later headed to the United States where he obtained a degree in political science from the California-based University of Redlands in 1968.
Prince Ahmed served as deputy interior minister for decades and was named interior minister in June 2012. But he abruptly stepped down after less than five months in the role and was replaced by Mohammed bin Nayef, the other high-profile detainee.
For several years, Prince Ahmed was also responsible for overseeing the administration of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
As the youngest of the seven Sudairi brothers, Prince Ahmed had been seen in the past as a potential future ruler but was sidestepped from the throne’s arrangement at least twice.
Still, Prince Ahmed wielded official influence as a member of the Beya, or Allegiance Council, the body of senior royals which has to approve the accession to the throne of the next successor.
In 2017, he was one of three members on the Allegiance Council who opposed the young MBS becoming the first in line to the throne and sidelining more senior princes, according to several media reports.
Prince Ahmed left Saudi Arabia in November 2017 before a far-reaching campaign of arrests of royals, top officials and business elites, in what was billed as an attempt to combat corruption among the higher echelons of the kingdom’s bureaucracy. Those arrested were locked up for weeks in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.
Prince Ahmed flew back to the kingdom from London in October 2018, after reportedly receiving assurances that he would not be detained.
While in London, Prince Ahmed appeared to publicly oppose MBS’s military campaign in Yemen, which he launched in 2015 when Saudi Arabia formed a coalition with other Arab states to defeat the Houthi rebels.
A nearly two-minute video shared online in September 2018 showed Prince Ahmed purportedly challenging demonstrators protesting against the kingdom’s role in the devastating war in Yemen why they were complaining to him instead of the king and crown prince.
Walking over to them, the prince asked the protesters outside his London home not to lump the whole of the royal family into one.
“What does the whole of the Al Saud family have to do with this? There are certain individuals who are responsible. Don’t involve anyone else.”
When asked by a demonstrator who was responsible for the war, Prince Ahmed responded: “The king and the crown prince, and others in the state.”
He also said he hoped that wars in Yemen and elsewhere would stop as soon as possible.
Shortly afterwards, Prince Ahmed issued a brief official statement saying that his comments were taken out of context and intended to clarify that “the king and crown prince are responsible for the state and its decisions”.
Upon his return, Prince Ahmed has reportedly retained his allowance and been treated with respect, but has kept a low profile since.
According to Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Gulf Affairs Institute and a former Saudi political prisoner, Prince Ahmed, “did not have a real shot” of becoming a king and returned “because he did not have ambition”.
He argued that the detention was a “precautionary” measure and was not part of the alleged plot.