The major French daily Le Figaro on Thursday published a bombshell story which reports the Saudi royal family is actively considering a replacement to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as next in line to succeed his father King Salman as the kingdom finds itself under the greatest international pressure and scrutiny it’s faced in its modern history over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — widely believed to have been killed on orders of MbS himself.
The Li Figaro report’s unnamed diplomatic source says the Allegiance Council, which is historically the body responsible for approving the order of succession to the throne, is currently meeting in secret (translation from the French):
For several days, the Allegiance Council for the ruling Saudi family is meeting in the utmost discretion, says a diplomatic source to Le Figaro in Paris. The information has been confirmed by a Saudi Arabian contacted in Riyadh. Composed of a delegate representing each of the clans — at least seven — of the royal family, this body, responsible for inheritance problems, examines the situation created by the disappearance, still unresolved, more than a fortnight ago, of the journalist dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The report in France’s oldest top three national newspapers further suggests the ruling family is seeking to replace the 33-year old MbS with his much less ambitious and more predictable brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman.
The council was already seen as having broken the customary rules of succession last year when it appointed MbS as the new crown prince over next-in-line to the throne Mohammed bin Nayef; however, the council’s authority has tended to be seen as a rubber stamp on already decided succession by the most powerful figures within the ruling family.
The Le Figaro report further cited a Saudi source who explained the transition wouldn’t necessarily be immediate, but that Khalid would gradually replace his brother.
Khalid, who’s even younger than MbS at 28, is said to be popular both at home and abroad and is generally seen as someone who can improve the kingdom’s image in the West.
He’s been Saudi ambassador to the United States since taking the post in April 2017 but was recalled last week, according to The New York Times. He flew directly back to Riyadh where he was present for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s high pressure but brief visit with King Salman and MbS to discuss to Khashoggi disappearance.
Newsweek summarizes his political career as follows:
Before becoming an ambassador, the prince was an adviser at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington as well as at the Ministry of Defense in Riyadh, according to his bio on the embassy’s website. Prior to that, he served as a pilot in the kingdom’s air force, flying F-15s and taking parting in more than 50 combat missions in Syria and Yemen.
When he took his post in Washington, Marcelle M. Wahba, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper Arab News that Prince Khalid’s biggest challenge would be improving and broadening the kingdom’s image.
If the ruling family is pushing to replace MbS, it’s likely to be announced fast (or at least “leaks” of the news will continue) in order to relieve the continued pressure on Riyadh.
Currently, a public campaign is mounting for lobbying and media companies to pull out of Saudi events, especially the Saudi Future Investment Initiative summit set for this month — which as of Thursday US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would not be attending, adding his name to a host of other officials.