The Khashoggi murder has opened an opportunity to seize power from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
Members of the House of Saud are seeking to find an alternative successor to the throne and prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king, sources close to the royal court said.
While they say that no change to the line of succession could take place while the 82-year-old King Salman lives, after his death the field may open.
The sources suggest there is a growing conspiracy among members of the House of Saud to ensure the favoured son does not become King.
The prodigal son: Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), 33, has fractured relations with influential members, most recently with the CIA pointing the finger at him over the murder of his prominent critic, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, younger full brother of King Salman and uncle to the crown prince is the preferred candidate for the throne, according to sources within the Suadi court
A preferred candidate is Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, younger full brother of King Salman and uncle to the crown prince.
King Salman’s only surviving brother flirted with power in London in October as he appeared to distance himself from the king and crown prince over the Khashoggi murder.
Prince Ahmed was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.
Unlike European monarchies the House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes, with the power of succession drawn across tribal lines, rather than automatically going to the eldest son.
Each branch of the dynasty is consulted before a new King succeeds.
Senior U.S. officials have indicated to Saudi courtiers in recent weeks that they would support Prince Ahmed, who was deputy interior minister for nearly 40 years, according to Saudi sources with direct knowledge of the consultations.
These Saudi sources said they were confident that Prince Ahmed would not change or reverse any of the social or economic reforms enacted by MbS, would honour existing military procurement contracts and restore the unity of the family.
One senior U.S. official said the White House is in no hurry to distance itself from the crown prince despite pressure from lawmakers and the CIA’s assessment that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
But that could change when President Trump gets a final report on the killing from the intelligence community.
The official also said the White House was wary of the King’s Riyadh speech on Monday, where he backed his son and made no direct reference to Khashoggi’s death, except to praise his own attorney general.
King Salman, 82, made a speech in Riyadh on Monday where he backed his son and made no direct reference to Khashoggi’s murder, except to praise the Saudi prosecutor
According to US sources familiar with the CIA assessment, the Khashoggi death was an assassination ordered by MbS, as Trump said it was ‘premature’ to say but ‘possible’
On Saturday Trump called the CIA assessment that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s killing ‘very premature’ but ‘possible’, and said he would receive a complete report on the case on Tuesday.
Relations have cooled dramatically with MbS, who caused further irritation when he urged the Saudi defence ministry to explore alternative weapons supplies from Russia.
In a letter dated May 15, the crown prince asked his defence ministry to ‘focus on purchasing weapon systems and equipment in the most pressing fields’, including Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
The brutal killing of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of MbS, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month sparked global outrage.
The CIA believes the crown prince ordered the killing, according to U.S. sources familiar with the assessment.
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has said the crown prince knew nothing of the killing.
The murder has exposed the young prince who has risen rapidly in stature as he made high-profile social and economic reforms, like allowing women to drive and opening cinemas.
But these liberal notes have been counterbalanced by a crackdown on dissent, a purge of top royals and businessmen on corruption charges, and a costly war in Yemen.
While the prodigal son lavished himself with a new $500 million yacht, palaces and set a new record on the art market with his acquisition of a Leonardo Da Vinci, he arrested and humiliated 30 other princes.
The House of Saud has emerged divided as a result.
But Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have cultivated deep personal relationships with the crown prince.
One Saudi insider said MbS feels he still has their support and is willing to ‘roll some heads to appease the U.S.’
However, U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the House are piling pressure on Trump to bring the crown prince to heel.
Those who have met the beleaguered King Salman recently say he appeared to be in denial about the role of MbS in what happened, but that he was worried.
MbS continues to secure his position as he builds his father an isolated retirement home at the cost of $2 billion.