The grisly details of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi now coming out make it clear that the one thing that would really clear the air would be for 33-year old Muhammed bin Salman bin Abdulaiz al Sa’ud (MBS) to be replaced as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and to be removed from any position of authority and power that he currently possesses. Indeed, it would be wise if he were subjected to what he imposed on others whom he saw as in his way to assuming the extreme level of power he currently has in KSA, to be confined to his palace under guard or perhaps in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. To make clear his removal from power it would also be appropriate to have da Vinci’s painting of Salvador Mundi taken from him, which he is reported to have purchased through intermediaries for $480 million, a sign of the degree of corruption that he has personally engaged in.
It should be clear that MBS’s crimes and mistakes go far beyond this awful mmuder by members of his personal bodyguard of Khashoggi. The thousands of dead civilians in Yemen in the war there that he instigated as Defense Minister is at the top of the list. But his idiotic embargo of Qatar and his hyper-aggressive attitude towards Iran (stupidly supported by the current US administration) are also on the list, along with his broader suppression of disssidents within KSA. It may well be that a successor will continue the strongly anti-Iran policy, although some potential candidates have in the past urged negoatiating with Iran, including former ambassador to the US, Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Sa’ud, for whom the now late Jamal Khashoggi once worked as a top staff aide. However, for a variety of reasons this 73 -year old now Chair of the powerful King Faisal Foundation is unlikely to succeed MBS.
Obviously this is not very likely, given that this would have to be done by his father, 82-year old King Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al Sa’ud, who clearly strongly supports him, even as he has apparently overruled him on certain matters, most recently in insisting on the shutdown of the proposed sale of 5% of ARAMCO, a centerpiece of MBS’s Vision 2030, an overly hyped economic reform plan that always had less of any significance to it than was loudly advertised in US media. Nations overwhelmingly dependent on oil exports are always talking about “getting off oil,” but they rarely succeed in doing so, and there is probably no nation more stuck on oil than KSA, given the low cost of extracting oil there (second lowest after Kuwait at barely $10 per barrel) and its vast reserves.
Of course, for now MBS appears to have the personal support by President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who may have quietly supported the coup through which he came to power. It is fairly clear that this personal support is reinforced by MBS providing substantial funding to both the Trump Organization and the business activities of Kushner, although the full details of that are not fully known.
MBS has been praised for restricting the Mutaween religious police as well as letting women drive and opening cinemas. If he were to go it is certainly possible the Mutaween might regain some of their power, but I seriously doubt any possible successor would undo the move to let women drive. Indeed,,several of his possible successors had previously shown willingness to improve the status of women in KSA in various ways.
There are several possible successors who would not be either over the hill or widly conservative. The most obvious would be the man MBS overthrew in what was essentially a coup in June, 2017 as Crown Prince, now 59-year old Muhammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Sa’ud. He was widely respectes, including by those in the US who dealt with him, a former Minister of the Interior. It was alleged that he had become addicted to a pain killer as a result of an assassination attempt against him, but it is unclear if this was true or not. In any case, there are others who are capable and would return KSA to its more collective form of leadership that did not engage in the sorts of barbaric activities that MBS has been doing.
A curious recent development not not widely reported out of STRATFOR is that MBS’s full brother, Khalid, ambassador to the US, was recalled to Riyadh on October 15 and will not return to the US. Whether this shows MBS getting rid of yet another potential rival or is a sign that MBS himself is in trouble is too soon to know.