Is Saudi bracing for power contest between king’s son and new crown prince?

The whistleblower, who was behind a series of high- profile revelations about the inner secrets of the Saudi royal court, is foreseeing a contest for power between the two newly appointed crown prince and the deputy crown prince.

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman arriving at the Khamis Mushayt airbase. 

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman arriving at the Khamis Mushayt airbase. 

The mysterious Saudi whistleblower, known to his 1.8 million followers on Twitter as Mujtahidd, correctly predicted the latest dramatic palace shakeup in the upper echelon of power in Saudi Arabia days before it was announced.

On April 29th, King Salman deposed his half-brother, Crown Prince Muqrin, and replaced him with his nephew Muhammad Bin Nayef, 55, the powerful interior minister and second-in-line to the throne.

The king’s thirty-something son, Muhammad Bin Salman, the defence minister and chairman of the powerful Supreme Economic Council, was elevated to deputy crown prince despite his lack of experience as a policymaker.

Mujtahidd’ s predictions went further than the reshuffle. His tweets reveal an apparent contest for power between the two Muhammads.

On April 25th, he claimed in a series of tweets that Muhammad Bin Nayef is being sidelined while a ruthlessly ambitious Muhammad Bin Salman amasses further power.

“Bin Nayef is already turning into a ceremonial figure with power shifting in favour of Bin Salman; this was noticed during the visit of [Pakistani prime minister] Nawaz Sharif. The significant part of the visit involved Bin Salman.” Mujtahidd tweeted.

 

“People close to Bin Nayef say he is anxious and worried; despite his guile and his ability for deception he is unable to stem Bin Salman’s drive to grab everything,” Mujtahidd wrote.

The whistleblower cast doubt on the recent arrests in Saudi Arabia of scores of people allegedly linked to Islamic State, some of whom were purportedly plotting attacks on the US embassy and other facilities in the kingdom.

Bin Nayef was credited for the security operation carried out days before the reshuffle.

“The latest fabrications about car bombs and explosions at shopping malls are nothing but desperate attempts by Bin Nayef to reassert his presence having being eclipsed by Bin Salman,” Mujtahidd tweeted.

Other Saudi Twitter users were equally skeptical of the foiled terror plot.

One such disbelieving tweet by @SaudiTaco read:

“Beyond belief! 91 members of ISIS were said to have been plotting attacks on the interior ministry and embassies as well as assassinations of state officials; at the end, none of this happened and they were all arrested without resisting.”

SaudiTaco’s tweet was retweeted by Mujtahidd.

It is not uncommon for conspiracy theorists in the Arab world to blame terrorist attacks or plots on either Arab regimes themselves or foreign intelligence agencies, usually the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.

In the contest for power, Mujtahidd claims, senior religious clerics were paid off a month before the reshuffle to secure their allegiance to Muhammad Bin Salman.

“The royal court gave members of the council of senior scholars 20 million Saudi riyals (US$5m) each to incentivize their future support. They were told the money is from Muhammad Bin Salman,” Mujtahidd tweeted.

A further payoff was allegedly paid to the king’s half brother, Prince Muqrin, for abdicating as crown prince.

“As instructed by a royal decree, Muqrin was given 10bn SR (US$2.6bn) in appreciation for abdicating without hesitation. To be honest, Muqrin did not ask for the payoff but it was Bin Salman’s idea,” the whistleblower tweeted.     

Other tweets by Mujtahidd appear to indicate relations between royals in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries shifting because of these recent changes. 

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Muhammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in particular, “used to treat Bin Nayef with contempt and haughtiness under the late King Abdallah,” so says Mujttahid in a tweet.

The late king elevated his nephew Bin Nayef to the post of interior minister. 

Now anointed crown prince, Bin Nayef, tweeted Mujttahid, “is the one who treats Muhammad Bin Zayed with contempt and haughtiness although they are so similar in their subjugation to America and their animosity towards political Islam”.

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in the middle, met the newly appointed Saudi crown prince and the deputy crown prince shortly after the shakeup.   

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in the middle, met the newly appointed Saudi crown prince and the deputy crown prince shortly after the shakeup.   

"My advice to Muhammad Bin Zayed: it is not wise to seek a close relationship with Bin Nayef who will be overthrown by Bin Salman sooner or later; if you do so, you will have humiliated yourself unnecessarily. You’d better bring yourself into favour only with Salman,” Mujtahidd tweeted.

The king is likely to have Muhammad, said to be his favourite son, by his side at a US-Gulf summit next weekend in Camp David. Equally significant is Bin Salman extending his powers into the country’s oil sector. The newly formed Supreme Economic Council, headed by Bin Salman, approved his plan to restructure the state oil firm Saudi Aramco. The council was set up by the king this year to replace the Supreme Petroleum Council that helped set the country’s oil policy.

Perhaps this should be seen as yet more good experience for a young man thought to be groomed as the next King of Saudi Arabia.