Where has Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gone? Since mainstream media broke news of the disappearance and alleged death of Jamal Khashoggi, MBS has gotten a little camera shy … and somewhat politically withdrawn.
Whatever did happen to our buoyant reformer, who, from the platforms of his friendships so openly spoke wars and violent retributions to those who dared opposed his ‘vision’? By vision of course I speak of MBS’s ambition to play Nero to a tamed Middle East while his name would suffer no contention on the international scene.
Once feted as a great reformer, or as the Independent put it this February: “Saudi Arabia’s great young reformer”, MBS no longer sits a favourite of the ‘ruling class’ on account of the sins he committed against that very elite.
It would be the disappearance and suspected murder of one prominent journalist and retired intelligence officer: Jamal Khashoggi, that broke the proverbial camel’s back … not the many grave human rights violations, not the aberration of a doctrine advocating bloodshed, not the engineered famine of Yemen, not the wanton massacre of civilians in Yemen, and certainly not the countless infringements on other nations’ sovereignty.
I would say that the world’s outrage over Khashoggi’s death betrays Western society moral relativism, and most importantly the irrationality of its self-righteous anger. Outrage today is a trend underpinned mostly by status than principles.
While the murder of children warrants but a few whispers of opposition, one missing prominent journalist will force governments to face off even the most powerful of lobbies – even if it means endangering the war industry.
As we have seen transpired over the past few days, Saudi Arabia’s link to the West is dependent on its ability to sustain America’s war complex, and to grace PR firms and lobbyists with millions of dollars worth of hush money.
As Tom Freeman writes in TomDispatch: “In 2016, according to FARA records, they [Saudi Arabia] reported spending just under $10 million on lobbying firms; in 2017, that number had nearly tripled to $27.3 million. And that’s just a baseline figure for a far larger operation to buy influence in Washington, since it doesn’t include considerable sums given to elite universities or think tanks like the Arab Gulf States Institute, the Middle East Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (to mention just a few of them).”
And: “This meteoric rise in spending allowed the Saudis to dramatically increase the number of lobbyists representing their interests on both sides of the aisle .. Lobbyists and publicists are using the deep pockets of the Saudi royals to spread their propaganda.”
Saudi Arabia’s gravest sin as yet was to target he, who the elite holds untouchable by virtue of his social status – a grand genocide and the normalisation of Terror as a valid system of governance hold little sway in the great scheme of it all … such is the depth of our collective amoralism.
However Saudi Arabia’s reckoning came about, many will find comfort in the fact that anger is rising up against the Kingdom, and more particularly MBS. If noone is … as yet anyway, speaking regime change in the land of Al Saud, we are definitely witnessing a fall of dominos leading towards a change of the guard.
Silence on the Crown Prince’s abuses was broken and adjectives flying out of the mouth of journalists. Rula Jebreal, an award-winning journalist told Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan on October 13th, that she believed Mohammed bin Salman to be much worse that Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein combined, in terms of his brand of authoritarianism.
“This is Gaddafi on steroids. This is worse than Gaddafi because he [MBS] has billions of dollars to spend on the US, on PR, o lobbying, on buying consensus. This is where the danger lies,” she stressed.
Not even CNN could help but jump on the ‘critic’ train … also somewhat muted in comparison to other media. It writes: “The Khashoggi drama is only the latest incident that has given international observers reason to question the stability of the Crown Prince — whose credentials as a reformer were initially applauded overseas and for some time obscured his growing brutality.”
MBS is sitting on quick sand! If recent moves by other princes and officials in Riyadh to push their counsel onto the King so that Saudi Arabia, as an entity, would survive the storm, are anything to go by, the Crown Prince is living his last days of absolute power.
As CNN puts it: “No one is indispensable in the Royal Court.”
In hindsight MBS may wish he had played a softer hand against his family members last October when he decided against both logic and reason to shakedown royals for their billions on allegations of corruption. And though it may be so that they were guilty, few will forget the means exerted to extract the aforementioned billions.
By raising a hand against his own, MBS may have precipitated his fate … I doubt many will cry his early retirement.
In the face of such controversy, MBS retains one potential ally: US President Donald Trump. “As America’s elite abandons a reckless Saudi prince, will Trump join them?” asks The New Yorker’s Robin Wright. “Trump has long had close business ties with the Saudis, beginning in the nineteen-nineties,” she notes.
Should Trump yields to public pressure, or should he be forced to acknowledge MBS’s guilt should Turkey decides to release the footage it claims to hold we may see yet a great realignment of geopolitics and financial interests.
As it were America will have to admit to the nature of Saudi Arabia’s inner sanctum … too much of it was already laid bare.
From Turki Aldakil’s [Head of Al Arabiya] threat that the Kingdom will shift its loyalty towards Iran and Hezbollah out of spite for western capitals, to semi-veiled threats by officials that the Western world would collapse under an oil prices spike, Saudi Arabia’s image is taking a beating.
Proof as they say is in the pudding … “MBS played Kushner, Trump and his other American acolytes for suckers,” writes the Times’s Nicholas Kristof. “It’s a disgrace that Trump administration officials and American business tycoons enabled and applauded MBS as he imprisoned business executives, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, rashly created a crisis with Qatar, and went to war in Yemen.”
Whichever the balance will tip, MBS is unlikely to survive the storm and Saudi Arabia will find itself weakened and exposed for the autocratic abomination that it currently is.
Catherine Shakdam is a research fellow at the Al Bayan Centre for Planning & Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements. She is the author of A Tale of Grand Resistance: Yemen, the Wahhabi and the House of Saud. She writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.