November 29, 2022


'The Godfather, Saudi-style': inside the palace coup that brought MBS to power (Anuj Chopra, 29 Nov 2022, The Guardian)

Shortly before the palace coup, on 5 June 2017, tensions between the princes reached boiling point after MBS and other regional autocrats imposed a punishing blockade on neighbouring Qatar. The tiny, gas-rich emirate has long rankled its bigger Arab neighbours with its provocative moves, such as giving airtime to regional Islamists and dissidents on its influential news channel Al Jazeera. Nayef, too, had issues with Qatar, but he preferred quiet diplomacy over MBS's combative approach. Behind his cousin's back, Nayef opened a secret channel with Qatar's ruler Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. "Tamim called me today, but I did not answer," Nayef texted his adviser at the peak of the crisis. "I want to send him an encrypted phone for communication."

On 20 June 2017, in the midst of that crisis, Nayef was called for a meeting in King Salman's palace in Mecca - a marble-walled colossus overlooking the cube-shaped Ka'bah, the holiest shrine in Islam. According to sources close to Nayef, when he arrived, his security detail was instructed to wait outside. To prevent any leaks, all mobile phones, including those of the palace staff, were seized by guards loyal to MBS. One senior member of the royal family, who tried to enter the palace after Nayef, was turned away at the gates. The prince was allegedly ushered into a room with Turki al-Sheikh, a close MBS confidante with a gruff, intimidating manner and a predilection for expensive Richard Mille watches. (Sheikh would later be promoted to head the General Entertainment Authority - an agency that seeks to soften Saudi Arabia's image by, among other things, hosting giant raves in the desert.)

Sheikh allegedly confined Nayef to the room for hours, pressuring him to sign a resignation letter and pledge allegiance to MBS. At first, Nayef refused. According to one source close to the prince, he was told that if he did not give up his claim to the throne, his female family members would be raped. Nayef's medication for hypertension and diabetes was withheld, and he was told that if he did not step down willingly, his next destination would be the hospital. He was so afraid of being poisoned that night, said another royal family source, that he refused to drink even water.

Nayef was permitted to speak with two princes in the Allegiance Council, the royal body that ratifies the line of succession. He was shocked to hear that they had already submitted to MBS. By daybreak, it was all over. Anxious and exhausted, Nayef surrendered. He was made to step into an adjoining room, where MBS was waiting with television cameras and a guard carrying a gun. Footage released by Saudi broadcasters showed a brief glimpse of Sheikh hurriedly slipping a gold-trimmed robe on the back of the detained prince. As the cameras rolled, MBS crept closer to his cousin and theatrically stooped down to kiss his hand and knee.

"When I pledged allegiance, there was a gun to my back," Nayef later wrote in a text to his adviser.

Posted by at November 29, 2022 12:00 AM