Multiple reports and rumors currently abound that the ailing king Salman could elevate his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the throne at any moment (or rather, it looks like bin Salman is set to seize the throne) after a shocking week of events following the so-called "corruption purge" that left the kingdom in a rare moment of internal political chaos and which further sent geopolitical shock waves through the region, most especially in Lebanon.
Though a transfer of power to the crown prince has long been predicted and expected, especially after a lesser known round of mass arrests targeting well-known Saudi clerics took place in September, this week's events point to a final "house cleaning" purge in preparation for bin Salman's likely imminent ascent.
Unconfirmed sources: SAUDI KING SALMAN TO RELINQUISH THRONE TO CROWN PRINCE BIN SALMAN "BY THE NEXT TWO NIGHTS— EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) November 9, 2017
After the September arrests against clerics who were largely seen as regime insiders, yet who were mildly critical of the new aggressive stance against Qatar, the WSJ quoted an adviser to the Saudi government as saying, “Mohammed bin Salman is definitely preparing to become king. He wants to tackle the internal debate about him becoming the king and focus on consolidating his power, rather than doing that while being distracted by dissidents.”
During the September crackdown, which is currently receiving little commentary in relation to last weekend's turmoil, over 30 prominent political figures were detained, most of them clerics with large social media followings and broad influence in the Arab world. The WSJ further noted at that time that...
The government has denied an abdication is planned, but several people close to the royal family say preparations have already started. The transfer of power, which several people close to the royal family had expected to occur this month, is likely to take place late this year or early next year, these people say.
At that time, one of the few commentators to rightly point out that this was not fundamentally about rounding up "outsiders" and "oppositionists" was Middle East history professor and expert on Saudi affairs, As'ad AbuKhalil. He predicted the crackdown was part of a broader campaign aimed at regime insiders and prominent voices who threatened push-back against the crown prince's vision for Saudi foreign policy:
Unlike what some in the media are writing on social media, this crackdown is not directed against dissidents. Many of those arrested are loyal propagandists for the Saudi regime. They are being punished not for what they say but for what they are not saying: they are being punished for not being vocal against Qatar and against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Indeed, this week's internal Saudi earthquake which has witness two deaths of prominent princes and the detention of about a dozen other princes, as well as the freezing in billions in assets, further confirms AbuKhalil's analysis.
And AbuKhalil, who authored a book which examined internal Saudi regime fault lines called The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power, has just made another prediction based on his extensive contacts within Saudi Arabia. Last night he said bin Salman will declare himself king in less than 2 days:
I am hearing that he will be declaring himself king in the next 36 hours and that recent arrests paved the way.
The photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace shows King Salman (R) being welcomed by his son Crown Mohammed bin Salman (L) at Jeddah airport upon his return from holiday in Morocco on August 23, 2017.
Meanwhile, it appears that Saudi state-owned Al-Arabiya news may have tipped its hand early through a mistaken post to its official Twitter account. According to Iran's PressTV:
A Saudi-owned television news channel has retracted a message on Twitter that had said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be appointed as the king during a planned ceremony.
Al-Arabiya state television, on its Twitter account, said on Wednesday that it would soon release or broadcast further details about the scheduled ceremony.
However, the channel deleted the tweet hours later.
The regime in Riyadh is apparently seeking to examine public reaction regarding a surprise shift in power.
In early September, the Arabic-language al-Manar daily reported that bin Salman had formed a team of aides to prepare the kingdom for celebrating his succession to power as the new king.
And here is the now deleted Al-Arabiya tweet which PressTV says prematurely revealed details of the ascension ceremony:
In the next 48 hours we could have a new king in Saudi Arabia.
The story is developing