Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and business elite have expressed frustration with the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure last month.
It has sparked concern among several prominent branches of the ruling Al Saud family, which numbers around 10,000 members, about the crown prince’s ability to defend and lead the world’s largest oil exporter, according to a senior foreign diplomat and five sources with ties to the royals and business elite. All spoke on condition of anonymity.
The attack has also fanned discontent among some in elite circles who believe the crown prince, known in the West by the initials MbS, has sought too tight a grip on power, the sources said. Some of these people said the event has also fueled criticism among those who believe he has pursued an overly aggressive stance towards Iran.
“There is a lot of resentment” about the crown prince’s leadership, said one of the sources, a member of the Saudi elite with royal connections. “How were they not able to detect the attack?”
This person added that some people in elite circles are saying they have “no confidence” in the crown prince, an assertion echoed by the four other sources and the senior diplomat.
The crown prince nonetheless has staunch supporters. A Saudi source within circles loyal to the crown prince said: “The latest events won’t affect him personally as a potential ruler because he is trying to stop the Iranian expansion in the region. This is a patriotic issue, and so he won’t be in danger, at least as long as the father lives.”
A second senior foreign diplomat said ordinary Saudis still want to unite behind MbS as a strong, decisive, dynamic leader.
The Saudi government media office did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters for this article.
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The crown prince, during a television interview aired Sunday by U.S. broadcaster CBS, said that defending Saudi Arabia was difficult because of the kingdom’s large size and the scale of threats it faces. “It’s challenging to cover all of this fully,” he said. He also called for “strong and firm” global action to deter Iran but said he preferred a “peaceful solution” to a military one.
At stake is political stability in the world’s largest oil exporter, a key ally of the United States in the Middle East. The crown prince is officially next in line to the throne to his 83-year-old father, King Salman, and is de facto ruler of the country. He has vowed to transform the kingdom into a modern state.
The 34-year-old crown prince, who is popular among young Saudis, has received praise at home for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom, granting women more rights and pledging to diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy. But state control of the media and a crackdown on dissent in the kingdom make it difficult to gauge levels of genuine enthusiasm domestically.
The September 14 attack set ablaze two of state oil giant Saudi Aramco’s plants, initially knocking out half of the kingdom’s oil production — 5% of global oil output. Saudi Arabia has said Iran was responsible, an assessment that U.S. officials share. Iranian officials have denied involvement.
“The magnitude of these attacks is not lost on the population, nor is the fact that he (the crown prince) is the minister of defence and his brother is deputy defence minister, and yet arguably the country has suffered its largest attack ever and on the crown jewels,” said Neil Quilliam, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think tank.