Prince Hicham bin Abdullah, cousin of the Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and maternal cousin of the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, is one of the voices who, in his writings and lectures, has warned about the adventurism of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prince Hicham is the only member of an Arab royal family to have written following the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, describing this operation as savage and calling upon the Saudi authorities to address it transparently.
In an interview with Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the prince stressed, “The Saudi regime is facing great international pressure which it never foresaw, and which exceeds the attention received over its war in Yemen. What also makes this case sensitive and dangerous is that Jamal Khashoggi was a United States resident and regular contributor to the well-respected newspaper The Washington Post, and carried a reputation as a reformist voice defending the freedom of expression. The hideous way he was murdered compelled US and European politicians and media pundits to demand clarification, and that the perpetrators of this act to not enjoy impunity simply because the crime occurred on the grounds of a consulate – a supposed place of diplomatic sovereignty.
Hicham continued: “Yes, there is cooperation between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia authorities to try to extricate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from his responsibility on this thorny issue. However, this process is difficult because the murder happened in a diplomatic facility and required a huge logistical effort, including planes and multiple teams of Saudi personnel, not to mention the involvement of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All of this could not have happened without a clear green light from the top. The Turkish government refuse to engage in this Trump-Saudi strategy by systematically leaking relevant information about the murder, which cleverly undermines any Saudi narrative that seeks to conceal what happened.
Regarding other aspects associated with this issue, including its international ramifications and also royal implications in Saudi Arabia, Prince Hicham – who in the past enjoyed a close relationship with this family – said: “There is great tension within the Saudi royal establishment because Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman has violated all written laws and established traditions and customs, not least of which includes the siege of Qatar and the Ritz Carlton affair. Here is something new: a heinous murder where a peaceful and unarmed citizen’s body was cut to pieces, which is contrary to not just Islamic law but also the traditions of Saudi society. This has instigated a sense of horror among many Saudi.
According to Prince Hicham, one of the reasons that led to this serious situation is that while the international community has not moved decisively upon other Saudi adventures (such as the famine, epidemics, and refugee displacement caused by its Yemeni war), the US did not stop the Saudi embargo upon Qatar imposed last June. Later, when the Crown Prince began imprisoning princes and business persons at the RitzCarlton Hotel, many did not accept this as a purely internal matter within the royal family; rather, critics saw such summary punishments as a violation of the rule of law, especially the right of Saudi citizens to a fair trial. Saudi Arabia’s crises with Sweden, Germany, and Canada regarding their criticism of the kingdom’s human rights situation gave further reason to question its international trajectory. Still, because he was never held personally responsible for any of these missteps, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman likely thought he had the “green light”from the US regarding his foreign policy decisions, an assumption that culminated with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
After reviewing all of this, Prince Hicham concludes: “If Saudi Arabia escapes this crisis without damage, it could encourage other, even more serious adventures. Compounding the problem is a structural deficit within the decision-making process in Saudi Arabia and in the implementation of decisions.”
Regarding the role of King Salman in all these developments, Prince Hicham adds, “I am sure that King Salman was not aware of all the details of this issue, and that he only became aware after the recent visit of Prince Khalid al-Faisal in Turkey (which involved a personal meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan), and the subsequent visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh.
In response to a question about the future of the Saudi Crown Prince, Prince Hicham said: “Personally, I do not think there is a major body or institution inside the kingdom that can oppose Mohammad bin Salman. The independence of decisionmaking has been eliminated within the armed forces and across the state apparatus, while the Council of Allegiance has been marginalized since the reign of King Abdullah. To illustrate its fragility, consider that even Prince Khalid bin Talal, who represented his father on the Council of Allegiance, has been detained for six months on the orders of bin Salman, while other members have been compelled into silence.”
Commenting about the Saudi royal family’s internal dynamics, Prince Hicham commented: “Social relations and trust between the princes have virtually disappeared, as former spaces of communication have vanished. The Crown Prince destroyed this old model but without presenting a realistic and viable alternative model. In this climate, the last decision belongs to King Salman himself. I think that he will try to restore confidence and reduce the tensions borne of this case by encouraging some checks-and-balance mechanisms, but it seems to me that it is already too late. Let us not forget that the current situation is itself the result of such superficial and fragile arrangements that have been adopted in the past.”
Prince Hicham assures: “US and Saudi efforts to absolve the Crown Prince of this mess will only deepen the structural crisis of the decision-making process, as they will try to save Mohammad bin Salman’s power and authority. Any drastic new attempt to impose an arrangement by King Salman will be condemned to failure since the Crown Prince is going to feel that this threatens his interests and power. Even if Saudi Arabia manage to contain the crisis, this crime will weigh heavily on the image of the Crown Prince and the country, which increases the likelihood of a shift to a violent solution. Likewise, the decision to sacrifice senior officials and security officers in the crisis will lead to the consequence that these bodies will no longer trust the Crown Prince, which will result in another dangerous situation.”
Regarding the future of Saudi-American relations, Prince Hicham, who is also a researcher at Harvard University, adds that US elites prefer to bet on the institutional relationship with the Saudi royal family without investing too much in Mohammed bin Salman – much like how “Saudi elites are betting on relationships with US political institutions after the Trump presidency.” Prince Hicham had published in January 2018 an article in the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur entitled, “Mohammed bin Salman: A Dangerous Tendency to Arbitrariness.” In the essay, he illustrated that “Mohammed bin Salman applies new policies to all except himself, which opens the door to all kinds of abuse that will take place in a very tense atmosphere.