The Irish Times view on Saudi Arabia: ‘MBS’ consolidates power

Crown prince’s return to public eye has been marked by crackdown on family threats and slashing oil prices

The real power in the kingdom is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as ‘MBS’. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters

The real power in the kingdom is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as ‘MBS’. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters

 

Act Three. Scene One – a room in a royal palace. The king’s brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and his son are alone. Two guards enter stage right...

Offstage two other princes, including Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former crown prince, have also been arrested on the orders of their cousin. And word is that a wider crackdown on the royal family is under way.

There is Shakespearean quality to these intra-familial intrigues in the Saudi court. Centre stage, the real power in the kingdom is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as “MBS”. He ordered the arrests in what is seen as an attempt to consolidate the unchallenged prospect of his imminent succession to the throne occupied by his frail father King Salman (84).

MBS has re-emerged from self-imposed purdah of over a year following an international backlash over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in which he was implicated. His return to the public eye has been marked by two dramatic coups – the crackdown on family threats to his succession, and the decision, to the consternation of world markets, dramatically to slash the price of oil in a bid to drive Russia out of the market.

Evidence of plots to overthrow him has not materialised. His action against family members appears to be more a case of warning off potential rivals who have talked him down too publicly. And some suggest it may also be an attempt to pre-empt criticism of how vulnerable the Saudi economy and stagnant reserves will be to sustained cuts in oil prices.

But MBS is back. Suggestions the Khashoggi experience might put a halt to his gallop have not reckoned with the ambition, ruthlessness and recklessness of the young crown prince. “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,” Macbeth says of himself. Hopes he would prove a moderniser have largely been dashed.

Shakespeare’s history plays, however, have a habit of culminating in a bloodbath. MBS might take note.

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