RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman this week began a national tour with his favorite son, demonstrating that he was supporting his chosen heir despite the crisis created by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
FILE PHOTO: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attends a banquet hosted by Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo, Japan on Monday, March 13, 2017. REUTERS / Tomohiro Ohsumi / Pool / File Photo
Saudi flags and images of the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were lined up on the roads as they arrived in central Qassim on Tuesday. Distinguished characters welcomed them and children offered flowers.
This is the latest public visit of the 82-year-old monarch, apparently aimed at strengthening the power of Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, who has regained power on a daily basis but whose international reputation has been violated. during the month. since Khashoggi was killed at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul.
Official media said the king laid the groundwork for new or planned projects worth $ 1.12 billion and ordered the release of some people from the Qassim debtors' prison, a conservative province located in heart of the Arabian Peninsula.
"There is a lot of tension, fear and apprehension among the Saudis as a result of the Khashoggi affair. It is therefore a journey that reassures the different regions that the king is still in his place and that he is the highest authority, "said Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi writer based in London and a critic at the regard to Al Saud.
Turkish officials have accused MbS of ordering the killing of Khashoggi. US President Donald Trump has hinted that ultimate responsibility lay with the Crown Prince as a de facto leader.
Saudi Arabia, which has given many contradictory explanations for the disappearance of Khashoggi, said today that the editorialist of the Washington Post, based in the United States, was killed during an alleged operation. MbS broke weeks of silence on October 25 to promise justice would prevail.
King Salman intervened to defuse the situation. Last month, he sent a trusted assistant to Turkey and fired five top officials, including his son's most trusted advisor.
After weeks spent in a vacuum, the prince has now returned to the public stage. He visited troops near the border with Yemen, where Riyadh is involved in a three-and-a-half year war. He appeared in an online video Monday with a soldier that he called a hero. At a ceremony at a university in Riyadh, he laid the foundation stone for a future nuclear research reactor.
Greg Gause, Gulf expert at Texas A & M University, said the national tour with his father did not indicate that the royal family was clear, but that "the King is confident that nothing will happen. ready for the moment. "
The 33-year-old crown prince is set to become the first Saudi monarch of a new generation for 65 years, after the succession of six brothers from at least 45 sons of the state's founder , Abdulaziz ibn Saud, died in 1953.
But the rise of MbS has upset the decades-old system of government in which successive kings sought a family consensus and assigned powerful positions to their brothers and nephews.
MbS has consolidated its power by depriving some of its most powerful cousins from its positions of authority and putting some of them under house arrest. Others were caught in an anti-corruption crackdown and confined to a luxury hotel for months.
Since last week, signs indicate that some princes are being rehabilitated to promote family unity as a result of the Khashoggi massacre. Last week, one of the youngest surviving King's brothers, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, returned from abroad for two and a half months where he appeared to criticize the leaders.
Two of the king's nephews, arrested last year, appear to have been released recently. Photos of these are coming together with their families.
Diplomats say the ruling family "encircles the cars." But nothing indicates that King Salman plans to raise another prince, either to replace his son, or to balance his authority by serving as a deputy.
"MbS is not going anywhere. The family meets and they will unite more firmly behind him, "said a senior Arab diplomat. "There is no turning back" after the king opened the way to the throne of MbS by dismissing potential rivals last year.
The king's decision to entrust MbS to restructure the intelligence apparatus, aimed at attacking an alleged cause of the Khashoggi crisis, indicates that the crown prince remains "untouchable," the diplomat added.
Tuesday night, as King Salman and MbS arrived in Qassim, north of Riyadh, in a stadium cheering for their inhabitants, online photos appeared showing Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd with his brothers and daughters in a residential setting.
The pictures were the first of the prince, the son of a former king, since his detention, which the government has never recognized. It was not clarified whether he had reached a settlement with the state like other detainees who were subsequently released, or whether his freedom is still restricted.
Over the weekend, another of the king's nephews, brother of billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, was photographed at the bedside of his sick father after being held for months for online criticism on the MBS-ordered anti-corruption purge last year.
The next day, Alwaleed, who was among the many royal figures, businessmen and government officials detained at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton Hotel as part of this operation, went to Fox News to defend MbS in the Khashoggi crisis and the anti-corruption campaign.
"I think the Saudi Crown Prince will be 100% justified and exonerated," Alwaleed said of his cousin. Alwaleed's own detention was "forgiven and forgotten," he said.
Edited by Ghaida Ghantous; Edited by Peter Graff