Will the US and UK Seek a Palace Coup Against Mohammed bin Salman?

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(MEE Op-ed) — As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) comes underneath growing stress over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, policymakers in Washington and London have one overriding precedence: to protect the Home of Saud, a army and financial ally through which they’ve invested a lot. But, if Mohammed bin Salman can’t be retained, the UK and US will probably work to make sure some face-saving switch of energy to considered one of his family members.

It has already been reported that members of the ruling household have begun discussing the potential for changing the crown prince. However there may be additionally a little-known precedent for a Western position within the elimination of a Saudi chief.

Selling a Palace Coup

Declassified British files present that Britain beforehand covertly supported a palace coup in Saudi Arabia involving Mohammed bin Salman’s forebears within the Home of Saud. The coup occurred as way back as 1964, however has eerie echoes to the current. It helped then Crown Prince Faisal oust his older brother King Saud, who had dominated since 1953 and was backed by the British to protect the Home of Saud.

Faisal, like bin Salman now, had by the late 1950s develop into the actual power in Saudi Arabia and was working the federal government. However in December 1963, King Saud tried to reassert his energy by deploying troops and weapons exterior his palace in Riyadh. A tense standoff with forces loyal to Faisal continued into 1964, when Saud demanded that Faisal dismiss two of his ministers and change them with the king’s sons.

Nonetheless, essential assist for Faisal was supplied by the Nationwide Guard, the then 20,000-strong physique answerable for defending the royal household. The commander of the Nationwide Guard on the time was Prince Abdullah, who would later develop into king till his loss of life in 2015, when he was succeeded by his half-brother, King Salman – the daddy of Mohammed bin Salman.

Who was the power then behind the Saudi Arabian Nationwide Guard? Then, as now, it was Britain, which had a army mission within the nation following a Saudi request in 1963. The declassified information present that two British advisers to the Nationwide Guard, Brigadier Kenneth Timbrell and Colonel Nigel Bromage, drew up plans on Abdullah’s specific want for the “safety of Faisal”, “defence of the regime”, “occupation of sure factors” and “denial of the radio station to all however these supported by the Nationwide Guard”.

King Faisal at Jeddah, 1965

These British plans ensured Faisal’s private safety, with the purpose of making certain that full energy can be transferred to him, which duly occurred when Saud was pressured to abdicate.

Preserving the Home of Saud

Britain backed the 1964 palace coup for a specific purpose: It considered King Saud as incompetent and against introducing the political reforms essential to preserve the Home of Saud from being overthrown. Frank Brenchley, the cost d’affaires within the British embassy in Jeddah, wrote that “the sands of time have steadily been working out for the Saudi regime”, the key issue then being the nationalist revolution in neighbouring Yemen and the intervention of Egyptian troops there, which challenged Saudi authority in Arabia.

Brenchley famous that, in distinction to Saud, “Faisal is aware of that he should result in reforms rapidly if the regime is to outlive. Hampered in all places by an absence of educated directors, he’s struggling to hurry evolution as a way to avert revolution”.

British coaching of the Saudi Arabian Nationwide Guard (SANG), together with arms exports to it, was enormously expanded after 1964. As we speak, Britain has dozens of military personnel advising the SANG and a major project serving to it with “communications”. The SANG’s position stays overwhelmingly targeted on selling “internal security” – that’s, preserving the Home of Saud.

The US has a good larger coaching and “modernisation” programme for the SANG – worth $4bn – and is now extra more likely to play an identical position to that of Britain in 1964.

Echoes in Yemen

What additionally has echoes from the previous is that within the mid-1960s, Britain was conniving with the Saudis in a struggle in Yemen that was as brutal as the current one. A preferred coup in September 1962 by republican forces deposed the imam, Muhammad al-Badr, who had been in energy for every week after the loss of life of his father, a feudal autocrat who had dominated since 1948. The imam’s forces took to the hills and declared an insurgency, whereas Britain and Saudi Arabia quickly started a covert war to assist them that lasted all through the 1960s.

The British institution’s concern was that the favored republican authorities in Yemen, backed by Nasser’s Egypt, would threaten the Home of Saud and unfold to the opposite British-controlled feudal sheikhdoms in Arabia. By the point the struggle fizzled out in 1969, the loss of life toll might need been as much as 200,000. Then, as now, human lives had been seen as insignificant to London and Riyadh when put next with excessive coverage.

The British-backed palace coup in 1964 additionally strengthened the position of Wahhabist ideology within the nation. In March 1964, the Saudi spiritual management (the ulema) issued a fatwa sanctioning the switch of energy to Faisal as being based mostly on sharia regulation; two days later, King Saud abdicated.

Reflecting on the coup, then British Ambassador Colin Crowe famous that “what can also be serious within the long-term” concerning the switch of energy to Faisal, “is the bringing of the ulemainto the image, they usually could precise a value for his or her assist”. His feedback proved prescient because the alliance between Wahhabism and the Home of Saud would go on to advertise extremism, involving the backing of terrorist forces, in numerous locations around the globe.

The Buddy and Ally

The British authorities has condemned Khashoggi’s killing and helps an investigation. However it’s nonetheless referring to Riyadh as a “friend and ally” and emphasising its “important strategic partnership” involving the army and commerce. However how probably is it that a Saudi chief with blood on his arms can actually sustain the pretence to the Western public that issues are bettering within the area?

London and Washington could find yourself preferring a repeat of 1964: to place one other “Saudi” in energy. But, a lot better for Saudis and the world can be one thing altogether totally different, as recently argued by Madawi Al-Rasheed: permitting individuals the expertise of collaborating in authorities and decision-making, together with freedom of speech, in a gradual transformation of Saudi Arabia right into a democratic system.

On this, London and Washington will want a revolution of their considering to develop into a part of the answer moderately than remaining a part of the issue.