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Saudi royal writes letters calling for regime change

President Obama meets with Saudi King Salman in the Oval Office on Sept. 4. (Evan Vucci/AP)

An anonymous Saudi royal has made a remarkable move and signaled the need for a potential changing of the guard in Riyadh. The royal, identified as a "senior Saudi prince" by the Guardian, has penned two letters in Arabic that the British newspaper published on its Web site.

The royal, who is apparently a grandson of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, has his identity protected for security reasons. The current Saudi monarch, King Salman, 79, is a son of ibn Saud, who is reputed to have sired dozens of offspring.

The prince decries Salman's handling of the country since coming to power in January and is clearly opposed to the ascension of Salman's 30-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, as the country's deputy crown prince and putative heir to the throne. The Guardian claims the letters "are unlike anything that has happened since King Faisal deposed King Saud in a palace coup in 1964."

"The king is not in a stable condition and in reality the son of the king [Mohammed bin Salman] is ruling the kingdom," the prince told the Guardian. "So four or possibly five of my uncles will meet soon to discuss the letters. They are making a plan with a lot of nephews and that will open the door. A lot of the second generation is very anxious."

"The public are also pushing this very hard, all kinds of people, tribal leaders," the prince goes on. "They say you have to do this or the country will go to disaster."

The Guardian cites a number of factors roiling Saudi Arabia at present and fueling the disquiet that surrounds Salman's rule. Critics say last week's grisly stampede in Mecca showcased the mismanagement and corruption among Saudi elites; the custodianship of the mosques in Mecca and Medina — the holiest sites in Islam — are central to the monarchy's political legitimacy.

Saudi Arabia has also been hit by slumping global oil prices, which have forced the Saudis to withdraw billions of dollars in overseas funds to buttress their domestic position. The economic unease is compounded by internal dissent over the Saudi-led war in Yemen, an extended operation that has come to define Salman's tenure and is overseen by Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Saudi defense minister.

"This is a war against the Yemeni nation and against Yemen becoming independent," a former Saudi military official who recently defected tells the Guardian. "It has no legitimate political foundation and it is not what the people want."

Months of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen against Houthi rebels and in support of the embattled president are said to have led to thousands of civilian casualties. A suspected Saudi airstrike on Monday is thought to have killed at least 130 Yemenis at a wedding party and has earned condemnation from the United Nations. The Saudis have denied any role in the attack.

In the letters, the prince urges his relatives to band together and act against the king and his allies.

“Allow the oldest and most capable to take over the affairs of the state, let the new king and crown prince take allegiance from all, and cancel the strange, new rank of second deputy premier,” states the first letter.
“We are calling for the sons of Ibn Saud from the oldest Bandar, to the youngest, Muqrin, to make an urgent meeting with the senior family members to investigate the situation and find out what can be done to save the country, to make changes in the important ranks, to bring in expertise from the ruling family whatever generation they are from.”

WorldViews was unable to independently confirm the authenticity of the documents published by the Guardian. But if true, they offer a glimpse of Saudi palace intrigues and political divisions so often kept out of view.

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