CAIRO – Saudi Arabia’s rulers are not as popular as they used to be in the kingdom. With low global oil prices, officials have been forced to cut spending dramatically in a nation where most people depend on the government for salaries, education and other forms of welfare.
But the rare execution of a Saudi royal last week appears to have helped resurrect the monarchy’s popularity – at least according to the reaction on social media.
Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, who was found guilty of shooting to death a Saudi citizen during a brawl, was executed last Tuesday as per a royal order by King Salman. He became the first member of Saudi royalty to be executed in the kingdom since 1975.
That drove Saudis to launch a hashtag in Arabic on Twitter that roughly translates to "decisive Salman orders retribution for a prince," a reference to Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. For days now, the hashtag has been trending in Saudi Arabia, with tweets sent by citizens, officials and royal family members praising the king for his "integrity."
One video shows King Salman telling officials that "any citizen can sue the royal family and seek justice." The video has gone viral in the kingdom.
Some on social media described the execution as "evidence of the justice which sharia law affirms," referring to the conservative Islamic codes that govern Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations. Others said the ruling demonstrated "the king's integrity in treating all citizens equally" and that "nobody is above the law."
Saudi courts have brought other royal family members, estimated to number a few thousand, to justice. In 1975, a prince who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, was beheaded. Two years later, a princess was executed for adultery.
But other royals were pardoned at the last minute by victims' families. This time, though, the victim's family turned down an offer of "blood money," reportedly in the millions of dollars to pardon the prince. Then, both the kingdom’s appeals court and the Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty.
At a time when the monarch is implementing unprecedented austerity measures, even royal families welcomed the execution as decisive and fair.
"This is the law of God Almighty, and this is the approach of our blessed nation,” wrote Khalid al-Saud, a royal family member, according to Reuters.
Another Saudi royal member, billionaire businessman Al Walid Bin Talal, recited a Koranic verse: "there is life for you in retaliation.”
Details of the prince’s last hours were revealed on social media, another rare development for the conservative, often secretive kingdom.
Mohammed al-Masloukhi, the Imam of Al Safa mosque, who was present while the victim's family was being offered the "blood money," described the prince's "heartbreaking last moments with his family members" who visited him for one last time in prison.
Al-Masloukhi said the convicted prince then prayed, reciting Koranic verses until sunrise. He was executed four and a half hours later.
The execution, tweeted al-Masloukhi, was carried out in presence of the prince's father, who "broke down in tears" while the victim's father watched with "a fixed expression on his face."