A high-ranking Saudi prince returned home amid the Khashoggi crisis, and it could be a sign of shifting power

A senior Saudi prince, who previously appeared to criticise the kingdom’s crown prince, has returned home. Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • A senior member of the Saudi royal family returned to Saudi Arabia as the crisis over Jamal Khashoggi’s death continues to boil.
  • Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi king’s only surviving full brother, was previously afraid to return to Riyadh for fear of getting swept up in the crown prince’s corruption sweep, according to The New York Times.
  • Prince Ahmed has made comments appearing critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the past.
  • It’s not clear if Prince Ahmed’s return signals shifting power within the royal family in the face of crisis, or if the crown prince is taking further steps to reinforce his tight grip on power.

A senior member of the Saudi royal family has returned to Saudi Arabia as the crisis over Jamal Khashoggi’s death continues to boil, indicating a power shift in the country’s leadership.

Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz returned to Riyadh from London on Tuesday, The New York Times reported, citing three unnamed Saudi sources close to the prince.

Prince Ahmed is the only surviving full brother of King Salman, and is seen as an influential figure within the kingdom’s royal family.

The prince had been afraid to return home because he feared he would get swept up in the crown prince’s corruption sweep, The Times reported.

Saudi prince ahmed bin abdulaziz
Crown Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. sattam_al_saud/Twitter

Prince Ahmed had made comments that appeared critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the Persian Gulf kingdom, The Times reported, citing associates of Prince Ahmed’s family.

Last month, he appeared to blame King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen civil war, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians.

He was caught on video telling protesters in London last month, according to Bloomberg: “What does this have to do with the [house of] Al Saud? Those responsible are the king and his Crown Prince.”

“I hope the situation ends,” he added, “whether in Yemen or elsewhere, today before tomorrow.”

His controversial statement stirred rumours of a rift among the royal house, though he later claimed his comments were misinterpreted.

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Power shift in the House of Saud?

It’s unclear if Prince Ahmed’s return signals shifting power within the royal family in the face of crisis, or if the Crown Prince might be taking a step to reinforce his power.

But his homecoming was not widely covered in Saudi media, which shrouded his visit in secrecy and added to speculation that his return could be part of a wider response to international criticism over Jamal Khashoggi’s death.

Khashoggi, a Saudi critic and journalist, died inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Riyadh admitted that the journalist died as part of a preplanned murder, but stopped short of naming the person or people who ordered the job.

Crown Prince Mohammed is widely believed to have orchestrated the murder, though Riyadh has repeatedly tried to distance him from it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his chief prosecutor asked Saudi investigators to reveal who ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

Erdogan also claimed people behind Khashoggi’s killing are being protected from prosecution, seen as a suggestion that a senior figure, perhaps the crown prince himself, had signed off on the murder.

“There is no point in procrastinating or trying to save some people from under this,” he said.

Read more:
Here’s everything we know about the troubling disappearance and death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Mohammed bin salman
Crown Prince Mohammed in September 2017. Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty Images

According to The Times, Prince Ahmed – who previously served as deputy interior minister and then as interior minister in 2012 – had been living in retirement, and awaited assurances that he would not be implicated in the crown prince’s anticorruption sweep.

The anticorruption campaign targeted dozens of influential figures and members of the Saudi royal family perceived as potential threats to the Saudi throne.

Last year, the kingdom arrested 11 princes as well as government ministers and wealthy businessmen, holding them in the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

Officials reportedly used coercion and physical abuse to extract billions of dollars from some of the detainees.