A Saudi prince has reportedly launched an unprecedented campaign against Saudi King Salman, calling for a coup to replace the monarch, claiming he “led the country to disaster.”
Speaking to the British daily The Guardian, the unnamed prince — one of the hundreds of grandsons of the nation’s founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud — said plans were being put into place to replace Salman, who succeeded King Abdullah in January.
“The king is not in a stable condition and in reality the son of the king [Mohammed bin Salman] is ruling the kingdom,” the Guardian quoted him as saying.
“Four or possibly five of my uncles will meet soon. 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,” he said.
The prince presented his opposition to the king in two letters published online earlier this month and read by millions of the country’s citizens.
“We are calling for the sons of Ibn Saud from the oldest Bandar, to the youngest, Muqrin, to call 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,” the first letter read.
The prince told The Guardian that the Saudi public would support a coup. “The public are also pushing this very hard, all kinds of people, tribal leaders. They say you have to do this or the country will go to disaster,” he said.
If Saudi princes were to seize power from Salman, it would represent the kingdom’s biggest upheaval since King Faisal deposed his brother Saud in a 1964 palace coup.
The criticism comes as Saudi Arabia struggles to deal with international criticism following two accidents during the recent hajj celebrations which left over 800 pilgrims dead.
Last Thursday at least 717 people were killed in a stampede at the annual hajj pilgrimage, the worst such incident in 20 years.
Iran has criticized the Saudi monarchy for failing to manage the pilgrimage. It blamed the convoy of Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince for triggering the panic that started the stampede.
Iran’s Press TV cited a report in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Diyar, according to which “200 army forces and 150 police officers escorted the prince.
“The report said the presence of the prince in the middle of the population prompted a change in the direction of the movement of the pilgrims and a stampede,” Press TV said.
It was the second major tragedy this year for hajj pilgrims, after a construction crane collapsed on September 11 at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.
King Salman also faces challenges in the form of internal opposition to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing air and ground offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen and his response to plummeting oil prices that have hit the country’s economy hard in recent months.
Born on December 31, 1935, Salman is the 25th son of the desert kingdom’s founder Abdulaziz bin Saud and a prominent member of a formidable bloc of brothers known as the Sudairi Seven, after their mother Hassa bin Ahmed al-Sudairi.
Succeeding his half-brother Abdullah, Salman is the sixth son of Abdulaziz to become king of the arid, oil-rich nation and has been credited with transforming the capital Riyadh during his half-century as governor.
Salman was appointed governor of Riyadh province at the age of only 20, in line with a tradition of putting royal family members in charge of key provinces.
He is considered the architect of the development of Riyadh from a desert backwater to a modern metropolis, balancing the historic power of the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
Salman took on an increasingly high-profile role as Abdullah’s health issues forced him from the limelight, eventually ascending the throne upon Adbullah’s death in 2013.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.