Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince was named Prime this Tuesday, a move that can give Mohammad bin Salman sovereign immunity on his role in murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It was on this Tuesday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed his young son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the country’s prime minister by royal decree. The move was new and an exception in Saudi Arabia’s constitution, which means giving one man the dual title of king and prime minister at the same time.
The timing of such an unprecedented decision has made many critics in and out of the Kingdom to conclude that King Salman did so to protect the crown prince from a potentially damaging lawsuit that is currently ongoing in the US regarding bin Salman’s alleged role in killing the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The irony of this surprising royal decree is that it is not going to change anything about the balance of power in Saudi Arabia simply because the 37-year-old crown prince is already seen as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and the only heir to the throne.
The case was brought to US court by the fiancée of Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz to hold binn Salman accountable for his role in the murder that happened in Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Turkey back in October 2018. Last month, a US judge asked the Biden administration to weigh in on whether Prince bin Salman ought to be protected by sovereign immunity in the lawsuit.
But such protection is usually granted only to a world leader, which means either a president, a prime minister, or a king. The Biden administration, however, refused to provide an answer by 1 August and John Bates, a district court judge, agreed to extend the deadline to 3 October. Among other issues, he called on the administration to state whether it believed Prince Mohammed ought to be granted immunity under rules that protect countries’ head of state.
A crown prince announced PM, a weird move to avoid criminal responsibility
“If MBS is proved to have had involvement in the murder, he could be arrested or otherwise face legal challenges while traveling abroad. Therefore, it seems like [Prince Mohammed] has been advised to take this step before the response of the Biden administration was due on 3 October,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, the Gulf director at Dawn, a pro-democracy group based in Washington, who is a party to the Khashoggi lawsuit. “Practically, [becoming prime minister] makes no difference.”
Neither the White House nor the Kingdom has immediately commented on the allegation that the decree was to save MBS from potential consequences of his involvement in the murder.
The Crown Prince has always denied the allegations that he had personal involvement in the Khashoggi murder. However, a CIA assessment found in 2018 that bin Salman had ordered the killing and he had every reason to do so because Khashoggi was a tough critical of the Kingdom and especially the Crown Prince. The assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the murder.
It was back in October 2020 that Hatice Cengiz filed a lawsuit against the Crown Prince in the federal district court of Washington DC, alleging that he and other Saudi officials acted in a “conspiracy and with premeditation” when Saudi agents kidnapped, bound, drugged, tortured and brutally dismembered his fiancé inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
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