Theories of conspiracy, political, personal and financial, are standard currency in Middle East and Gulf power bourses. But whispers of a secret plot to oust a king are rarely heard in the princely circles of Riyadh. Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report, the Saudi royal court has been buzzing with rumors this past month of a conspiracy to oust King Abdullah. It was additionally fueled by the critical remarks aimed at the monarch’s policies, especially on Iraq, coming from American officials in recent weeks. These remarks are being freely interpreted in those circles as American backing for a cabal of princes plotting to depose Abdullah and crown a new king in his stead.
The persistence of these unusual rumors appears to indicate that something is afoot.
The Saudi royal elite are endowed with long memories for every twist and turn of the kingdom’s relations with the USA. In some of those inner circles it is being suggested that the Americans may be preparing to repeat an exercise they performed forty-three years ago: in 1964, they helped a group of royal princes depose King Saud and place King Faisal on the throne.
According to one of the rumors circulating in Riyadh, a cluster of royal factions, none of which or its tribal kinship is named, have banded together and decided that Abdullah on the throne does the kingdom more harm than good.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources believe this gossip may be solid enough to portend action. The royal conspirators appear to be too committed to back away and have begun shopping for allies outside their group as accessories for the next lap of their scheme.
Allies in Saudi terms mean prominent clerics, members of the Ulema. To set the seal on any changeover of monarch, a well-established cleric of high repute must be persuaded to issue a fatwa determining that the reigning king is unfit to carry out his duties.
Courting the clergy is a drawn-out, expensive procedure and could consume a year or more.
Abdullah’s rift with Bush fuels conspiracy rumor
The targeted clerics must be convinced in patient negotiations that they stand to gain under a new monarch – and not just as individuals. The entire clerical establishment and its network of 18-20,000 mosques, employing hundreds of thousands of priests and preachers, must be assured of benefits. One of their demands is that the new ruler repeal the decrees King Abdullah enforced limiting clerical jurisdiction and restore the powers taken from them.
Meanwhile, a second group of princes who support the king to the hilt is engaged in disrupting the conspiracy to unseat him. They too are lobbying the ulema, leaning on them hard to dissuade them from abetting the plotters.
As bidding and counter-bidding move back and forth, huge sums of cash pass from the two princely factions into priestly hands.
According to our sources, the conspirators are gaining ground with the argument that the oil kingdom’s standing in the region has declined since Abdullah ascended the throne. This is partly the result of the Bush administration’s inability to come up with a military remedy for the violence in Iraq and Iran’s nuclear aspirations, on the one hand, and the Shiite republic’s rising influence in Iraq and other parts of the region, such as Lebanon and Palestine, on the other. All this is eroding Saudi influence in the region.
The deepening rift between the king and the US president George W. Bush adds fertile soil for rumors of regime change to flourish. In the background, is the unexplained, abrupt resignation in Dec. 2006 of Prince Turki Bin Faisal after only 10 months as Saudi ambassador in Washington. Turki, son of King Faisal, served for many years as Director of Saudi General Intelligence. One of many rumors links his enigmatic return home to initial steps for removing Abdullah from the throne.