Prince Khaled bin Farhan, an exiled member of the Saudi royal family, speaks to Middle East Eye about his fears for the kingdom's future
Editor's note: This is a selection of excerpts from an interview between MEE editor David Hearst and Prince Khaled bin Farhan, an exiled member of the Saudi royal family.
After the purge: 'There is a climate of fear'
On bin Salman: "The family is now facing the undermining of its standing in the eyes of the people" (Reuters)
Middle East Eye (MEE): How much anger is there in the royal family at the way the princes have been treated by Mohammed bin Salman ?
Prince Khaled bin Farhan (KbF): It was a shock for the entire family because prominent figures in the family were detained in a way that held a great deal of humiliation. It was a shock for the entire family. The family is now facing the undermining of its standing in the eyes of the people. And this will inevitably undermine its legitimacy.
MEE: How are the princes who were released from the Ritz Carlton being treated ?
KbF: These princes were initially invited in a pleasant way, in a request to meet the king. Of course, in Saudi Arabia, it's tradition that if you are invited to meet the king, you go. So they went to meet the king, and then they were arrested in the hotel [Ritz Carlton]. After the procedures that took place in the hotel, they were pressured to give Mohammed bin Salman substantial amounts of their wealth, then they were released.
They are under personal, severe and humiliating surveillance inside Saudi Arabia and they are not allowed to leave
But they are now staying in their homes. Firstly, they are strictly not allowed to travel outside Saudi Arabia. They are being closely and harshly monitored inside Saudi Arabia, to the extent that the majority of them have been fitted with monitoring devices to their legs, which electronically tells the authorities the areas that they move in. And [the authorities] records their conversations whether on the phone or directly with a person. So they are under personal, severe and humiliating surveillance inside Saudi Arabia and they are not allowed to leave.
MEE: King Salman and MBS are in complete control. There are no independent judges nor institutions nor parliament to temper their actions. There is a climate of fear. What can the rest of the royal family do now?
KbF: Of course, the imprisonment of the princes created a state of psychological trauma within the entire family, which is represented by two things. Firstly, they fear for their own future as a ruling family in Saudi Arabia. And secondly, they are not happy with the policies being pursued currently, the policies being pursued now which are irrational, erratic and stupid.
Of course, the whole family, or most of it, rejects these policies, out of fear for themselves firstly, and for their country, and the future of the kingdom, of themselves, and of their children.
So the whole family, in the end, are Saudi citizens, and only some of the members of the ruling family are the ones who are in control of creating the general policies of Saudi Arabia. The rest of the family are like the rest of the Saudi citizens, who are affected by the policies, but aren’t involved in making them.
There is a general rejection of the procedures taking place at the moment by the son of the king. Especially, in my personal opinion, if King Salman had been in a good state of health, things wouldn’t have reached this stage. When we see public policy in Saudi Arabia, we can see that King Salman is completely absent from the screen or from the political scene in Saudi Arabia.
I expect that giving advice for change, with everything we’ve seen, is not going to be useful. Because the current policy can’t be amended, there must be a complete change, and change can only be accomplished if you change the figurehead who rules now. I expect the royal family was in shock, and of course in human nature, it usually takes a while to wake up from this shock. I think we are now starting to wake up from this shock.
But the problem is that those prominent princes are stuck in Saudi Arabia, under strict, harsh surveillance, but I expect there will be some movement, or something, within the family for a change, an all-encompassing change, because a change in policy or amendments in policy is no longer helpful, no, we need a change of the ruler himself, or the figurehead that rules Saudi Arabia.
Regime change: 'Europe and America will have to foot the bill'
On the kingdom: "If Saudi Arabia descends into a state of chaos, there will be global chaos" (Reuters)
MEE: Recently there were reports of gunfire outside the palace. The official version was that they were shooting at a drone. Mujtahid said that the palace was attacked by heavy guns mounted on two SUVs. Six security staff and two assailants died. Do you have information about this attack?
KbF: I don’t have specific information as to who was behind this but I just think about it rationally. This drone can be purchased here for a 100 euros or cheaper if it’s Chinese. These types of drones - for you to use heavy guns and fire for a whole hour - these drones could fly from Riyadh to another city in that period of time. So you cannot accept logically that it’s a matter of a drone. I personally believe that this was, not necessarily an attempt to bring down Mohammed bin Salman but rather an act of protest against him.
MEE: How stable is Saudi Arabia internally?
KbF: I would like to say to Europeans that the situation in Saudi Arabia resembles a volcano that is about to erupt. And if this volcano erupts, it will not only affect the situation inside Saudi Arabia or in the Arab region, but it will also have an effect on you too.
This is because Saudi Arabia is diverse in terms of its make-up, whether it's tribal, societal or even generational.
There is a generation that’s been brought up with Wahhabism and a generation that was educated outside [of Saudi Arabia] and returned. There is no social cohesion in Saudi society.
If Saudi Arabia descends into a state of chaos, there will be global chaos, and Saudi will be a source of terrorism for the entire world
So should a coup take place, or a coup is orchestrated from circles outside of the ruling family, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could easily become a centre for international terrorism. How? Riyadh, the central region, the western region and all other regions - there isn’t complete cohesion between them.
There will be divisions amongst tribes and generations even within a single region in Saudi Arabia. There will be internal chaos in Saudi Arabia. We should not forget that there are terrorist sleeper cells within Saudi Arabia, and that Wahhabi ideology is a radical ideology, and, based on what I’ve read, of the Islamists that Europeans and Americans are frightened most of, it's Wahhabism or the sleeper cells in Saudi Arabia.
So, if Saudi Arabia descends into a state of chaos, there will be global chaos, and it [Saudi Arabia] will be a source of terrorism for the entire world as it will support and sustain international terrorism. Therefore, it is wiser to be cautious than to seek treatment.
Politics in Saudi Arabia is moving towards the collapse of the state itself, and if the state collapses - not to mention what will happen to the global economy - but from a security perspective, I think that Europe and America will have to foot the bill for what happens in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi leadership: 'King Salman is the symbol of racism'
On King Salman: "Salman favoured the royal family over the rest of the Saudi public" (Reuters)
MEE: Do you know MBS and the king personally? How would you describe their personalities?
KbF: Salman was the one whom I dealt with the most. Salman was the emir of Riyadh and we were in a unique situation; initially we lived outside of Saudi Arabia and then we returned on the instructions of the late King Fahd. Our situation changed directly as a result of Prince Salman. At that time, Prince Salman was in charge of the royal family and he had a family affairs administration in Riyadh which managed the affairs of every emir in the royal family.
But as for his son Mohammed, I’ve never dealt with him or seen him before but I’ve heard from people within the family. At school he had psychological problems and I’d rather not go into too much detail, but mental health can affect someone entirely, and I can see clearly that after he came into power and the way he deals in politics is reflective of his psychological problems.
MEE: Was he violent?
KbF: I wouldn’t say he was violent, but when he was younger, in the royal family, he didn’t have status, he was an ordinary member of the family. His brothers had higher positions, and they had a voice within the Saudi ruling elite. Of course, his cousins were older, more experienced, better positioned, more educated and everything else.
So I think he developed psychological problems, because one of his cousins whom he arrested, when he would meet him, he [Mohammed bin Salman] would have to ask for an appointment, and maybe the prince would meet him, or maybe not. So this created within him a psychological problem that represents a vengeance against his cousins.
MEE: Salman required your parents to divorce because your mother was Egyptian and your sister to divorce because she was married to a Kuwaiti. Is he a racist?
KbF: King Salman is the symbol of racism. We all think highly of his father King Abdulaziz but King Salman looked up to his father like a prophet. This is what made Salman incredibly racist, even within the family itself amongst his brothers.
The Saudi government in general has divided society in Saudi Arabia, this social division is part of their plan
We can see that with the Sudayris, who are the children of Hussa Sudayri and they enjoy a special status. For example, when King Fahd bin Abdulaziz became ill and we all know he suffered a brain clot which prevented him for ruling at the time, Prince Abdullah became acting king and this displeased King Salman because Abdullah at the time was not one of the Sudayris.
It even reached to a point when, as acting king, Abdullah removed some of the privileges allocated to the royal family like free travel, Salman ignited a rebellion within the family against Abdullah, and with the help of Prince Nayef he tried to remove Abdullah from his post.
But Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz prevented this plan from happening. He told them that the national security of Saudi Arabia was more important that the safety of the family. At the time there were issues in Iraq and that was more of a priority than internal personal issues. Especially as King Abdullah’s measures were much more popular generally in Saudi Arabia.
King Salman, and I do not exaggerate, is extremely racist to levels I have not seen before. Of course, as we all know King Salman is head of the whole family and he discriminated between tribes and within each tribe he favoured some personally over others.
He even discriminated between "qabili" and "khadiri" - "khadiri" is someone who is not a member of a tribe in Saudi Arabia. The status of "qabili" members is higher and better than the status of "khadiri" members. And there are differences between the tribes, in terms of size etc. So there is discrimination even between the tribes. And within a tribe itself there is discrimination between the figure heads and the members.
[Salman] favoured the royal family over the rest of the Saudi public. And within the family itself there was discrimination. He [Salman] favoured the Sudayri branch over the rest of the family. Even within the family, Salman discriminated against King Saud’s children and excluded them from any power or financial privileges.
The Saudi government, in general, has divided society in Saudi Arabia. This social division is part of their plan. I believe that the mastermind behind this plan is Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Reform: 'Today, we’ve lost our dignity'
On Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump: "I felt like I was watching a car crash" (AFP)
MEE: Political leaders in Britain and the US think of Mohammed bin Salman as a reformer. Are they right about him?
KbF: He’s done two things that I can commend. And the main thing he did, he didn’t do it for the Saudi population, he did it to gain popularity with the Americans and European countries.
The first thing, allowing women to drive cars. This isn’t generosity, it is a woman’s right to drive, it’s her basic right.
Second, he restricted the influence of the Saudi religious authority. This religious authority is a government organisation. It is supportive of it even in matters that violate Islamic law, if we’re talking about Islamic law. You can see from the events that have happened. I’m talking about the mufti and the High Council of Scholars, which I call the High Council of Hypocrites.
The restriction of the influence of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice inside Saudi Arabia. This committee is a smart tool of repression from the government, in the name of religion, not in the name of the Royal Family.
We use to think that we had financial assets and educated individuals, but unfortunately the situation right now is taking us back years
They destroy the image of Islam. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, is a committee is supposed to be spreading the message of Islam in a pleasant way but they do it in a contradictory manner. For example, let’s remember the fire in a school in the city of Mecca. A girl’s school caught fire. The families of the students were outside and wanted to get to rescue their daughters and the fire brigade was waiting. The committee prevented anyone from entering the building under the pretext that the girls may not be properly dressed. They made Islam look ignorant.
MEE: What would real political reform look like?
KbF: We’re tired of this political instability. When King Salman came, he changed the structure of the state, the leaders who were with him, he changed course of the state - both domestic and foreign policies. So, King Salman comes and he changes this, if Mohammed left and another king came instead, he would also change things. The make-up of the state will constantly change with the personality of the king.
Where is the strategic plan for the state? We need to have a clear goal that we’re working towards. And it’s the role of the king to come up with a tactical plan to help us enact these strategies. But, with the way we’re going, our country will be late reaching them. We’re already late. We used to think that we had financial assets and educated individuals, but unfortunately the situation right now is taking us back years.
We noticed that since King Salman took control of the government over the Kingdom, that political arrests and detentions increased by 100 per cent. I am not saying that Saudi Arabia at the start was a liberal and open country, no. It was a dictatorship, yes, but that dictatorship was shared. The shared dictatorship allowed citizens to go to different figureheads with their problems.
Today, it's a dictatorship concentrated in the only one person. So in regards to our openness, we are heading towards worse and not to openness. But he is promoting himself to the European countries to gain support. And we’ve all seen the amount of financial support given to the United States from Saudi funds, and given in a humiliating way.
'The leader of the oldest country in the world, and they put a board and describing items as if they’re in a supermarket'
For example, the last visit for Mohammed bin Salman to the United States, President Trump put a board on his chest. I’m criticising even the president himself, Trump. He’s got a board on Mohammed bin Salman’s chest and by doing that he’s not only putting it on the chest of Mohammed bin Salman, but on the chest of every Arab, Saudi or Muslim. This is humiliating to us all. Unfortunately, he was representing the country. I felt like I was watching a car crash. The leader of the greatest country in the world, and they put a board and describing items as if they’re in a supermarket.
So, in the old days Saudi Arabia was a dictatorship, but they looked after their dignity. Today, we’ve lost our dignity. Dictatorship is here and it’s worse. The resources of the country are being squandered and all for one reason, to ensure Mohammed bin Salman becomes king. So the resources of the country can be squandered, political failure domestically and externally, a worsening dictatorship, such a form of subordination that can not be justified, loads of things and all for one reason, for one person. All this for one person out of 30 million.