Mohammed bin Salman has been named prime minister of Saudi Arabia in what experts say could protect the crown prince from a potentially damaging case in the United States over his alleged role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced on Tuesday that he would make an exception to Saudi law and name his son as prime minister, formally relinquishing the dual titles of king and prime minister that he had previously held personally.
The development is unlikely to change the balance of power in Saudi Arabia, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the kingdom’s de facto ruler and heir to the throne.
But the timing of the decision was seen by critics of the Saudi government as related to an upcoming court-ordered deadline next week. There was the Biden administration A US judge asked to weigh in A lawsuit filed by Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hades Genghis, should protect Prince Mohammed from sovereign immunity. Such protection is usually granted to a world leader such as a prime minister or king.
In July, the administration sought a delay in filing its response with the court, which was originally sought by August 1. District Court Judge John Bates agreed to extend the deadline to Oct. 3. Among other issues, he called on the administration to state whether it believed Prince Mohammed should be granted immunity under the rules protecting the nation’s head of state.
“It looks like it [Prince Mohammed] The Biden administration’s response has been directed to take this action by Oct. 3,” said Abdullah Alaoud, director of Danil Gulf, a Washington-based pro-democracy group that is party to the Khashoggi case. “In practice, [becoming prime minister] There is no difference.”
The White House did not immediately comment. Prince Mohammed has denied any personal involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. A US intelligence assessment identified the future king He may have ordered the murder.
The decision to name Prince Mohammed as prime minister will address lingering concerns in Saudi Arabia that the crown prince could be arrested or face legal challenges when he travels abroad.
A civil complaint against Prince Mohammed filed by Genghis in federal district court in Washington DC in October 2020 alleges that he and other Saudi officials acted in “conspiracy and premeditation” when Saudi agents abducted, bound, drugged and tortured him. And in 2018 Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
Khashoggi, who had fled the kingdom and was living in Virginia in the southeastern United States, was a fierce critic of the crown prince and actively sought to counter Saudi online propaganda at the time of his killing.
Genghis said in a statement to the Guardian: “The fight for justice must win – it will not stop because MBS gives himself another title.”
Critics of the Saudi regime, including diaspora activists in the US and Europe, have warned that the crown prince’s crackdown on dissent has intensified in recent months.
The Guardian has learned that the UK government has tried to intervene in at least one high-profile case. It involved Leeds University PhD student Salma Al-Shehab, who was arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to 34 years in prison. After she returned home from England for a holiday. His crime, under Saudi law, involved using Twitter to follow and sometimes like or retweet the tweets of dissidents and activists.
Officials at the British embassy in Riyadh have raised concerns about Shehab’s case with Saudi authorities, a source told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. Conservative peer Tariq Ahmad also raised the case in a meeting with the Saudi ambassador to the UK on August 25.
The UK government will face increased pressure to act this week, with a letter from 400 academics, including staff and research students, from UK universities and colleges seeking urgent action on Shehab’s case expected to be published.
The letter calls on Prime Minister Liz Truss and Foreign Secretary James Wise to “publicly condemn Salma al-Shehab’s sentence and make representations to their Saudi counterparts for her immediate release.” It was sponsored by Alqst, a pro-democracy group that advocates for human rights in Saudi Arabia. The group said: “Instead of languishing behind bars for tweeting her fair opinions, Salma should be looking forward to the new school year, just like us.”
The letter states that Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, who works as a dental hygienist and received a scholarship to study in England, was arrested on January 15, 2021, while on holiday in Saudi Arabia. Court records show she was held in solitary confinement, questioned and held for 285 days before trial. He denies the allegations against him.
Truss has so far not indicated that he will take an important position for his new partner. The British prime minister had a phone call with Prince Mohammed this week, in which his office said he thanked him for helping free five British prisoners held by Russian-backed forces. He offered the UK’s continued support and encouragement for progress in Saudi Arabia’s domestic reforms.
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