Things were going so well for Saudi Arabia (until the murder of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi — more about this later), under the effective rule of its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that it was like the Prince had a magic touch. Earlier, a palace coup promoted him from deputy crown prince to be the successor to his ailing father, King Salman. He had very effectively, some say brutally, consolidated his power by arresting in a posh hotel a good number of princes, businessmen and others who were accused of massive corruption and made them surrender chunks of their wealth to the state; in the process, understand quite clearly that there was a new royal order and that MBS (as the Crown Prince is known for short) was now calling the shots. They did what was required of them, and a good number of them were released. Indeed, there was not even a whisper of protest and the new order was set on its course. And MBS seemed popular for promulgating a new era of social and economic reform, like allowing women to drive, opening up a bit of entertainment outlets, and planning to diversify the country’s economy to create real jobs for young men. At 33, MBS is young. In a country where two thirds of the population is reportedly under thirty, he came to be seen as a Saudi version of a new age guy, which does not say much. By and large, the Saudis are not looking for an open political system, and the very small minority that might be regarded as activists are rounded up and dealt with ‘appropriately’ depending on how severe the regime regards their criminality. There is a clear message here that the new order, represented by MBS, will not brook any political demand for change, but social and economic change is happening because the Crown Prince deems it in the interest of the country. And this message was not only strongly emphasised internally but also externally for those pushing the human rights dimension in the kingdom. For instance, when the Canadian foreign minister tweeted a call for the release of some civil society activists, particularly Samar Badawi, the sister of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi, the Saudi reaction was brutal. Riyadh ordered the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador, froze bilateral trade and ordered all Saudi students to leave Canada immediately. Canada’s intervention rather had the opposite effect on the fate of some of the human right campaigners. As if to prove that the Kingdom is impervious to any interference in its affairs, prosecutors, two weeks later, called for death penalty for five imprisoned human rights campaigners, including a woman, a Shia activist from the east of the country. Within the country, there is unease among the clerics over the slight thaw MBS is introducing into the country, which they see as against Islamic traditions. But they don’t see any way they can confront MBS and his new order, not at the present when he has control of all the country’s instruments of power, such as police, intelligence agencies, courts, military and what you have. However, the murder of the Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey, seems to have jolted the King and the Crown Prince. Which is clear from the fact that Riyadh’s response to slow and steady leaks of information from Turkey has been incoherent and confusing. Even now Turkey is keeping the Kingdom on slow drip, with Riyadh not knowing what might be the next instalment. The murder of the Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in Turkey, seems to have jolted the King and the Crown Prince. Which is clear from the fact that Riyadh’s response to slow and steady leaks of information from Turkey has been incoherent and confusing The CIA director is said to have heard the audio of the interrogation of the Saudi journalist, presumably his slow execution. The accumulative evidence of Khashoggi’s murder seems beyond doubt. What the Saudis are now trying to point out that it was all unauthorised and the perpetrators will face justice, having all been put behind bars for interrogation. Indeed, the Crown Prince has called it ‘a heinous crime’. And Saudis put together a photo opportunity with the King and the Crown Prince offering their condolences to Khashoggi’s son. And under the virtual direction from the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Khashoggi’s son and the family, have already arrived in the US. Which brings us to the US. The US is just unable to comprehend—perhaps not so much the murder aspect of it, but the Saudi clumsiness of it all. Which is clearly spelled out when Trump called the murder the worst cover up of the kind, from the multiple versions from the Saudi side of a brawl gone wrong in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; to acknowledging that the murder did happen, but without the involvement of the King and the Crown Prince, and that those involved will be punished. Trump promised punishment too though not specifying what that might be. The US visas of the 18 Saudis said to be involved in the plot have been cancelled. At the same time, Trump has been coming back to the central importance of the strategic and economic relationship between the two countries, emphasising the exports of US weapons to Saudi Arabia. And, of course, there is Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran as part of the larger US-Israel connection. The entire saga of the murder of the Saudi journalist is bound to dent the Crown Prince’s image as an all-purpose leader, controlling all aspects of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Trump, in a way, held MBS responsible for the chain of events because, as he pointed out, everything there happens with his knowledge and authority. At some point, this might create political murmur in the kingdom, where the multiple princes weren’t happy at the way MBS was imposed as the Crown Prince. Will the US encourage a palace coup? It is unlikely at present, but not to be ruled out depending on how MBS manages the show. In the meantime, the irony of the murder saga is that Turkey’s President Erdogan, whose regime has put more journalists behind bars than any other country, is projecting himself as the defender of human rights and what not. And he is keeping the Saudi monarch and the Crown Prince on slow drip becoming, to some degree, the arbiter of their political lives. The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia Published in Daily Times, October 31st 2018.