BEIRUT – Saudi Arabia released photographs of King Salman greeting ambassadors on Sunday, demonstrating that he is alive and well after a crackdown by his son against rival princes sparked widespread speculation that the king was dead or dying.
The photographs carried by the official Saudi Press Agency showed the country monarch shaking the hands of the newly appointed ambassadors of Ukraine and Uruguay as they presented their credentials.
The detention of four senior princes in recent days, including two seen as potential claimants to the throne , triggered widespread rumors on social media that Salman’s designated heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had embarked on a purge of potential challengers because his father was either dead or dying.
But the arrests were also consistent with Mohammed’s authoritarian style since he became the de facto ruler in , taking over most of the day-to-day running of the country from his – year-old father and embarking on a sweeping purge of rivals, critics and activists.
Saudi royal guards detained the king’s younger brother, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, and one of his nephews, Mohammed bin Nayef, on Friday morning after they received an early morning summons to the royal palace, According to a person with ties to the royal family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. The two men could possibly stake a more senior claim to the throne than the crown prince.
Two other princes, Mohammed bin Nayef’s brother Nawaf and Ahmed’s son Nayef, were also subsequently detained, the person said.
The princes are being well-treated and are being held in royal villas, the person said. They have been allowed to call their families. On Saturday evening, Ahmed requested that relatives send him his bisht, a robe worn for official engagements, prompting the source to speculate that he may soon make a public appearance.
Another person close to the royal court said the arrests did not signal any disruption. “It was due to an accumulation of behaviors, and the leadership lost patience with them,” he said. “There’s no transition or any drama.” The person, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not specify what the behaviors were.
Among those caught up in the Saudi crackdown of recent years was Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and critic of Mohammed’s tactics who was brutally murdered and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in . U.S. officials and a U.N. Inquiry have said Saudi state agents carried out the killing.
Salman has ceded most of the country’s governance to his son, but he continues to carry out ceremonial duties and greet foreign dignitaries. He had been photographed meeting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab a day before the arrests, and a Saudi with royal connections said the king had lunched with a friend hours after the princes were detained, suggesting there had been no deterioration in his health.
He looked well in the photographs released Sunday.
Nakashima and Fahim reported from Washington.