Saudi prince downplays remarks on 'devastating' Yemen war
Saudi King Salman's brother has played down controversial remarks he made to anti-Saudi protesters in London that sparked furious speculation about possible discord within the royal family.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who apparently told a crowd in London to stop chanting slogans against the Saudi royal family over the kingdom's involvement in the three-year conflict in Yemen, dismissed interpretations of his own statements as “inaccurate.
"What does the family have to do with it? Certain individuals are responsible... the king and the crown prince," he said, according to a widely-circulated online video of the incident in London.
"I hope the war in Yemen ends after tomorrow," he added.
The remarks were seen by many on social media as rare criticism from a royal family member of the kingdom's leadership as well as its role in the Yemen conflict, dubbed by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
In another part of the video, the senior royal agrees with the protesters' condemnation of an August airstrike in Yemen that killed dozens of civilians including 40 children.
He also expresses sympathy for detained Shia activists in Bahrain - a close Saudi ally - saying: "If we could [do something] we would, God willing”.
But in a statement, the prince clarified that he “made it clear that the king and the crown prince are responsible for the state and its decisions.”
"This is true for the security and stability of the country and the people. Therefore, it is not possible to interpret what I said in any other way,” the prince said in the statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency late Tuesday.
In a bid to suggest unity within the royal family, multiple pro-Saudi social media accounts posted images of Prince Ahmed kissing the hand of King Salman.
The internal affairs of the royal family are shrouded in secrecy and a public airing of disagreements is extremely rare.
But Saudi expert James Dorsey said the London incident suggests "a long suspected greater degree of domestic questioning of Saudi Arabia's 3.5-year-old ill-fated war in Yemen than has been publicly evident until now".
Prince Ahmed is the younger brother of King Salman and a member of the so-called Sudairi Seven - a powerful bloc of sons of the kingdom's founder.
He served as the kingdom's deputy interior minister for 37 years, before briefly assuming the role of interior minister in 2012.
In 2015, a dissident prince called for the overthrow of King Salman and for the ageing ruler to be replaced with Prince Ahmed.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
The devastating conflict has since left more than 13,000 people dead and sparked what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The architect of the Yemen war, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS], has come under increasing scrutiny over his combative foreign policies.
The heir to the throne and de-facto ruler has led a year-long blockade of Qatar, cracked down on critics and potential rivals and has been accused of forcing the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign while in Riyadh.
The remarks come as the powerful crown prince tightens his grip on power by cracking down on dissent with the imprisonment of prominent clerics, women and human rights activists.