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Saudi Prince Named Prime Minister Ahead of Khashoggi Lawsuit


Saudi Prince Named Prime Minister Ahead of Khashoggi Lawsuit

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia's crown prince and de facto ruler, was appointed prime minister in a cabinet shuffle ordered by King Salman, ahead of a civil lawsuit filed against him in the US over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that King Salman was making an exception to Saudi law and naming his son as prime minister, formally ceding the dual title of king and prime minister he had personally held until now, according to the Guardian.

The development is not likely to change the balance of power in Saudi Arabia, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the de facto ruler of the kingdom and heir to the throne.

But the timing of the decision was seen by critics of the Saudi government as almost certainly linked to a looming court-ordered deadline next week. The Biden administration had been asked by a US judge to weigh in on whether Prince Mohammed ought to be protected by sovereign immunity in a case brought by the fiancee of Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz. Such protection is usually granted to a world leader, such as a prime minister or a king.

The royal decree did not state the reason behind the appointment. However, experts believe the decision is almost certainly linked to a looming court-ordered deadline next week in the US in connection to the Saudi crown prince's role in the murder of Khashoggi in order to shield him from the potentially damaging lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a human rights organization Khashoggi founded before his death, in the federal district court of Washington DC.

It says that Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, was tortured, murdered, and dismembered on the orders of bin Salman. The CIA has previously confirmed that the Saudi crown prince was in fact personally behind the murder.

The crown prince and two of the co-defendants have filed motions to dismiss Cengiz's lawsuit, contending that the court lacks jurisdiction in the case.

Bin Salman's lawyers have argued that he enjoys sovereign immunity in civil claims in the United States.

Back in July, US District Judge John Bates gave the administration of President Joe Biden until August 1 to declare whether bin Salman should be immune from the civil case or give the court notice that it has no view on the matter.

Cengiz also told the British daily newspaper The Guardian that, "The fight for justice must succeed – it will not be stopped because MBS bestows another title on himself."

Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince.

The CIA concluded in 2018 that MBS had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, contradicting Saudi Arabia's insistence that the crown prince had had no prior knowledge of the plot.

Saudi officials later blamed "rogue agents" for the journalist's death.

MBS previously served as deputy prime minister as well as defense minister. He is being replaced as defense minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was deputy defense minister.

The new appointment is not likely to change the balance of power in Saudi Arabia, where the 37-year-old prince is already seen as the heir to the throne.

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