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By Stephen Kalin
RIYADH (Reuters) – A senior Saudi prince who recently appeared to criticize the king and the crown prince has returned to Riyadh, what some sources close to the royal family say is a sign that it wants to form a united front in its worst political crisis in a generation.
Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a younger brother of King Salman and uncle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, arrived Tuesday after 2-1 / 2 months abroad, said three sources, when the nation is about the fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A senior Arab diplomat said that Prince Ahmed had sought security for security passage from the king before traveling, and a Saudi Arabian royal band said it seemed as if they had been given.
“I think there must have been some pre-understanding. There have been messages that go back and forth, and when things were sorted out, he decided to return,” said the Saudi source.
Saudi Arabian authorities did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Prince Ahmed’s return and the reasons for it.
Since September, Saudi viewers have wondered when or if Prince Ahmed would return home after playing online, where he seemed to bend criticism of the royal family by appointing the king and the crown prince.
He was one of only three people at the Allegiance Council, which consisted of the ruling family’s leading members, who opposed that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef constituted crown prince in favor of Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 201
7, said two Saudi sources to Reuters at that time.
The king’s clear acknowledgment of Prince Ahmed’s return is another sign that the 82-year-old monarch takes a more hands-on role in Saudi politics since Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October.
The king has delegated great powers to his son, Prince Mohamm ed, known in the west as MbS. The Crown Prince has begun difficult social and economic reforms, but has marginalized some older royals and overseen a breakdown of resistance.
The sources said it was unchangeable that Prince Ahmed, a son of the founder of the kingdom, could be arrested or abused.
“They measure their differences in the eye of the storm,” said a Saudi Arabian businessman close to royal circles.
Saudi Arabia is facing intense pressure to clarify how Khashoggi was killed, with some Western allies including US President Donald Trump, who proposes the ultimate responsibility of MbS as the real ruler of the nation.
Riyad first denied knowledge of or role in Khashoggi disappearance, but later opposed the declarations and said his death was prevented.
Prince Ahmed was greeted by MbS on his arrival in Riyadh, one of the sources said, but none of the usual photographs or statements was published.
“MbS pray at the airport to greet him when he returns, maybe Ahmed, hoping, a sign that the young crown prince wants to signal that the traditional sense of older family parents resumes,” says independent analyst Neil Partrick.
Since his father joined the throne in 2015, 33-year-old Prince Mohammed sent shock waves through a dynasty that praises seniority and balance by concentrating power in a branch to a degree that has never been the subject of his grandfather.
He had a senior royals were arrested last year as part of an anti-corruption campaign that drew countless countless rules of royal privileges. The critics said the cleansing was a power game.
So grave is the case of the killing of Khashoggi, a US resident and MbS critics, whom King Salman felt forced to intervene, five sources of links to the royal family told Reute rs this month.
But analysts say it is unlikely that Prince Ahmed, 76, would replace MbS.
“It is very difficult to imagine that Prince Ahmed provides an alternative to the current succession strategy,” said Neil Quilliam, senior researcher at Chatham House.
“It is much more likely that the family closes wires and offers leading princes like Ahmed a way back and at the same time a way of informing politics.”  Prince Ahmed’s return may work well in the western world, who wants to see responsibility for the Khashoggi assassination, but also stability for continued investment worth billions of dollars.
“Ahmed’s return looks like a potentially useful message to send the United States and other Saudi allies to what is still a sharp and sensitive time,” said Partrick, leading contributor to foreign policy in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Ahmed was Deputy Minister of the Interior for almost 40 years, but served as minister less than five months before being replaced in 2012. He has not had an official service ever since and is not meant to lead much loyalty to internal security services.
Newer attention to his relationship with the king and crown prince comes from a video that appeared on social media showing Prince Ahmed responded to protesters outside a London residential house singing for Al Sauddynastin’s fall.
Man condemned Riyadh’s war in Yemen and its support for Bahrain’s insurgency against the Shiite opposition.
“Why Al Al Saud? There are specific individuals who can be responsible,” he can be heard to say, in comments interpreted by opponents of MbS as criticism of the king and crown prince.
The state news agency SPA then issued a statement quoting Prince Ahmed who says: “I made it clear that the king and the crown prince are responsible for the state and its decisions, and this applies to the security and stability of the country and its people. mentioned can not be read in any other way. “
Another Saudian source at that time played down the importance of the video and said that Prince Ahmed did not constitute a real threat to MbS.
“It was a moment of unaware honesty, but the family will not have a fight in general, it’s just not their way.”
(Editing Ghaida Ghantous and Mike Collett-White)