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the great fear of Saudis in exile

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Published 03 October 2019 at 00h27 – Updated 03 October 2019 at 20h01

In the Arab world, in circles hostile to Saudi power, Mohammed Ben Salman has inherited a new nickname. No more acronym "MBS", too flat, too neutral. To designate the crown prince of the kingdom, this 34-year-old colossus with a thick black beard whose shadow hangs over the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, and on the famine in Yemen, they now say: "Al-dab al-dasher". An expression of the street, full of irreverence, which literally means "The bear released in freedom".

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Saudi Arabia: One year later, Khashoggi's murder still haunts Crown Prince Ben Salman

The formula is Ghanem Al-Dossari, a 39-year-old Saudi opponent, exiled in London, producer and presenter on YouTube of a politico-satirical show, immodestly called Ghanem Show. His sketches brocade the Saudi crown, described as "Salmanco" a suitcase word consisting of Salman, the name of the current ruler, father of MBS, and Aramco, the national oil company, the country's cash cow.

In these videos, the Saudi number two, who is also at the origin of several social reforms, such as the authorization given to women to drive, is presented as a bald and brutal leader, multiplying gaffes. A "Dab al-dasher", therefore.

Ghanem Al-Dossari does not bother with subtleties, but his humor, jokey and over-excited, is often a hit. His broadcasts accumulate tens of millions of views on the Internet, making him the most listened dissident. And one of the most hated too. On August 31, 2018, at the exit of Harrods department store in London, the Saudi Zebulon was molested by three of his compatriots. Agents on mission commissioned, as he assured the British media? Or simple subjects of His Majesty Salman, eager to defend the honor of the reigning family? The London police, seized of the investigation, has not yet elements to decide.

The episode is nonetheless revealing. It bears witness to the increasing weight taken by the Saudi opposition abroad, a growing community, and, at the same time, the very real risks that its members incur, in the era of the very authoritarian Mohammed Ben Salman. A double phenomenon to which the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a year ago, in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul, Turkey, gave a global echo.

Acceleration of departures

The 59-year-old journalist, in exile in the United States, known for his vitriolic lyrics on MBS in the pages of the Washington Post, had come to fill in administrative formalities for a remarriage with a young Turkish woman. He was eliminated by a commando of barbouzes, dispatched from Riyadh. They gave him a lethal injection before dismembering his body. In addition to petrifying a large part of the Saudi population, this wild equipment had triggered an international scandal.

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