Fathy Ghanem's great character in the novel The Man Who Lost His Shadow, journalist Youssef Abdel Hamid Al-Suweifi, does not appear to have much in common with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. There is no similarity between the way that Al-Suweifi climbed to the top after much effort and training on his part, and the dramatic way that the 30-something prince suddenly found himself at the top. The latter suggests that there was a swift political coup, unprecedented in Saudi Arabia since the British placed the country in the hands of the ruling family a century ago and guaranteed its protection. He is now the de facto top man of a vast country floating on a sea of oil.
I don't intend to reproduce a uniform image of the two men, nor to compare them, as there is nothing to base this on. However, by looking at the details, we know that the fictional Al-Suweifi was aiming to overcome his poor background to reach a high position without taking anyone or anything else into consideration; he was determined to get to the top whatever the cost. Bin Salman, however, seems to be holding on to his family's past, trying to keep it for himself to the extent of excluding other princes in order to be the undisputed leader. The similarity, it seems, is the sudden loss of their shadow, their conscience, which had been very promising in the beginning.
The prince's loss of any conscience was preceded by events that suggested that this was going to happen. Many commentators wrote that Bin Salman's desire to be king would be very strong, prompting him to do what the wise men of this time would not think of doing precisely because they have a conscience about the potential impact on others. They knew that the Crown Prince had two options: establish oppression and coercion force, and hot-headed schemes, or work to develop social, economic and even political change for the betterment of his country, bringing it out of the darkness of history into the light.
The commentariat wished that he would take the initiative and protect citizens who dared to speak out or criticise the Saudi government, or simply express a different opinion. Bin Salman did not listen, read or consider matters carefully, though. He was possessed by the spirit of adventure and risk and did not pause for a moment to consider that he would be governing and managing a country that at one time represented a centre of power and decision-making in a region full of challenges and difficulties.
Bin Salman wanted Saudi Arabia to be victorious over Yemen, its southern neighbour that is linked by more than brotherhood and a shared border. It is a war between brothers whose differences should be resolved amicably. However, his military adventurism has led to the destruction of homes, health centres and education facilities, and the death of 10,000 people and counting, mostly civilians. One Yemeni child dies every hour as a result of starvation, disease or both.
The Crown Prince also wanted Saudi Arabia to occupy and annex Qatar, bringing it under the direct control of Riyadh. When that plan failed, he besieged Saudi's small eastern neighbour, and has not stopped trying to harm it. The wise people realised that this step basically sounded the death knell for the Gulf Cooperation Council, which no longer has the ability to influence and act effectively.
Furthermore, he has extended his country's hand to Israel, to promote the so-called "deal of the century" and force the Palestinian leaders to accept it. In his mind, a move like this would ensure US protection of him forever and provide him with an ally that would support and encourage him.
Bin Salman wants his family to bow down and pledge allegiance to him. He even warned writers, journalists and activists, including women and clerics, against criticising him or expressing an opposing view. He has arrested many of them in systematic campaigns under one pretext or another. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi provided a real-time warning of what could happen to them if they cross the red lines that he dictates.
This bloody incident has brought the process to an end; the prince has lost his shadow, and everyone around him, even those who supported him, has disappeared. Without a conscience, he probably doesn't case that some countries are now demanding that he be replaced by someone else if they are to maintain their links with Saudi Arabia. There is no need to prove or justify these unprecedented demands, as the sins committed by Mohammad Bin Salman slap anyone in the face if they try to justify or acquit him. The time has come for him to realise that the world that he has created for himself is falling apart. Such is the logic of history that cannot be overcome. He is the prince who has lost his shadow.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 19 December 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.