An unlikely royal joined a Saudi delegation to the UAE this week, and readers of the kingdom’s political landscape are viewing the move as a message of family unity from its de facto ruler after fractious years spent building his power base.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed is the eldest son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the detained brother of the Saudi monarch, and has no official post. Yet his name topped the Saudi state media’s list of delegates accompanying Crown Prince and heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman to pay respects to the new United Arab Emirates ruler.

Known as MbS, Prince Mohammed had held off heading to the UAE until his father King Salman, 86, left hospital after a week-long stay that refocused Saudi watchers’ and analysts’ attention on issues of succession.

“Having the son of Prince Ahmed sitting next to him in Abu Dhabi is a strong message to local and international public opinions, especially with the succession looming,” said one Saudi source familiar with the royal family’s workings, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

More broadly, the delegation represented a careful balancing by MbS of figures from different branches of the family, said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.

“(This) perhaps was designed to demonstrate a show of unity within the Al Saud family that has been under strain from issues such as the detention of Prince Ahmed and Mohammed bin Nayef,” he said.

The Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment on the delegation or signals its composition might have sent.

In a rapid ascent to power, Prince Mohammed has cracked down on perceived rivals and critics since replacing Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), the king’s nephew, as crown prince in a palace coup in 2017.

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