President Donald Trump’s tirades about Hillary Clinton’s emails have morphed into a Twitter campaign by supporters of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman falsely claiming that the Obama administration was plotting against him.
“#HillaryEmails” was the top trending Twitter hashtag in Saudi Arabia on Monday, with more than 170,000 tweets, according to a Saudi living outside the kingdom who closely follows social media there.
The Twitter storm began this past Saturday with a few thousand tweets, some citing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement last week that he planned to release more of Clinton’s emails, at Trump’s urging. Those initial tweets were amplified with videos and graphics, in what appeared to be an organized effort by supporters of MBS, as the crown prince is known.
The core narrative, as explained by the Saudi media analyst, is that the Obama administration, including former secretary of state Clinton and former CIA director John Brennan, plotted to elevate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, known as MBN, to become king; the campaigners allege this effort was aided by MBN’s top intelligence adviser, Saad Aljabri.
In this telling, MBS discovered the plot and rescued Saudi Arabia from domination by America and the Muslim Brotherhood.
MBN, deposed as crown prince in 2017, is now imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, and Aljabri lives in Canada. Neither could be reached for comment, but their associates have denied in the past that they did anything improper with the United States or within the kingdom.
One slick information graphic trumpets, below a picture of MBN, Clinton and Aljabri: “The leaked HRC emails proved the foreign support for targeting of Saudi Arabia through many projects,” according to a translation provided by the Saudi analyst. “The latest project was the pursuit of crowning MBN as king which was orchestrated by the fugitive Saad Aljabri. But this plot was thwarted and that led to the media attacks on MBS.”
The campaign appears to have two goals. MBS’s supporters seem to be preparing for a possible trial of the deposed crown prince on treason and corruption charges. They may also be mobilizing public support for a confrontation with a new Democratic administration, if former vice president Joe Biden is elected in November. “Any pressure [from Biden] on MBS will be spun as a resurrection of the alleged plot,” the Saudi analyst predicted.
Tweets, translated from Arabic by a Twitter program, describe the alleged conspiracy in hyperbolic language. One pro-MBS tweeter attacked “the delusional John Brennan and the deposed Mohammed bin Nayef.” The tweeter also claimed, in Trumpian language, that reporting showed “the story of the failure of attempts to establish a deep state inside Saudi Arabia.”
Another Saudi MBS supporter tweeted similar charges: “They believed they could now control Saudi Arabia ... and suddenly, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, was appointed and they were removed!” Pro-MBS tweeters celebrated the crown prince as the country’s savior. “Saudi Arabia is free. A colonizer did not enter it. We lived free and we die free,” argued a third Saudi tweeter.
A recurring theme in the Twitter barrage is that MBS is a victim of Western attacks. “Their policy failed to penetrate the kingdom and make it a subservient subordinate in the hands of those they were relying on to be king, namely Mohammed bin Nayef,” tweeted a fourth MBS supporter.
The background to this campaign appears to be a mix of well-reported facts, which don’t support the charges, and conspiratorial conjecture.
Brennan, for example, has publicly praised Mohammed bin Nayef’s counterterrorism partnership with the United States when he was minister of the interior, and confirmed having worked with MBN’s top aide, Aljabri. Clinton, as secretary of state, led a wary U.S.effort to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat el-Shater, after he was nominated to be president of Egypt following Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011.
A Clinton email that has been cited repeatedly in the campaign is a Sept. 17, 2012, message to her from Jake Sullivan, then her closest adviser, noting that the Muslim Brotherhood was planning a $100 million media campaign based in Qatar. In a two-sentence message, Sullivan wrote that, with such developments, he was “totally invested” in creating a “21st century” U.S. communications strategy.
This was spun by Saudi commentators as a claim that Clinton “gave the green light to the Brotherhood and their project,” according to an account published by Sky News Arabia.
Perhaps MBS’s Saudi supporters imagine their clamor about Clinton’s emails will help Trump before the Nov. 3 election. Whatever the motive, the campaign is a reminder that Trump’s claims, no matter how wild, are heard and amplified abroad in ways that could damage U.S. interests.