Saudi Arabia is now entering an uncertain phase. Its fate has now been left completely in the hands of a young man who is no more than 32-years-old, and who takes his decisions without consulting with experienced and knowledgeable advisors, writes Abdelbari Atwan
by Abdelbari Atwan – www.raialyoum.com
Prince Mohammad bin Nayef will enter Saudi Arabia’s history as the second crown-prince to be toppled. He has been stripped of all of his posts within two years, which means that his ‘opponent’ and deputy Prince Mohammad bin Salman has decided the struggle in his favor, and is now months if not days, away from acceding to the throne.
Three parties are decisive in accepting Prince bin Salman’s acceding to the throne by bypassing his cousin Prince Mohammad bin Nayef on the succession ladder: The first is the U.S. administration; the second is the ruling royal family establishment, and the third is the religious establishment as represented by the Council of Senior Scholars headed by the Al Sheikh family. The new crown-prince has guaranteed all three parties’ support.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Washington as soon as U.S. President Donald Trump became president prepared the ground for the royal decrees that were issued early Wednesday morning. The visit endorsed him as crown-prince, but the formal endorsement came during President Trump’s visit to Riyadh to attend the three [Saudi/Arab/Islamic] summits after the price for his succession had been settled at over half-a-trillion dollars in the form of arms deals and investments in the U.S.’s infrastructure.
The Saudi people naturally have no say in any changes in senior or junior state posts. At the same time, they are expected to obey those in charge and head to the royal palace to pledge their allegiance to the new crown-prince. The Council of Senior Scholarship and the royal family’s (male) members will do exactly the same.
Over the past two years, and especially since his father acceded to the throne, Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been rearranging the state’s institutions and their management so as to fit his size. With this in mind, he has issued a number of edicts signed by his father, placing young emirs who are loyal to him in senior state posts as the main governorates’ senior or deputy-emirs. He chose his brother, Khaled bin Salman, who is still in his twenties, as ambassador to Washington. He appointed Lieutenant-General Ahmad al-‘Assiri – who was promoted to Field Marshal– as Deputy Head of Saudi General Intelligence; and Prince ‘Abdelaziz bin Saud bin Nayef as Interior Minister. He also established a National Security Center that he linked to the Royal Diwan. All these steps were intended to consolidate all security, military and economic powers in his hands.
When Operation Decisive Storm’s warplanes took off to wage the aggression on Yemen, a senior member of the ruling family phoned me to emphasize his opposition to this move because his father, King ‘Abdelaziz, had warned against getting involved in this ‘mountainous’ land that defeated the Ottoman Empire, and become a graveyard for its soldiers.
I mention this to indicate that there is a degree of ‘disaffection’ in certain royal family circles regarding the leadership arrangements. The reports that three out of the Allegiance Council’s 34 have opposed the decision to depose bin Nayef and the appointment of bin Salman in his place may be offer one indication in this regard. But we are sure that the Allegiance Council –that was created by the late king ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdelaziz– did not play the role prescribed in the laws that established it. In fact, the very man who established it was the first to violate these laws; moreover, it has failed to hold any meetings for the last three years at least.
We do not know the identity of the three emirs who are said to have refused to pledge allegiance to Crown-Prince bin Salman. But we can speculate that the first was Prince Talal bin ‘Abdelaziz, the second Prince Ahmad bin ‘Abdelaziz, and the third may have been Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin ‘Abdelaziz.
Prince bin Nayef’s readiness to go to Prince bin Salman to pledge his allegiance was noteworthy. It was very similar to what previous deposed crown-prince Muqrin bin ‘Abdelaziz did. And we do not believe that he took this step willingly. His only alternative was to be stripped of all his powers, and he might have been put under house arrest had he not done so. He therefore preferred safety, although he is known to be an ‘iron-man’ in confronting terrorism.
Prince bin Salman’s conspicuous kissing of his cousin bin Nayef’s hand, and his attempt to kneel to kiss his feet before the TV cameras – a scene that was broadcast tens of times on TV – may reflect a sense of guilt, or a well-produced ‘courtesy’ paid to a prince whose has offered his country major services, especially in preserving its security, only to find himself sent home unemployed and stripped of his powers. In fact, the pledge of allegiance may be his last TV appearance.
Saudi Arabia is now entering an uncertain phase. Its fate has now been left completely in the hands of a young man who is no more than 32-years-old, and who takes his decisions without consulting with experienced and knowledgeable advisors. Had that not been the case, he would not have implicated his country in the Yemen war that has been going on for two years without any decisive victories; nor would he have escalated the disagreement with Qatar to the brink of military confrontation.
The amendments that King Salman bin ‘Abdelaziz has introduced to the country’s basic laws banning his son from appointing his own son as crown-prince, and requiring him to choose a prince from the royal family’s other branches (but only from ‘Abdulaziz’s grandsons) are of little real value. King Salman was the first to violate these laws by appointing his own son as crown-prince. Nor did he respect the decisions and edicts of his predecessor King ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdelaziz, when he toppled then crown-prince Muqrin during the first month after he became king. Prince bin Salman can also abrogate these amendments as soon as he accedes to the throne, following exactly the same path as his father.
It is hard to offer any accurate reading of these unsurprising Saudi decisions’ regional implications, but a Saudi/Emirati escalation in the crisis with Qatar can be expected. For one reason for deposing Prince bin Nayef has to do his close relations with Qatar. Moreover, we predict that Prince bin Salman’s threats to carry the battle deep into Iran will soon be put into effect by ‘revolutionizing’ the ethnic and sectarian minorities in coordination with the Trump administration. Moreover, Saudi Arabia will now throw all its military weight into the war in Yemen in the hope of achieving speedy victories on the heated fighting fronts such as Hodeida, Ta’iz, Su’da, Ma’rib and Sana’a, of course; and the list is long.
Abu-Dhabi’s Crown-Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, who is Prince bin Salman’s ‘spiritual father,’ will be happiest at his ally and friend’s appointment as Saudi crown-prince. Nor do we exclude the possibility that he may make a similar move and become UAE president, since [current ruler] Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed is not exercising his powers because of his illness, leaving that mission to Mohammad.
Our Gulf brothers used to accuse the other Arabs of rash behavior, recklessness, wars and coup d’états. They used to boast about their self-control, accurate calculations, the wisdom of their leaders’ decisions, and their ability to steer clear of disturbances and troubles. Now its seems that everyone is in the same boat.
As the Arab proverb says, ‘all cows are alike.