Everything changes, even regimes as rigid as that in Saudi Arabia which until recently has been a stronghold of medieval customs. Saudi King Salman has suddenly changed the official heir to the throne, along with making a number of important appointments in the government. King’s nephew Mohammed bin Nayef was named the Crown Prince, therefore in case of the current king’s unexpected death he would inherit the throne. Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud that headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more than 40 years has been replaced by Adel al-Jubeir who was previously serving as Saudi Arabia ambassador to the United States. Mohammad bin Salman the 29-year-old son of the king that was put in charge of the military operation against Yemen, has received the title of Deputy Crown Prince. Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi who is in his 70’s, retained the position of the Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, while the chair of the state-owned Aramco oil company is now vacant.
All of these changes suggest that something has gone terribly wrong in the medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Special attention must be paid to the personality of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. He was born in 1959, six years after the death of the founder of the Saudi kingdom. Thus, the sitting King Salman will be the last king to rule Saudi Arabia according to the will of Abdulaziz Ibn Saud that stated that only his sons could bear the title of Saudi king. The tradition that ensured stability in the kingdom for more than 60 years will soon die away, leaving Abdulaziz’s grandchildren caught in a mad race for the throne . Given the huge number of legitimate princes and their greedy desires to seize power, things can turn from bad to worse very quickly.
Will the Crown Prince prove to be worthy of this title once his turn to rule the Saudi kingdom comes? And most importantly, will he be able to hold the reins of power in his hands once the last son of the first king dies and those medieval shackles that hold the huge Saudi kingdom together are abolished. There’s little chance that a new ruling elite will want to live by the letter of laws that were laid in the times of Abdulaziz Ibn Saud.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef got his education in the United States, studying for several years at Lewis and Clark College, but failed to finish at this institution. Apparently he is not cut out for conventional studies. On the other hand, from 1985 to 1988, the Saudi prince was attending courses at the FBI successfully, while from 1992 to 1994 he was trained to fight terrorism in Scotland Yard. In other words, the new Crown Prince is not simply the product of Western influence, he’s an expert in enforcement-related areas, therefore he’s capable of ensuring order in the kingdom.
It is no accident that he was appointed assistant interior minister for security affairs in 1999 where he applied all the skills he gained from his overseas teachers. He is also considered to be the founder of a counterinsurgency program. However, it is not clear who these insurgents are that the young prince wanted to fight and what wrong they did to him.
In 2004, he was appointed to the rank of minister, becoming number two at the Ministry of Interior. On November 5 2012, the then King Abdullah appointed Muhammad bin Nayef Minister of Interior by royal decree, making him the tenth interior minister of Saudi Arabia. At that time human rights activists were frankly worried by this appointment due to Nayef’s professional background. By that time the young prince has already jailed thousands of suspects that were allegedly involved in riots. In February 2014, Prince Mohammed took charge of Syria-related affairs, replacing the head of Saudi intelligence – the notorious Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
It should be noted that, unlike the majority of the members of the royal family, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is contacting members of the press, by making statements on the fight against terrorism, but it should be noted that he perceives any public statement against the existing system as an act of terrorism. Like the better part of royal family members he believes that this kind of terrorism should be treated as a serious offence, therefore it must be dealt with by the use of ruthless political, military and police methods. However, according to his statements, he strongly favors policing methods.
It’s curious that Western security agencies praise the Saudi prince for his “achievements” in the fight against terrorism. For sometime Mohammed bin Nayef advocated the creation of a “security channel” with the United States to facilitate the exchange of information and even “joint police operations.” He’s believes that Yemen is a “failed state” that is quickly becoming a serious threat to Saudi Arabia. Probably these views are the reason of his good relations with the king’s son Mohammad bin Salman, who, according to the Saudi press, “is responsible for the events in Yemen.” The Crown Prince believes that the former Yemeni Presidents Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi are weak personalities that are unable to keep proper control over the country. In this regard, he suggested a plan that had already been tested by British colonialists to make Yemeni tribes fight one another, while Saudi Arabia will exercise full control over them all. However, it seams that the Deputy Crown Prince is unaware of the consequences this barbaric policy caused back in the 20th century.
In this connection it should be noted that Saudi aggression against Yemen has ultimately failed. This fact forced King Salman to take certain measures to save the kingdom that is now losing its regional influence rapidly in the face of new threats. On one hand Shiites are waiting for their “payback” opportunity for the destruction in Iraq and other Persian Gulf countries, on the other hand, a number of international terrorist groups continue the occupation of vast territories of sovereign states. The latter pose a serious threat to the monarchy even despite the fact that they were created, brought up and funded by Riyadh itself.
The growing Shia-Sunni conflict is highly dangerous for the Saudis, since the most radical of both camps are gaining support rapidly, leaving Saudi Arabia behind in the group of “moderate” Sunni states – perhaps to the surprise of the Saudis themselves. In this situation, Riyadh should make all efforts to stabilize the region, rallying its key satellite states, especially in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). There’s no wonder that at the meeting of the League of Arab States (LAS) in Cairo, the proposal from Secretary General Nabil al-Arab on the creation of a unified army received wide support. Should the project of a unified Arab military force be implemented, with active assistance from Riyadh, they will become the third supranational military after UN and NATO forces.
However, the military aggression against Yemen that was initiated by the KSA, in this context, is an extremely difficult challenge, and requires a full understanding of the possible consequences of complete military intervention, which would inevitably lead to an increase in tension in the “underbelly” of Saudi Arabia. And the recent developments in the Saudi kingdom show that Yemeni events may serve as the catalyst for further changes in the government of Saudi Arabia.
Viktor Mikhin, member correspondent of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.