A struggle for the post of the future King is apparently unfolding in Saudi Arabia. Due to his old age and many diseases, the acting King, as they say, “reigns but does not rule”. However, most of his functions, especially in foreign affairs, are performed by his son. According to the official hierarchy, he is just the third most important person in the Kingdom, while Muhammad bin Nayef Al Saud is the second one and official heir to the throne, even though he is the King’s nephew.
Important to note is why the nephew, and not the son, has become the heir to the throne. In the 2000s and early 2010s, the principle of gerontocracy prevailed. Over a short period, three Crown Princes died, one after another, due to old age. In 2015, according to the tradition, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest of the sons of the Kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud), became the Crown Prince. After April 29, 2015, when King Salman changed the scheme of succession, his nephew,Muhammad bin Nayef Al Saud, who has no heir and therefore is unable to pass power to his son, became heir.
To describe the son of the King and real candidate for the royal throne in detail, we must first note that he is quite a young man, born in 1985. Currently, Muhammad ibn Salman Al Saud is the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the son of the King Salman, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, the head of the Royal Court, the Chairman of the Economic Affairs and National Development Council, and the holder of a number of less important positions.
Anyone who has talked with the Saudi tends to say the same of his negative features: irascibility, impulsiveness, his lack of the desire to regard another person’s opinion, even that of a foreign state’s President or Prime Minister, the absence of experience in negotiations which leads to his lack of flexibility in decision-making, excessive stubbornness and belief in his rightness, even if his errors are obvious to everybody. The Prince is also vengeful and has an inert inability to forgive his grievances, which is characteristic of reasonable rulers with great experience. In this case, an Arab proverb, which says that a Bedouin is like a camel that never forgets and never forgives offences, is applicable. To sum it all, it is no big secret that these are the typical traits and genes of a common Bedouin, which in this case come from the House of Saudi. The same features can be found among other members of the Saudi family, even when they became Kings of Saudi Arabia. The fact is that they became Kings at the advanced age and were able to hide their negative traits of character.
According to the global media, Prince Muhammad is now eager for power, as his father, at 80 years of age, is seriously ill. According to many Western doctors, in addition to the familial disease of the back King Salman suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. It is well known that he can forget what he has said a moment ago, or the face of a man whom he has known all his life. On September 14, the Arab al-Ahd news agency reported that King Salman had been admitted to the intensive care department of the King Faisal specialized hospital in Riyadh. The source also announced that state officials refused to transport the King of Saudi Arabia to an American hospital due to his unstable and grave health condition.
The Middle East Eye (МЕЕ) news website reported on June 30, 2016, that in this situation, Prince Muhammad decided to force the events and take the position of the King of the country by the end of this year. Citing two anonymous sources, the site has reported that Muhammad ibn Salman is cooperating and consulting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, on all the matters relating to the possibility of taking the post of the next King of the country. The Emirati Prince is older and much more experienced than his Saudi friend and, most importantly, he is wise at the backstage of the court affairs. The fact that last year, Prince Muhammad became the most prominent person of the royal family for the Western media illustrates his desire to become King. He frequently gave interviews to such media as the Economist and Bloomberg, as part of a plan aimed at boosting the Saudi Prince’s popularity in the West. It is clear that Western media is furiously praising the Saudi Prince for a good, literally exorbitant, fee. Western ethics of doing everything for a good sum of money are well known.
We should also recall that Saudi history in the post-war period is not characterized by a difficult period such as the Kingdom is facing now. However, similar events took place in 1973, when King Faisal imposed sanctions on the West and refused to sell oil. At that time, the price of the black gold increased dramatically, and the West suffered heavy financial losses. Soon, the West solved this problem by using the very methods and ways that it has used many times, and King Faisal was murdered by his own nephew, who arrived (or was sent) from the USA for the very purpose of taking the King’s life.
Speaking at the international arena on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and with no experience and flexibility in dealing with complex issues, Prince Muhammad makes one mistake after another. For example, it was under his direction that the pre-agreed plan to freeze oil production in Doha (Qatar) was broken. This happened at the last moment, when representatives of the oil states gathered for a meeting and were ready to sign the document. What does it mean? – A desire to demonstrate own power, the inability to solve complex issues together with other states, the Bedouin’s customary stubbornness, or just a common tyranny? The question arises whether the global leaders will be able to deal with Riyadh and Prince Muhammad, in particular, who represents the Kingdom in all the foreign affairs, considering the fact that he does not keep his word and may change his decisions at the slightest pretext.
If we look at other issues, what emerges is that the only thing used by Prince Muhammad, and, perhaps, the only thing he knows, is the use of force. If this was good for his grandfather, Ibn Saud, when he won almost the entire Arabian Peninsula by force of arms and created the state of Saudi Arabia, it is not necessary at the beginning of the XXI century. The Syrian issue, where he still hopes for forces only and is generously investing in terrorist groups to get rid of Bashar al-Assad who is legally elected by the Syrians, is a good example. The result is that Russia and the USA, after complex and long lasting negotiations, have reached a temporary ceasefire agreement in Syria without inviting Riyadh, and ignoring Prince Muhammad’s interests. Apparently, Syrian affairs will develop in the same direction, with the USA consulting only with Russia.
Failures pursue the Saudi Prince in Yemen, where he has introduced Saudi troops and started brutally bombing the civilians. Almost every day, news agencies report on Saudi failures and losses in manpower and vehicles. At one time things reached the point that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for an independent international investigation of the crimes against human rights being committed in Yemen. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, during the period from the end of March 2015 to August 23, 2016, a large number of violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights by all the parties involved in the Yemen conflict was recorded. Over 1.5 years, 3,799 civilians were killed and 6,711 were wounded. About 7.6 million people are now suffering from the lack of food products, and about 3 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Riyadh is responsible for this to a great extent, as it has grossly and shamelessly intervened in the internal affairs of its neighbouring state.
Prince Muhammad thus faces a complex task in his ascent to supreme power, bypassing the Crown Prince. The nearest future will probably demonstrate whether he is able to solve not only the external but also the internal and rather complicated financial problems successfully, and whether he will convince other direct heirs (200 Princes) to accept his legitimacy. At least, Prince Muhammad is doing everything he can to achieve this. But will these efforts be enough for the next King of Saudi Arabia?
Viktor Mikhin, Associate Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”