It’s Nayef. He’s keeping the Interior Ministry, too–no surprise there. No word on whether Salman or anyone else has been put in a deputy position to balance his influence, or who’s taking over at the Defense Ministry. A power struggle may be beginning in the Kingdom; we’ll know it’s in the works if the openings and imbalances are not resolved promptly.
Tag Archives: saudi arabia
It looks like the rumors the other day that Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had beaten the odds to become the next Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia were false. The King has apparently decided to wait until after Sultan’s funeral today to make a decision, and the word on the street is that the Allegiance Council–the body of Al Saud bigwigs and cadet branches charged with smoothing transitions–will meet imminently. All eyes remain on Nayef bin Abdulaziz, the Interior Minister with solid conservative credentials and an authoritarian reputation. Assuming Nayef gets the nod, the Defense Ministry remains in the air (Khaled bin Sultan is a favorite, though it would be foolish to write off Bandar bin Sultan, Khaled’s younger brother). The choice of the new Second Deputy Prime Minister (Nayef’s current role) may be most telling for the Kingdom’s future direction. Salman is the most likely to take the position. His solid reputation across the royal house’s different factions could help silence any controversies about Nayef, but it would also suggest that there is an unswerving commitment to seniority as the key element in succession, which would guarantee a long string of short-lived octogenarian kings, a sure recipe for instability. Of course, that instability might be twenty years away–politics moves very slowly in the Kingdom–but it would still be a penny-wise, pound-foolish strategy. Salman could become a great king whose name echoes through the ages like that of Feisal or Abdulaziz, but his succession would fail to stop the trend. Surely there are capable and politically adept men under 50, or under 60, among Muhammad bin Saud’s many sons. If the current trend continues, we may see one such man ignore the squabbles of his decrepit uncles and seize the throne–after all, wasn’t the modern Kingdom founded in a breach of the rules of succession, with Abdulrahman bypassed by his aggressive son?
Rumors are beginning to fly that Salman bin Abdulaziz, the governor of Riyadh, has been named Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He would thus have been selected over his older brother, the interior minister Nayef bin Abdulaziz. This would represent a major setback for Nayef. However, the rumors are not yet confirmed.
Still no word from Riyadh on who will be the next Crown Prince. Sultan’s funeral has been set for Tuesday. I think we can expect a ruling from the Allegiance Council, the body that will ratify (or make) the selection of the successor by Wednesday at the latest, though my gut tells me they’ll have it done in time for the funeral on Tuesday. That allows the funeral to serve a double purpose–it can also be an occasion for the assembled Princes to show loyalty and to demonstrate that they won’t attempt to upset the applecart. This was the case, for instance, at the funeral of King Abdulaziz (ibn Saud), and I believe the same happened with King Faisal.
There has been, as is typical with Saudi royal matters, little information on what’s going on. The best current profile I’ve found is at Arabian Business, and it suggests that Nayef remains the most likely Crown Prince. Former U.S. ambassador Robert Jordan hinted that there may be changes in store at the Defense Ministry, for the appointment of Sultan’s son Khaled could change the balance of power within the royal family. It’s a bit of an odd argument, but rumors are really the best we have right now. I’d still keep an eye on Khaled’s younger brother Bandar.
The greatest fluidity may be in the selection of the second successor (i.e. Nayef’s replacement). Analysis points to Salman bin Abdulaziz, the current governor of Riyadh. He’s 76, which in the current scheme makes him a fresh-faced youngster, and it would be easier to choose him than to choose someone of the third generation of royals, because it would not violate the tradition of choosing from among the oldest men in the Al Saud. However, the continued use of the second generation could be a recipe for instability, as they are all quite advanced in age (the youngest two, Sattam and Muqrin, were born in 1943 and are thus nearing 70). A string of rapid successions would hinder individual Kings’ abilities to consolidate the position of their successors, increasing the risk of open indecision or even the use of force. A third generation prince like Bandar might be appropriate. Nayef will likely want to get something for his son Mohammad bin Nayef (who was infamously nearly killed by a terrorist who had hidden a bomb in his, ahem, body cavity). Appointing Mohammad bin Nayef as Deputy Prime Minister would likely be much more than the rest of the royals would tolerate (including Abdullah himself), so Nayef would be foolish to attempt it; if he wants to keep the path clear, he might instead try to keep the second successor position open and resolve the matter when he is on the throne.
An excellent, more detailed piece by Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute can be found here.
To cap off a wild week in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Sultan has just died. It’s late, so I won’t go in-depth, but this is a critical moment for the Kingdom, though one it has been preparing for for years. Sultan is not only the next in line to the throne after Abdullah. He is also the Minister of Defense, putting him at the head of one of Saudi Arabia’s several military apparatuses. Control of the military in Saudi is closely tied with control of the state, and the current balance of power reflects that–Abdullah controls the National Guard (which he has done for decades), Sultan had Defense, and their conservative brother Nayef controls the Interior Ministry. There’s now a moment of flux, in which two key questions will be answered, likely within hours or days. First, who will be the next Crown Prince? Second, who will take over the Ministry of Defense?
Saudi Arabia has been in the news again for the past few days over a proposed new “anti-terrorism” law that would make it a crime to criticize the king, among other things. (Frankly, as someone who follows the Kingdom, I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t already in place.) Western human rights groups and the tatters of Saudi civil society have been up in arms, saying that this is a step towards a level of police statism unprecedented even for Saudi. They’re right. It’s hard not to see this as the iron fist in the velvet glove of the Saudi response to the Arab Spring. While the al Saud have been very forceful abroad, supporting Mubarak, managing Saleh in Yemen, and occupying Bahrain, they’ve been friendly at home, launching a mass public spending program and putting restrictions on foreign workers in an effort to reduce Saudi unemployment. I suppose we should have been expecting the other shoe to drop at some point. This seems to be that moment. If the law gets royal approval, Saudi dissent will be driven even further underground–and we all know how healthy that policy has been for Saudi in the past.
The National Strategy Forum Review just published an article I coauthored on the troubles of Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The article speaks for itself, so I won’t belabor it, but note that the section on insecurity is already out of date. The major natural gas pipeline that runs through the region, supplying both Jordan and Israel, has been blown up four times since the Egyptian revolution–we had to update the publishers once in April, and it’s been blown up twice in July. There’s really no telling who was behind it–the region is home to dissatisfied Bedouins, radical Islamist groups (foreign and domestic), and a range of organized crime groups. There are also human traffickers, drug runners, and rumors of Iranian-backed weapons smuggling. If I had to guess who’s blowing up the pipelines, I’d say it’s the Bedouin, as they’ve got a long history with the Egyptian central government. After years of displacement, corruption, sedentarization, and delegitimization, it’s no shock that they’re unhappy.
The impasse over India’s growing debt to Iran has taken a new turn. India has been unable to pay Iran for oil imports due to international sanctions on Iran, leading to an Iranian threat to cut off its supplies to India. The threat was so vaguely worded that it seemed like a bluff. Saudi Arabia has now called that bluff, offering to boost its oil production and send its oil to India to balance any Iranian cutoff. It’s consistent with Saudi Arabia’s history of attempting to stabilize world oil markets–and that’s how they’re justifying it. However, it’s also consistent with the Kingdom’s attempts to isolate and weaken Iran due to the growing threat it poses. It’s doubtful that the Iranian cutoff will actually go through, but this move by the Saudis weakens their hand in negotiations with the Indians. Iran may now be forced to accept payment in rupees–a currency it has little use for–or to continue allowing India to run up debt. Each would further weaken Iran’s economy, making it harder to develop fancy new toys for the military, pay wages to the bloated public sector, and keep the people quiet.
There’s an interesting detail to this. The Saudis offered to replace “some,” not all, of the 400,000 barrels Iran supplies to India. This gives credence to the rumor that the Saudis don’t really have significant excess oil production capacity, or at least not excess capacity that can be brought online on short notice. That excess capacity is the global oil economy’s insurance policy–it minimized the impact, for instance, of the loss of Libya’s significant oil production due to the revolution. If people begin to lose faith in the Saudi excess capacity idea, oil prices could see a small but permanent increase.
Saudi Arabia’s state expenditures for this year are an impressive 41% over the original budget. The Saudis have been spending money as only the Saudis (and Americans) can–buying weapons, giving mass foreign aid grants, and shoveling money into their population. Despite this, the state will run a surplus of nearly $100 billion dollars. It’s all a paradoxical consequence of the Arab Spring. The Saudis had been very pessimistically budgeting for $60 a barrel oil (a price unseen for regional index Dubai Crude since mid-2009), even though it was at $90 a barrel at the beginning of the year. Then the uprisings happened, investors got nervous, Libya stopped producing and the market tightened up. Oil hit $120 at the end of April. The Saudis are suddenly flush with money and more able than ever to push counterrevolution and stabilization wherever they please. That’s the paradox: the more unstable the Middle East becomes, the more regimes there are able to fight instability.
The American Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been catching a lot of flak in the blogosphere for putting out several alerts that terrorists may attempt to use bombs surgically implanted in their bodies to attack aircraft. Many have said that this is an example of a security culture run amok, where oddball threats are regularly presented to the public as real dangers. The surgically implanted bomb is more of a danger than this argument lets on, although it’s less of a threat than other sorts of bombs. How do we know this? It’s already happened.