Dissention in the House of Saud made headlines this week, when a senior Saudi prince circulated a letter calling for the replacement of King Salman and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed.
On Tuesday, September 22, Middle East Eye broke the news that an unnamed grandson of the late King Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud had penned a four-page letter in early August in which he warned the royal family was losing power amidst dropping oil prices, extreme spending, and poorly calculated military campaigns abroad. The letter called on the royal family to hold an emergency meeting to address concern that the Saud dynasty is mismanaging the country’s wealth and regional influence, and declared“we [have] got closer and closer to the fall of the state and the loss of power.”
In addition to referencing the Kingdom’s financial struggles, the letter criticized the Saudi government’s campaign in Yemen and involvement in Iraq and Syria as “totally miscalculated.”
How could we accept involvement in military missions, the risks of which were totally miscalculated, like the military alliances for attacks on Iraq and Syria, and the war in Yemen?
In light of the sharp deterioration in political and economic conditions, the drastic drop in oil prices, and the soaring public debt, we appeal to all the sons of king Abd al-Aziz to summon an emergency general meeting … and do everything that is need to save the country
Over the past year, oil prices plummeted from $120 per barrel to less than $50, leading the government to dip into its currency reserves to balance its budget. A financial analyst from the Barclays Global Corporate team told Muftah:
The drop in oil prices put a lot of pressure on the Saudi government – it cannot meet its budget as planned or fund the massive infrastructure projects put in place over the last few years. The Saudi government would have to find another source of revenue, or cut these projects, unless the price of oil increases back to previous levels at which the budget was initially set. They miscalculated revenues they’d be taking in this year, and set out on massive foreign spending campaign regardless. That this letter from a senior member of the royal family goes so far as to suggest the King should abdicate is a testament to the mismanagement of government spending.
While demands to purge the top echelons of the Saudi dynasty may be out of reach, the letter points to growing internal criticism about the country’s management. It also reflects ongoing struggles related to a generational shift in leadership. With King Salman expected to give the throne to his son, for the first time in the Kingdom’s history, a grandson of Ibn Saud, the country’s founder, is next in the line of succession. Should Salman’s son take the throne, the move will be highly contested, as thirteen of Ibn Saud’s sons are still alive. Pre-emptively criticizing this move, the letter’s author writes:
[We have neglected] the marginalization of the elders and the carriers of experience, as well as the surrender of command to the new generations of foolish dreamers who are acting behind the facade of an incapable king.