American Herald Tribune | Saurav Dutt: The meteoric rise of Prince Mohammed bin Salman marks an ascendancy unparalleled in Saudi Arabia’s modern history but will this soft coup by tacit consent lead to infighting within the royal family and eventually lead to the collapse of the Kingdom itself?
He’s just 31 but Prince Mohammed will be imperial majesty yielding immeasurable power and responsibility. On the surface, he may bring enough public relations clout to present the Kingdom as an arbiter of reason and positive influence in the region but there are too many contradictions and vested interests at place to make his time on the throne as successful as he and his benefactors want it to be.
The region is already on notice in terms of how Saudi Arabia will now impose its authority in the region, asserting influence over a range of a regional events, purporting to wield a robust Saudi presence in the region. Not everybody in the Kingdom is going to like Prince Mohammed’s ideas one bit. One such person would be Muhammad bin Nayef, the kingdom’s top counter-terrorism official who is credited with keeping the kingdom safe against IS militants and countermanding security since the early 2000s in the wake of al Qaeda bombing campaigns.
This ‘man in Washington’ for lack of a better term made a distinct impression overseas and his loss will mean chattering classes in the security establishment will be incensed to say the least. Prince Mohammed is overseeing matters his own way, going straight to the White House to foster relationships instead of working through proxy organisations.
He will certainly be eager to further antagonise and isolate Iran; while Riyadh is happy to poke this particular bear, feeling it is supporting Shiite movements and sponsoring terror, others in the administration may wish to tread a little more carefully, including efforts to deal with Qatar over its ties with Iran. Yet at the same time Prince Mohamed makes clear he will be singing from a sheet that Saudi Arabia is only pleased to join him on as SA and the U.A.E have sought to quarantine Qatar for many years now. The problem is that this escalation with Iran is now being placed out in the open as a policy line that should be visibly encouraged.
This reinvention may lead to in-fighting amongst the kingdom but it is unlikely to happen on the lines of commerce and industry as the courting of private enterprise deals will surely benefit the pockets of many at the power table.
The problem is how to deal with domestic and international matters. How strong is the appetite for the country to continue fighting in Yemen, to further encroach into Syria and encourage war-war with Iran and economic isolation with Qatar?
Disgruntled citizens will also be angry about cutbacks in pensions and welfare spending and while exposing the state-owned oil company Aramco to global markets may assuage concerns, theirs is a populace that can be combustible and if it feels that these developments are not in their interest, then Prince Mohamed may see his personal way of accomplishing matters to be ineffective and unappreciated both inside and outside the gilded lily of the House of Saud.
This is because the base of power therein has no interest in seeing Riyadh as a leader, leading from the front with exciting economic ideas. The thrust of all authority and implementation must be essentially conservative in base; the base of power will be watching Prince Mohammed at every turn to see if his idea of economic reform is really cultural revolution and there is no appetite to see that happen.
Since King Abdullah became king in 2005 and Mohamed bin Salman came to power, Riyadh is interested in redefining Wahhabism along the strictures of what the hardline clergy and the monarch want but with no strength to reform the actual administration of the kingdom itself. In this sense certain ‘reforms’ will be piecemeal, while women might be able to drive this is just a way of allowing the populace to believe they will have certain freedoms but there is no reform here. Saudi religious doctrine, opinion and religious fatwas will continue to underpin Wahhabism in the region and beyond and give oxygen to supporters of IS as well as IS itself. Any attempt to deviate from that will isolate anybody in the Kingdom.
So if the thirty something trendy new Monarch decides he wants to disavow or side-line such traditions and practices-especially among minorities and women-he will find the in-fighting within the House of Saud to take on House of Cards levels of duplicity. He might see a youth demographic in SA that wants to build a modern (albeit prima facie) looking country but power brokers watching his every move may a stronger hold on the emotional responses of the populace in spite of his power and there is little indication that will ever change.