Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

High stakes as Saudi crown prince tries to remove opponents

Al Monitor | : The decision by Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to sack Minister of National Guard Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the favorite son of the late King Abdullah, is intended to remove a potential powerful rival of his own favorite son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mutaib’s ouster is the most crucial part of a large-scale wave of arrests in the kingdom that suggests deep opposition to the young prince’s ambitions.

The Saudi Arabian National Guard was the creation of King Abdullah in the 1950s and 1960s. It has been the power center for the Abdullah wing of the family and the Shammar tribe for over a half-century. The National Guard was originally designed to be a counter-coup force to defend the royal family from revolutionary plots in the regular army. It is deployed in the capital and holy cities as well as along the borders. It was a crucial player in the forced abdication of King Saud in 1964 that brought Faisal to the throne, and it bore the brunt of the fighting for the recovery of the holy mosque in Mecca from religious extremists in 1979.

The National Guard also participated in the defense of the kingdom from Iraq in 1990 and the liberation of Kuwait. In 2011, it was sent across the King Fahd causeway to Bahrain to secure the survival of the Sunni minority ruling family against protesters from the Shiite majority. The National Guard is still on the island.

The 100,000-man National Guard is separate from the Royal Saudi Land Forces, the kingdom’s army, which has over 200,000 soldiers and roughly 1,000 tanks. Mohammed, also the minister of defense,  is the civilian commander of the Royal Saudi Land Forces. Traditionally, it has been deployed on the kingdom’s borders to defend the country from foreign enemies and to project power in the neighborhood. In 1991, it participated in the battle of Khafji, repelling the Iraqis, and then in the liberation of Kuwait.

Royal Saudi Land Forces troops were involved in border clashes with Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2009-10. The Saudis did not fare well in the clashes and had considerable casualties. Gradually, the Houthis consolidated their control of the border region and northern Yemen.


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