by Ghassan Kadi
The thirty year old Saudi Prince, Mohamed, son of incumbent King Salman has risen to prominence by way of mere chance.
When I worked and lived in Riyadh back in 1979-1980, nearly every Saudi government office I ever walked into had at least one wall that featured the then four-tiered royal lineage.
Back then, Khaled was king, so his portrait was the main one, followed by the portraits of his half-brothers Fahed (the Crown Prince), Abdullah (the Deputy Crown Prince), and Sultan (the Second Deputy Crown Prince).
That was perhaps the golden age of Al-Saud, and in brandishing the photos they were giving two statements, one of national stability, and one of royal unity.
All of the celebrated four of this era were the direct sons of the founding father King Abdul Aziz. And because Abdul Aziz had many marriages and dozens of children, his 25 sons had a huge age gap. His eldest and successor Saud was born in 1902, whilst the current king, Salman was born in 1935.
It has always been a matter of time before a grandson of the founding father became king, but even during the golden age of the “fab four”, the question of deciding who would this lucky grandson be, was avoided. After all, with 25 sons, King Abdul Aziz has had hundreds of eligible grandsons.
The once mighty Prince Bandar was grooming himself to become the first grandson to assume the throne. After all, he was very well connected, very influential, and above all, the son of the prince (Sultan) who was meant to become king.
The fate of Bandar began to change when he lost the plot in Syria, and was totally decimated when his father died before assuming the throne and whilst King Abdullah was still alive.
Abdullah rushed and appointed his half-brother Nayef as Crown Prince, but Abdullah also managed to outlive Nayef.
By then, the last surviving direct male descendent of King Abdul Aziz was Salman, but by then also, Salman was 79 years old and already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Soon after his inauguration in January 2015, Salman appointed the son of the previous Crown Prince Nayef as his Crown Prince, but he also appointed his little-known son, Mohamed ie Mohamed Bin Salman, aka MBS, as his Deputy Crown Prince. To the surprise and dismay of many, both domestically and internationally, he also gave him the position of Minister of Defense.
It is tipped that Salman is going to soon change his Will and appoint his son MBS as the Crown Prince instead of Mohamed Bin Nayef. In effect, MBS is already acting like he is the king. In a twist of fate, two, or three, what Bandar had been planning and plotting for has slipped in between his fingers, just like desert sands does, and seems destined to land on the hands of his cousin MBS.
As soon as the little known MBS suddenly became the de-facto king, he had embarked on a number of “projects” to make his mark.
He is infamously known for his war on Yemen. A closer look at this man however reveals more than what meets the eye, and much more than the tragic story of Yemen.
MBS was very studious in his youth, and he spent a great deal of his teenage years in the company of his father rubbing shoulders with senior princes and power brokers.
Unlike most Saudi princes of his generation, ie the generation of the grandsons of founding King Abdul Aziz, MBS does not seem to be interested in wild parties and debauched life. He is a hard worker and an advocate of hard work. And ever since his rise to power, rumour has it that he “raids” government departments at random to see if employees are working and if some are absent without a legitimate reason.
This attitude seems to make him popular among Saudi youth; especially those who are quite bluntly disgusted by their royals, their lifestyle, lavish spending and laziness.
On the economic front, MBS is trying to find ways to change the dependence of Saudi wealth on oil. For starters, he is planning to privatize Saudi Arabia’s oil company Aramco. Aramco is believed to be the world’s richest company with assets estimated anywhere between 1.5 and 10 trillion American Dollars. He wants to use the funds generated in the sale in building a diverse economy.
He is now trying to build economic and strategic alliances with countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Uzbekistan in order to have a stronger clout in the power brokerage of the Sunni world; and this is not to mention his strong ties with Erdogan.
There seems to be little doubt that MBS is a cut that is different from that of his peers, but this is not to say that he is a cut above the rest. Credit must be given to him however for thinking laterally; at least on the economic front.
Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, given his indoctrination, he is not only aware of the sliding stature of Saudi Arabia, but he is painfully watching the rise of Iran.
He has witnessed the fall of Bandar and saw his mistakes. He has learned from this that he cannot rely on America as an equal ally.
MBS obviously knows that the golden age of Al Saud is over. He knows that what seemed to be an endless wealth a few decades ago is coming to a sudden end, and sooner than anyone thought. He realizes that Saudi Arabia is no longer on America’s most favourite list. He is totally aware of the early signs of those reality checks, and he wants to do something about them.
Whether he is going to be successful or not, is another story.
Young age is not a predicament. By the time Alexander the Great ruled the old world, he was the same age as MBS now.
MBS may have the right vision, ideas and intentions, but does he have the substance that is capable of creating the changes he wishes for in Saudi Arabia?
In reality, MBS’s passion for change is yet to show its first achievement. Perhaps he needs more time to show his real mantle, but thus far, we have heard much and seen nothing. In reality also, he doesn’t have much time to start walking at least some of his talk. If his father wants to pass on the baton to him, he must do this very soon and before he loses his mental capacity and certainly before he suddenly dies. Saudis, both royals and otherwise, will need to see some MBS success stories before they endorse his promotion and accept his rise to power.
But such success stories are yet nowhere to be seen.
On the military and strategic fronts, MBS has called for the formation of a Muslim anti-terror front to be established and have its HQ in Riyadh. When that alliance was announced, many “member states” were taken by surprise because they found out about it when the rest of the world did. They were neither consulted nor asked. They were clumped into a list that MBS believed he had liberty to construct without the need for approval of his partners. This is exactly like declaring war on a nation in the name of a third nation.
One wonders; was this a show of strength and authority, or just one merely of juvenile immaturity? Or, was it an act of archetypal Saudi arrogance?
Regarding MBS’s Aramco sale venture, on the surface, it may seem like a great innovative idea. However, this undertaking is not as simple as it seems. Many economic analysts and pundits argue that this venture will never work in accordance with the expectations of its architect. When Aramco was set up, it was not meant to ever be put on the open market, and as such, its corporate structure imposes many complexities that will render its privatization a corporate impossibility. As a matter of fact, it seems that MBS expected to see would-be investors lining up in droves, instead, the proposal of privatizing Aramco has generated a very lukewarm global reaction
Furthermore, given that Saudi Arabia had always been tightlipped about the volume of its oil reserve, investors will be reluctant to invest in the unknown. After all, the estimate of what Aramco is worth, 1.5 -10 trillion dollars, is too huge a gap for investors to overlook, and they will be even more reluctant to believe new figures that may contradict with previous estimates.
And speaking of MBS’s ideas and ventures, we cannot but stop and go back to examine the war on Yemen. That war was given the name that major powers give to swift operations. In an attempt to reverberate America’s wars on Iraq, MBS named his war against Yemen operation “Decisive Storm”. It was meant to last a few weeks. Thirteen months later, and after inflicting upon Yemen a massive human tragedy that the world choses to ignore, militarily speaking, that operation is turning into a decisive joke, and the joke is on the Saudi military whose budget surpasses the Russian defense budget.
Now, let us give MBS some fairness again. Anyone who has been to Saudi Arabia and had to deal with Saudi people KNOWS that Saudi Arabia is a country like no other country. It is afflicted by very serious human and social disabilities.
Saudi Arabia is a country whose people, by-and-large, are obsessed with money, sex, food, and sloth; all more or less to the same extent. This is not to mention the obsession with alcohol, which is of course forbidden.
Those who know Saudi Arabia, feel that it will take a miracle for Saudi Arabia to change and “get real” in terms that are in par with other nations.
So even if MBS has the spirit, determination and substance of Alexander the Great, Saudis are neither the historical Macedonians nor today’s Russians.
When Russia was at her nadir during the Yeltsin era, the invincible Russian spirit was staying put waiting for the right leadership. When Putin stood up, Russians stood up with him. Anyone who knows Saudi Arabia and Saudis will tell you that this cannot and will not happen in Saudi Arabia, not in the foreseeable future.
MBS undoubtedly wants to be a reformer. He wants to lift Saudi Arabia up, but Saudis will need more than just a great leader in order for them to be able to partake in the real world. After all, after decades of wealth and stability, the nation of Saudi Arabia did not provide the world with a single achiever in any field of excellence. Not a single scientist, doctor, artist, musician, poet, not even an athlete, not in any field at all. Instead, the kingdom of sand has flooded the world with religious schools that teach and promote radicalism, hatred and violence, and MBS does not seem to have the substance to change this.
If anything, MBS wants to be a world Sunni patriarch, and to establish Saudi Arabia as the centre of the Sunni Muslim World at all levels, not only religiously, not only by housing Mecca, but also economically, culturally, militarily and industrially.
MBS is probably trying to carve for himself a position that is somehow in between Osama Bin Laden and Bandar Bin Sultan, with an eye on Erdogan as a model for success; even though Erdogan in this respect is his biggest rival for Sunni leadership.
With national stability and royal unity of the bygone “fab four” era in tatters, MBS is trying to portray himself, especially to Saudi youth, as a national reformist and saviour. But little does he realize that nation-builders need to perform.
But this is a two-way street. For him to perform, he needs not only leadership substance, but also popular support. The support he is receiving is a little more than well wishes, and the performance he is exhibiting, is little more than failed gambles.
“What conquest brings he home? What tributaries follow him to Rome?”
It would my surprise me if the saudia got rid of this Prince. The policies he has embarked on depend on a hardworking , skilled population. Saudi Arabia does not have this and they can’t keep importing expensive expertise as they don’t have endless pots of money to pay for this for years and years which is what they will need to do.
They were doing well when the oil price wax high and seemed to deliberately sabotage their economy.
The war in Yemen is s crime and this will be a constant source of problems for them on their borders.
They are in my view a disgusting regime the recent killing on the Indian house keeper is an example of the deprave nature of the Saudis. The story is truly shocking.
Off Topic slightly:
Kadyrov on Twitter is boasting about doing business with Saudi Arabia and one of the areas he says they want to invest in is anti terrorism training- what does this mean? I thought he was leaving the role has this changed?
What an excellent summary by Ghassan Kadi of Saudi politics. I had no idea that the Saudi secession process was so dis-functional. Or how incompetent most of the royal siblings are. I had heard knowledgeable observers point out that Saudi Arabia was heading towards a major political crisis but it was never clear why that was so. This analysis provides some of the reasons or, at least, a plausible model for understanding future developments. Congrats to Saker for attracting such a good writer.
Right, pretty informative. Only a pity that he doesn’t tell that ‘Saudi’ Arabia used to be a civilized Muslim country (civilized Sunni & Shia Muslims).
That is before it was colonized by the West and the Saudis/Wahhabis were installed to terrorize & tyrannize the country on behalf of the West.
The Saudi/Wahhabis were a small isolated bunch of heretics & desert pirates. and they should definitely not be called (Sunni) Muslims; they actually tyrannize/terrorize the (Sunni/Shia) Muslim world, which of course also happens to be exactly what the (colonial) West wants.
There’s no difference between how the Arabian peninsula was/is terrorized/tyrannized (colonized) by the West (Saudi/Wahhabis), and how the same (colonial) West now tries to colonize Syria (‘ISIS’).
Thank you for this article. It answers quite a few questions I had wondered about. I know some people from Saudi but they do not want to discuss the politics and the social situation there. Fair enough, but it did surprise me that they wouldn’t. Anyway, you’ve done a great service with this explanation. Please keep on writing for the Saker’s vineyard.
Very interesting article indeed. Many years back I went surprised to find out that there were American, French, English military settlements there. Then I was also surprised to realize that majority of the Saudi population was practically unproductive, mostly supported by the oil revenues. Jobs (any kind) were performed by foreingners.
Interesting extra info.
Did you know that Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow any churches to be build in the country? that the practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Yet Christian countries allow Mosques to be built all over the place, allow the wearing of Muslim attire, etc. Are Christian countries stupid or what? Its high time some Christian countries start preventing Muslims and Jews from becoming citizens of their countries and prevent them from worshipping in their countries. They can do all their nonsense in the Middle East.
Both Muslims and Jews please refrain fom lumping all people together. Your next comment will go to trash. Mod on Duty.are equality problematic to the rest of humanity. Now I read that Kazakhstan is kicking ethnic Russians out.
Mr Kadi, many thanks for an insight into the country of my birth, Dhahran, 1950.
I have always had strong memories and evolving perceptions and ideas about Saudi Arabia:
Endless hours walking in the tidal pools of the Persian Gulf, a mile or two east of Dammam.
The rail jetty out to its port, that had to go out into the gulf for miles before the depth was sufficient for ships to have enough depth of water beneath them.
The wailing sounds of the calls to prayer, several times a day, wafting through the desert air from some unseen minaret in the distance.
The Roman glass bracelet fragments we children found in the sand, particularly near old wells.
The oasis and date grove a short walk north of Dammam, where we released our turtle, in a family freedom ceremony, when he became too big for the 50 gallon fish tank in our home.
The shops and smells of Al Khobar which was all Arab,as opposed to Dammam, which was American, Dutch, Italian and Palestinian families of 1 doctor, a couple of teachers, maritime pilots and other technicians training Saudis to take over their tasks in running the import port of Dammam (importing groceries, construction materials…oil export was north, in Ras Tanura….)
The Dhahran enclave of Americans from the oil patch, even in the mid 50’s as a sort of oil town from Texas or Oklahoma, plopped right into the Arabian Peninsula, with soda fountains, movie theaters and Little League baseball and suburban homes.
And most memorable, this walk in the evening desert, seeking to touch the moon, with little sister Jamela (“beautiful” in Arabic) : http://thesaker.is/moveable-feast-cafe-2016-04-23/comment-page-1/#comment-232265
Today, this strange place that I left nearly sixty years ago is still much in my thoughts. In regard to Russia and the strategic situation, in regard to the spiritual crisis of mankind.
I don’t have very much of an understanding of Islam. Or all that much of Christianity (as Gt points out, no churches or (even crosses) are allowed in Saudi Arabia. But nor do I comprehend Russian Orthodoxy. So many mysteries to get to the bottom of!
What I do comprehend is that Saudi Arabia seems to me to be the primary spot on earth that may best represent the spiritual dilemma of mankind: The birthplace of a religion said to be one of mildness and love ( moon symbol, Goddess of Love and True Care, etc) and yet a place where my first comprehension of the culture around us was that it was based on mind control through fear: Stories from my father of a hapless Saudi man, dragged before the local Royal authority, fearing beheading, urinating down his leg, begging for mercy. Even a five or six year old boy can conclude: “This is not good!”
How did this happen, in the Holy Land of Islam. And probably in less extreme form from Morrocco to Pakistan?
If this nut is cracked in Saudi Arabia, humanity has a chance. That is often my view of the matter.
But that challenge is the biggest one I can imagine. It will take oceans of Courage, Love and Will, from within and without that ancient crossroads between West and East.
Your response touched my heart. God bless
Good article and an enjoyable read. To add some other points.
1. At least 0.1 million Saudis have gone abroad for state-sponsored university education. This 0.1 million (actually more) form the elite strata of Saudi society i.e. the doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, the professional classes that are needed to run a modern society.
Having lived for a couple of years in western societies they become accustomed to the idea of a more relaxed social system (cultural values) as well as becoming acquainted with western concepts of democracy, accountability of the state, the equality of all citizens and so forth.
Being Arabs as well as Saudis they are now in the period of the Arab spring or the post-Arab spring period.
A few years ago a normal Saudi who liked the king and royal family spoke of the need for democracy no doubt partially a result of years of watching Arabic Al-Jazeera (a western run outfit) which promoted this heavily.
This was almost a decade ago and before the advent of social media as we know it now, so the urge for reform is stronger.
2. 1/3 of the population of Saudi Arabia are foreigners and many are in essence cheap slave labour from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and so forth. However with the rise of the economies of these Asian countries, increase in human rights awareness on social media, the Saudis will find it more and more difficult to sustain their current model of cheap mass de facto slave labour.
This decrease in cheap labour may affect their economy.
One thing is clear Saudi Arabia is on a trajectory of reform, eschewing extravagance and being more realistic.
They won’t be as powerful as they are now but will still be an important player. However to be quite blunt they are run by morons including MBS himself with his antics in Yemen, the Muslim “anti-terrorism (anti-Shia) coalition whose members did not even know they were part of it until they heard it on the media.
So the sheer stupidity of the Saudis may accelerate their demise, albeit not as fast as would normally happen to their immense wealth which will still continue for quite a while.
MBS was one of the few of the Saud family who did not study abroad. And his policies until now have been the opposite of liberalisation.
This raises the question whether that elite will support him. It raises also the question whether he has imagination enough to envision the transformation that is needed.
removed. Mod on Duty
We are against Zionism, and we are against fraudulent savages like ISIS, and against the Saudis pouring millions into the radicalization of the Islamic world, and not against “Muslims.”
No doubt the Saudi regime is disgusting and depraved. Their invasion of Yemen shows the essentially criminal and heartless nature of the “Minister of Defense,” and is emblematic of the whole regime from the very start.
Very interesting piece, thank you!
“And speaking of MBS’s ideas and ventures, we cannot but stop and go back to examine the war on Yemen. That war was given the name that major powers give to swift operations. In an attempt to reverberate America’s wars on Iraq, MBS named his war against Yemen operation “Decisive Storm”. It was meant to last a few weeks. Thirteen months later, and after inflicting upon Yemen a massive human tragedy that the world choses to ignore, militarily speaking, that operation is turning into a decisive joke, and the joke is on the Saudi military whose budget surpasses the Russian defense budget.”
Perhaps, it was appropriate that Saudi Arabia named its attack on Yemen after America’s 1991 attack on Iraq.
Whether it be Operation Desert Storm or Operation Decisive Storm, these wars were both mass slaughters.
Saudi Arabia’s saving grace will only come when its more educated young people overthrow the monarchy and its pretentious 16th century trappings of absolute power, a convenient mechanism applied by essentially a primitive family of savages to monopolise power and wealth for themselves at the expense of the many. The religious fanaticism is simply posturing to mask their authoritarian gangsterism.
that maybe so….but, apart from the ‘religious fanaticism, its much
like lots of other places….presidents, prime ministers, political parties
with three line whips all keeping the rich richer and the poor poorer,
tell me about democracy again….EU faceless commisioners –
republicans saying that the voters don’t choose the president.
no doubt people can add more details in their own countries.
While I was living in Lebanon I met quite a few Saudis, mostly from the upper-middle (to the extent that exists) and upper class, but not the “royal” class. They were almost always impeccably friendly and thoughtful, and I can only imagine the country is home to many more like them.
A strand that ran through literally all that I met: they absolutely loathed the royals. The closest thing I heard to a good word was “Abdullah was the least worst choice for king”. There were endless stories of their excess and opulence, and their complete aversion to work if any kind. A friend, a woman, told of a ‘suitor’ who called on her parents. Her parents, who were both doctors, asked the young man, who was a royal, what he intended to make his career in. The man laughed out loud at the suggestion and replied to the extent “I’m a royal; to work would be beneath me. That’s what servants are for. ”
The myriad of princes and privilege is only maintained up by oil wealth. Once that gravy train runs dry, the poor — who are the plurality if not outright majority — will not be long in drops deposing them.
Nicely put! I second your sentiments.
Interesting article on the subject:
It discusses the Gulf’s history with Consultancy firms and claims that Mohamed’s plan comes from McKinsey.
La biblia denuncia al wahabismo, los siete sudairi, los diez reyes que están apoyando la primavera arabe. En Apocalípsis 17,18.