As economic woes of Saudi Arabia are incredibly increasing due to unstable oil prices in the international market, the latest sequence of bombshell events caused seismic effects in the House of Saud when two high-profile princes, Mansour Bin Moqren, the deputy governor of Asir province and son of former crown prince Muhammad Bin Nayef; and Prince Abdulaziz Bin Fahd, the favourite son of late king Fahd, were killed in mysterious circumstances last week. Mansour was reportedly killed in a helicopter crash along with several other government officials on board near the southern border with war-torn Yemen when he was ‘trying to flee’ from the country. Abdulaziz was killed in a gunfight while ‘resisting his arrest’.
Earlier, dozens of high-profile princes, current and former ministers and businessmen, including the world renowned billionaire, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, were detained in an anti-corruption campaign led by none other but Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman on November 4. Two other prominent figures arrested in the sweep include late king Abdullah’s sons, Prince Miteb and Prince Turki. Miteb commanded the National Guard, which is a separate wing of armed forces to protect the royal family and Prince Turki remained the governor of Riyadh where he purportedly used his political leverage to build support among the royals.
Since King Salman assumed his office, the country has been facing internal strife within the House of Saud due to part of subdued oil economy and part of his bid to aggressively overhaul the line of succession. Unceremonious expulsion of Muhammad Bin Nayef from the office of crown prince in June this year was seen as a move which would further divide the royal family. The young 32-year old crown prince dexterously played a swift move to control the premium regiment, the National Guard, to clean the thoroughfare to kingship, a move which experts fear have laid the seeds of serious conflicts within the royal family and ugly secrets of the royal court have started revealing the truths which were until now kept under iron curtain.
Some western media reports already suggested in 2015 about dissatisfaction in a segment of the royal family over the leadership of King Salman and subterranean moves were expected to replace him with former Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. However, in an unprecedented move, King Salman sacked his nephew, the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef on June 28, 2017, and appointed his beloved son, until then deputy crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, as his new successor.
Bin Nayef was put under house arrest in Jeddah and was barred from leaving the country. Bin Nayef had ruled over eastern region of Saudi Arabia, a Shia majority region and his father, Nayef Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, served as interior minister during which intelligence services, police and special forces remained under his control for years. Sentiments must run high within different organs of security forces and shifting of loyalties is not possible in this conservative country where tribal customs still prevail.
Earlier, King Salman took two initiatives to consolidate his power. He used war in Yemen to suppress the possible onslaught of Arabian Spring and stimulated nationalist sentiment among citizens to distract their attention from the bleeding economy and started a brutal struggle to put down any possible opposition within the royal family.
He also aroused anti-Iran sentiments as part of nationalism blaming Tehran for supporting Houthi tribes in Yemen. However, he profited short term gains on the two accounts but shook the chemistry of the Middle Eastern politics for long term. Riyadh got support from the tiny neighbouring states of Bahrain and United Arab Emirate to severe its relations with Qatar but Kuwait and Oman used their maximum leverage to remain neutral in the regional conflict.
However, Saudi Arabia’s internal situation and foreign policy has come as surprise for many in the western world. A major chunk of young population is facing financial insecurity, joblessness and uncertain future in the kingdom amid media reports that oil export will be entirely phased out by next decade. To pacify the popular sentiments, King Salman restored bonuses and allowances for government employees.
In the latest development, most of the ministers and princes are stuffed in a five-star hotel in the capital Riyadh and Prince Muhammad has accused Iran of aggression while referring to missile attack from Houthi tribe of Yemen. In another unexpected move, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in a televised address from Saudi Arabia, announced his resignation on the ground that his ‘life was in danger’, sparking another political uncertainty in his country where Iranian-backed Hezbollah has strong presence inside and outside parliament.
Experts fear civil wars are already going on in north and south of the Saudi Kingdom and any eventful moment in Saudi royal family can turn the tables. In order to consolidate his powers, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has developed personal relationship with US President Donald Trump and has also secretly visited Tel Aviv to find a new ally in the region against Iran.
According to western media reports, the Saudi monarchy is the seventh most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated in a survey and this is something which is incompatible with the modern world. However, when winds of change blow, no one dares stop them. Shah of Iran and Marcos of the Philippines are the latest examples in which tyrant rulers were ousted from the corridors of powers.
The expected strife within the royal family and external conflicts with neighbouring countries are not signs of internal stability and balanced foreign policy, especially for a country like Saudi Arabia which is considered the seat of Islam and revered by Muslims all over the world. It appears the foreign policy has been kept hostage to the vision of a young inexperienced crown prince who wants to conquer the world by force and not by wisdom.
The internal conflict within royal family cannot be considered an internal affair of Saudi Arabia as the holiest places of Muslims are situated there and any uncertainty, chaos or trouble in that region would be a genuine cause of concern for the Muslims all over the world. Unfortunately, there is not a single personality or organisation within the Muslim Ummah to act as an arbiter to resolve the growing internal issues of the royal family.
The potential challengers of Muhammad Bin Salman are under arrest in the name of ‘purge’ and it is yet to be seen how he manages to deal with other power centres within the close-knit tribal royal family. Time will tell if Muhammad Bin Salman proves himself to be Xi of China who acted against his rivals in the name of corruption and pushed the country into second largest economy of the world or Gorbachev of Russia who broke the country in the name of reforms and restructuring of economy. The game of thrones has begun.