The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (JMD quoted on Bloomberg)

Mohammed bin Salman’s elevation as Saudi
heir also has international ramifications.
By Marc Champion and Donna Abu-Nasr

June 21, 2017, 10:49 PM GMT+8 June 22, 2017, 5:47 AM GMT+8
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. PHOTOGRAPHER: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP

With the anointment of Prince
Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the
Saudi throne, any doubts over the
continuation of policies that have shaken
up the Middle East have gone.
Western diplomats already referred to the
31-year-old as “Mr. Everything,” because of
his control over most aspects of domestic,
foreign and defense affairs. His elevation
ends a behind-the-scenes struggle for power
and answers the question of what would
happen to his plans for Saudi Arabia when
King Salman, now 81, dies or steps aside.

The most ambitious of these, Vision 2030,
seeks to recalibrate the economy to end the
country’s near-total dependence on oil
revenue. But internationally, there are also
Saudi Arabia's Shake-Up

Last month, the prince again raised the
stakes in the regional rivalry with Iran,
saying that dialog was “impossible" as they
fight a proxy war in Yemen. He also led a
multi-nation effort to isolate neighboring
Qatar, causing a rift among fellow
members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
That also looks set to turn into another long
and potentially fruitless test of wills as Iran
and Turkey come to Qatar's aid.
“The switch offers him the legitimacy and
consensus of becoming the next king and
that will validate his vision, his plans and his
policies,” said Sami Nader, head of the
Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic
Affairs. “There were a lot of question marks
about the future of Saudi Arabia and the
transition. Now this debate has ended.”

Widely known as MBS, he was made
crown prince just after dawn in Riyadh,
displacing his older cousin, Mohammed
bin Nayef, who was also stripped of his
post as interior minister in charge of
domestic security forces and
counter-terrorism policy.

The move was neither a shock nor a coup,
and it means he could be running the
kingdom for decades to come. What's
more, his tough approach to the
intractable problems of the Middle East
would appear to mesh well with U.S.
President Donald Trump, who visited
Saudi Arabia last month.

Trump called the new crown prince
Wednesday to offer congratulations on
his elevation, the White House said in a
statement. Trump and the prince
“committed to close cooperation to
advance our shared goals of security,
stability, and prosperity across the Middle
East and beyond,” according to the

Prince Mohammed also has come to
know Trump's daughter Ivanka and her
husband Jared Kushner, having dined
together twice, once in Washington and
once in Riyadh. 
What Next?
The problem is what comes next. On
Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State
questioned Saudi Arabia's justification at
striking out at Qatar by cutting it off from
diplomatic and transport links.

The bombing campaign in Yemen aimed
at destroying the rebel Houthi forces that
Saudi Arabia sees as proxies for Iran,
meanwhile, appears to have no end in sight.
Two years later, it has become bogged down,
bloody and increasingly unpopular.

“On the foreign policy side he's also
embroiled Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Qatar
without an exit strategy,” said James Dorsey,
senior fellow for the Middle East and North
Africa at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological
University. These aren’t changes of direction
for Saudi Arabia, but “what he has done is
to stretch up a notch and put some very sharp
edges on it, and at this point those are

Why King Salman chose this time to change
the line of succession remains unclear. There
have been rumors about his health and
alleged plans to abdicate almost from the
moment he became king, in January 2015. The
amount of power he placed in the hands of his
relatively inexperienced son had rankled older
members of the royal family. And religious
conservatives were always going to resist efforts
at gradual liberalization in one of the world's
most repressive societies.

MBS’s plans require tearing up the social
contract that's kept the family in power since
his grandfather, Ibn Saud, founded the kingdom
in 1932. It was one of state largesse in exchange
for obedience to an austere autocracy.

That said, there's a strong desire for change
among many Saudis. Official statistics show
that half the population is under 25. He
remains popular among the young, even though
some Saudis are becoming unhappy as subsidies
and public sector jobs are withdrawn, according
to Dorsey.

That means his controversial plans for selling off
parts of the state energy behemoth Saudi Aramco
and other aspects of Vision 2030 are also likely
to move forward, according to Ayham Kamel,
director for the Middle East and North Africa at
the Eurasia Group, in London.

“Investors had doubts that Vision 2030 is real
or that the man behind it would actually be the
ruler of Saudi Arabia. Those doubts will largely
evaporate after this,” he said. Still, with power
will come the responsibility for what goes wrong,
said Kamel, and “that part is going to be
fundamentally different.”


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