Defence Minister Named Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince
Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud was yesterday (18 June) appointed Saudi Arabia's new crown prince in a bid to ensure continuity and stability in the kingdom.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
Prince Salman's appointment was widely expected and will ensure political continuity in the kingdom.
The speed of the decision process will inspire confidence in the political system, while the appointment of Prince Ahmed bin Abdel-Aziz al Saud as Interior Minister further boosts his credentials as a future crown prince.
Given Prince Salman's reputation as a pragmatist and relative moderate, he will likely support the reformist approach of King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, reducing the risk of socio-political conflict.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud has moved quickly to appoint a new heir apparent following the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud in Geneva on Saturday (16 June) (see Saudi Arabia: 18 June 2012: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Dies). A royal decree issued yesterday (18 June) named Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz as crown prince and deputy prime minister; Salman will remain defence minister. Prince Salman was widely expected to be appointed crown prince following the plaudits he received during his time as governor of Riyadh between 1963 and November 2011, and subsequently as defence minister. He is widely regarded as a highly competent figure with a strong work ethic and has successfully worked with partners in Saudi Arabia's principle ally, the United States.
Prince Salman bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud at a Gulf
The death of Crown Prince Nayef, believed to have been aged 78, underscores the problems surrounding the kingdom's gerontocratic system of governance where sovereignty is passed along a line of ageing brothers—the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdel-Aziz al-Saud (Ibn Saud). Given the advanced age of these princes, all in their 70s and 80s, they are surrounded by health concerns making the succession process increasingly contentious. Indeed, even some of the grandchildren of Ibn Saud are in their 70s. In a bid to smooth future successions, King Abdullah established the Allegiance Council in 2006 to introduce transparency into the process, mindful of the difficulties surrounding the impending transition from second generation to third generation rulers. Given that its 35 members are comprised of second and generation princes, the independence of the body is questionable and its choices are likely to be heavily politicised and subject to horse-trading.
Where is the Council?
When King Abdullah established the Allegiance Council in 2006, it was determined that it would not have any say in the succession process until after Abdullah’s death. However, any involvement of the council in appointing the successor to Abdullah, however minimal, would further legitimise the organisation and enable it to establish its position within Saudi Arabia's political scene. As such, there has been speculation that it would be utilised earlier than originally intended.
Nevertheless, King Abdullah appointed Nayef crown prince in November 2011 following the death of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud without recourse to the Allegiance Council despite intense speculation that he would involve the body in the process. Similarly, it was hoped that the appointing of a successor to Nayef offered a second opportunity for the council to make itself heard. However, when King Abdullah announced the appointment of Crown Prince Salman yesterday, he made no mention of the Allegiance Council and the rapidity of the decision makes it highly likely that the decision was made without such consultation. While Abdullah's desire for stability and continuity is understandable, the likelihood is that the Allegiance Council's first foray into the succession process will concern the appointment of a new crown prince under a new king, altogether more complex. Yesterday's announcement represents a missed opportunity for the Allegiance Council to cement its position.
Stability and Continuity
The overarching themes surrounding the latest developments in the succession process are stability and continuity. Given the socio-economic pressures prevalent in the region and security concerns over developments in Yemen and Iran, such worries are understandable. However, while Crown Prince Salman was clearly being groomed to take over as heir apparent should Nayef's health continue to deteriorate, it was less clear who might succeed him as interior minister.
Saudi ministries are generally run as the personal fiefdoms of senior princes and the interior ministry is a prime example of this. Nayef was appointed interior minister in 1975 and his control over the ministry since then was near absolute, with the kingdom's internal security forces reporting directly to him. Given fears of unrest in Saudi's restive Eastern Province and of the ability of the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to conduct operations in the kingdom, the importance of a stable transfer of power in the interior ministry cannot be overstated.
In the end there were three main options available to King Abdullah, with the first being to promote Prince Ahmed bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud, the long serving deputy interior minister and full brother of both Crown Prince Salman and the deceased Nayef—all members of the "Sudairi Seven", the influential sons of Ibn Saud and his favourite wife Hassa bin Ahmad al-Sudairi. The second option would be to promote Nayef's son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef al-Saud, the assistant interior minister for counterterrorism, who has forged an impressive reputation for his role in expelling Al-Qaeda from the kingdom. While this would ensure stability in terms of maintaining the ministry as a bin-Nayef fiefdom, it would also entail promoting a third-generation prince to a position of great seniority, something which the second generation has so far proven reticent to do; although this will become increasingly vital in the short to medium term. The third option would be to parachute a senior prince in from outside, such as the impressive Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud; although this would dilute the power of the Sudairi Seven it could risk damaging stability in the ministry.
Unsurprisingly, King Abdullah opted to promote Prince Ahmed to interior minister, issuing a royal decree to the effect yesterday. Foregoing the opportunity to groom a senior third generation prince as a potential future regent, he opted to ensure stability in the short term. Prince Ahmed will likely be appointed second deputy prime minister in the coming years—the unofficial third in line for the throne—although other alternatives include Riyadh Governor Prince Sattam bin Abdel-Aziz al-Saud and Prince Muqrin.
In the meantime, the interior ministry will likely continue to operate along the same lines as before, with Prince Mohammed in charge of counterterrorism efforts and Prince Ahmed overseeing all other internal security issues. While Prince Nayef was regarded warily by the West because of his hardline, conservative Islamic reputation, it is irrefutable that he oversaw significant developments in the kingdom's internal security apparatus and many of the institutions and reforms he instigated will be maintained. One area in which his successor could look to make his mark would be to reform the tangled web of frequently overlapping internal security branches operating in the kingdom.
Outlook and Implications
The rapidity with which King Abdullah announced the replacements for Crown Prince Nayef underscores the importance with which he views continuity in the kingdom. In promoting Prince Salman and Prince Ahmed he understandably opted to promote the most senior figures available, eschewing any opportunity to elevate third generation princes. This failure to inject fresh blood into senior positions continues to hamstring politics in the kingdom and largely results from the pride of second generation princes who are unwilling to see more junior figures elevated above them. The most unfortunate aspect of the latest developments is King Abdullah's continued refusal to utilise the Allegiance Council, which in all likelihood would have merely rubberstamped his nomination. Now, the council will have no prior experience when it comes to future, more contested succession issues and it may well be sidelined by powerful establishment figures. While short term stability in the kingdom has been reinforced, decisions made in the last few days may have negative impacts on future successions. Nevertheless, Prince Salman is likely to support King Abdullah's tentative programme of reforms.
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