Asia Watch

Game of thrones: On the crown prince of Saudi Arabia

The rapid rise of Mohammed bin Salman, from one among many princes in the al-Saud royal family to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia within a span of two years, is an unprecedented development in the history of the Kingdom.

Jun 23, 2017
The rapid rise of Mohammed bin Salman, from one among many princes in the al-Saud royal family to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia within a span of two years, is an unprecedented development in the history of the Kingdom. Little-known outside the palace until January 2015 when his father, Salman bin Abdulaziz, became the monarch, Prince Mohammed has since been the face of Saudi Arabia overseas and of reforms at home. 
 
Appointed Deputy Crown Prince by his father, Prince Mohammed often overshadowed the then powerful Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef. He was directly in charge of the Kingdom’s foreign policy and rolled out an ambitious economic reform agenda last year. Throughout, he had the support of the octogenarian King, even as the Crown Prince, reportedly upset with his cousin sidestepping him, kept a low profile. 
 
On Wednesday, King Salman put an end to all speculation on the succession by ousting Prince Nayef, his nephew, and appointing his son the new Crown Prince. This has practically removed all hurdles for the 31-year-old to ascend the throne once his father retires or dies. With King Salman largely confined to the Palace owing to health reasons and Prince Nayef forcibly retired, the new Crown Prince has already become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
 
Many regard him as a reformer. He has repeatedly talked about ending Saudi Arabia’s “addiction to oil”. The Vision 2030 plan launched by the Prince last year seeks to end the country’s dependence on oil, reform its finances and encourage private enterprise. He has also talked about women’s rights. At the same time, many others perceive him as a reckless, impulsive royal whose unrealistic ambitions and quest for power could endanger not just the Kingdom but the entire Gulf region. A look at Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy under King Salman lends credence to this criticism. Prince Mohammed was the architect of Riyadh’s bombing campaign in Yemen in the name of fighting Shia Houthi rebels. 
 
The Saudi version is that the Houthis are Iran’s proxies, and letting them consolidate themselves in the Kingdom’s backyard will hurt its interests. For over two years Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen with impunity, triggering a humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, but without attaining the stated objective of defeating the Houthis. The Houthis are still in San’a, Yemen’s capital. Riyadh has also taken a tougher anti-Tehran line in recent years with Prince Mohammed determined to make sure that “the battle is for them in Iran”. 
 
This aggressive foreign policy line was evident in Riyadh’s decision to impose a blockade on Qatar as well. Prince Mohammed’s domestic reform credentials are also yet to be established, as his plans to reorganise the oil economy remain on paper, while social reforms are nowhere near the government’s agenda. Against such a background, the Prince’s elevation will only prompt Saudi Arabia to turn more hawkish on regional policy, while reforms take a back seat. This is bad news for an already volatile region.
 
The Hindu, June 23, 2017

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