New generation of leaders comes to the fore

Friday 01/05/2015
Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, center, speaks with Saudi officials while he attends a Saudi armed forces exercise (File photo)

London - In a dramatic reshuffle, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has en­sured that, after six decades of power passing through a suc­cession of brothers, a new gen­eration will take control of the con­servative monarchy when he dies.
Salman passed over his half-brother Prince Muqrin, the 35th and youngest surviving son of Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdul-Aziz, to name his nephew, current Inte­rior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince and suc­cessor to the throne. A royal decree issued April 29th relieved Muqrin of his position as crown prince and second deputy prime minster, say­ing it was done on his own request.
Salman named his son, Minister of Defence Prince Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince, the second in line to the throne.
Seventy-five-year-old Prince Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister since 1975, also stepped down due to health reasons and was replaced with the kingdom’s former ambas­sador to the United States, Adel Al- Jubeir.
The succession has long been a favourite topic with Saudi political watchers and analysts, with many speculating about the mechanics involved behind the closed doors of Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council, the government body assigned with the task since 2007. The reshuffle of what has become known as the “triangle of power” marks the first time since 1953 that the positions of crown prince and his deputy are held by members from a new gen­eration from the royal family.
“I think we’re going to see a more confrontational policy, faster decision-making and more long-term thinking. A leadership that won’t hesitate from any confron­tation,” Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi se­curity analyst with close ties to the kingdom’s Interior Ministry, told Reuters.
Mohammed bin Nayef, globally known the kingdom’s counterter­rorism tsar, was born in 1959 and became interior minister in 2012, the youngest Saudi royal to be named to such a high-ranking post. He oversaw a crackdown on al- Qaeda following a wave of deadly attacks on the Gulf state from 2003 to 2006.
Western governments noted his successes in confronting the global extremist network and his men were the first to detect and prevent al-Qaeda attacks, said one expert. The prince’s reputation put him in the firing line. He survived an at­tack by the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in August 2009 when a suicide bomb­er infiltrated his security. Moham­med suffered superficial injuries when the bomber killed himself.
According to Mohammed al- Zulfa, a former member of the king­dom’s consultative council, “The reason he’s been able to reach these heights is based on his diligent work at the Interior Ministry. He also has exceptional ties with both liberals and conservatives, and his work with dealing with those who have transgressed out of what our religion (terrorists) deems as ac­ceptable is well documented.”
Zufla said Mohammed bin Nayef’s work in bringing former militants back into the fold of Saudi society through the CARE rehabili­tation programme was testament to the prince’s abilities. “He also has an outlook and a vision both domestically and regionally con­cerning the challenges facing the kingdom, so in many ways his ap­pointment is perfect timing,” Zufla said.
According to Jane Kinninmont, the deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, “The reshuffle in­dicates the king’s determination to press ahead with the transition to the next generation of Saudi lead­ers, and to consolidate the power of his son, Mohammed bin Sal­man. It smacks of a confident and assertive new king, but also raises some questions about the balance of power within the royal family.”
“Mohammed bin Nayef was al­ready in line to be the first prince from the third generation of Al Saud to take the throne. King Sal­man has overturned King Abdul­lah’s decision to put Prince Muqrin in place as the next king, but em­powering Mohammed bin Nayef continues a trend that had already begun under King Abdullah,” she said.
Mohammed bin Nayef, she said, is well liked in the West as he is seen as taking a more holistic ap­proach to security than his father, former interior minister Prince Nayef. His programme of rehabili­tation for would-be jihadis has had a mixed record as a small percent­age of those involved returned to jihadi groups, but it symbolised his determination to use religious, ide­ological, social and economic tools as part of security, not just tradi­tional policing and punishment.
Mohammed bin Nayef is also seen as one of the key forces be­hind the current programme of labour-force nationalisation, de­signed to get more Saudis into jobs and make it harder for the private sector to employ quite so many for­eign workers. He sees unemploy­ment as a security issue, among other things.
Concerning the new deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Sal­man, Kinninmont told The Arab Weekly, “is less well known and his rapid rise this year has taken a lot of Saudi-watchers in the West by sur­prise. At the age of 34, he now holds four of the kingdom’s top jobs.
“His designation as deputy crown prince indicates his father’s trust in him and his approval of the air strikes in Yemen, even if these are yet to have a decisive result on the ground. The extent to which he can work effectively with Moham­med bin Nayef will be one of the key issues for Saudi policymaking, as between them the two Moham­meds hold much of the power in Saudi Arabia.”
“Meanwhile the appointment of a younger-generation non-royal as foreign minister continues the trend of empowering younger-gen­eration leaders and brings a tech­nocrat into a position traditionally held by royals,” she said.