Power reset in Saudi Arabia to deal with challenges at home and in region

Sunday 25/06/2017
Young leadership. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. (AP)

London- The appointment of Mo­hammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as Saudi crown prince seems a reflection of changing times and a harbinger of more changes to come in the kingdom.

Hopes are pinned on the new crown prince to carry on with his reformist agenda. Since his ap­pointment in 2015 as deputy crown prince, Crown Prince Mohammed, the architect of the Vision 2030 pro­gramme, has spearheaded efforts to wean the Saudi economy from its dependence on oil.

The aborted terror attack in Mecca on June 23 served as a reminder that the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda is still an issue Saudi authorities must reckon with.

The Saudi leadership is expected to continue its assertive foreign poli­cies in addressing regional challeng­es, particularly as they pertain to the war in Yemen, Iran’s destabilisation activities and the crisis with Qatar.

Tehran, which already feels the pressure from the common stanc­es of Washington and Riyadh, has reacted angrily to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s pledging “sup­port of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transi­tion of that government.”

The more immediate challenge for Riyadh, however, is the crisis stem­ming from Qatar’s refusal to change policies that are seen by its neigh­bours as a threat to regional stability and security.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on June 5 severed diplomatic ties and economic and travel links to Qatar, saying there could be no normalisa­tion until Doha stops its support of Islamic extremists and interference in the internal affairs of other coun­tries.

A list of the grievances transmit­ted to Doha included demands that it cut ties with the Muslim Brother­hood and other extremist groups, stop funding terrorist organisa­tions, shut down the Al Jazeera network and withdraw funding of other hostile media outlets, curb ties with Iran and close a Turkish military base in Qatar.

Doha, however, showed no inter­est in accommodating the demands or in negotiating until sanctions were lifted. With its ambassador in Washington claiming his country’s situation “is very comfortable,” de­spite the sanctions it faces, Qatar is likely to face continued isolation for some time.

“The four countries can afford to wait, but Qatar cannot,” Fawaz Ger­ges, a Middle East expert at the Lon­don School of Economics, told the Associated Press “This crisis could threaten the political stability of the ruling family in Qatar in the long term if it lasts.”

Qatar’s neighbours have ex­pressed determination to continue the sanctions for the long haul. “The measures that have been tak­en are there to stay until there is a long-term solution to the issue,” said UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba.

The Gulf countries and Egypt hinted at tighter measures against Qatar but in the envisioned sanc­tions, “there is no military element to this whatsoever,” Otaiba said.

This would mean the increased isolation of Qatar and its drifting away from the Gulf Cooperation Council while Doha seeks the sup­port of Turkey and Iran and plays on the ambiguities stemming from Washington’s mixed signals. While US President Donald Trump de­nounced Qatar’s role in financing terrorism “at the highest level,” the US State Department seemed more ambivalent in the stand-off be­tween Doha and its neighbours.

A lot will depend on how and whether Qatar deals with the mounting pressures. Despite assur­ances to the contrary, Doha is show­ing signs of stress. Government institutions and oil companies are cancelling leave and departure per­mits for employees.

“Certain government bodies can­celled leave so staff were present to help with vital planning such as chartering new shipping routes and getting food into the country,” a Qa­tari official told Reuters.