A special kind of leadership is needed in the Middle East
The appointment of Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as crown prince is an important change for Saudi Arabia and the entire region.
It is rather easy to explain this change by claiming that Saudi Arabia needed to inject young blood in its higher circles of power. It is even easier to say that this appointment is the solidification of the new rules for peaceful power transmission to the next generation in the Saudi royal family. What is not as easy is establishing connections between the change in Saudi Arabia and the current context and challenges in the region.
This does not mean that the regional context of Saudi Arabia has always been easy. The difference is that the challenges this time do not recognise borders and are politically interconnected and confusing, so much so that it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe.
The forces of political Islam have turned the region upside down and done away with traditional assumptions. The region is truly in need of rehabilitation on more than one level. The exceptional psychological, political and material damage inflicted on the region requires exceptional leaderships capable of damming this damage.
These leaders must possess a political and social project to offer as an alternative to a multitude of competing models, the least of which are the ones offered by both versions of political Islam, the Khomeini-inspired one and that of the Muslim Brotherhood. The scary demographic context and the deteriorating economic conditions in the region simply add to the arduousness of the task.
A special kind of leadership is indeed needed in the region. To say that the region needs real hawks at the helm to stand against Iran’s supremacist sectarian project or Turkey’s neo-Ottoman project is not sufficient. That necessity is taken for granted given the dangerous nature of those projects. What is also needed, however, is leadership with visions for solutions to even greater challenges likely to come.
The change introduced in the power structure in Saudi Arabia is commensurate with the challenges ahead. Saudi rulers are aware of the successful development experiments in neighbouring countries with similar social and economic conditions. They are inspired by this success and are willing to replicate their neighbours’ models.
Saudi Arabia is very aware of being targeted by rising powers in the region. Some of these powers, such as Iran, are quite forward in expressing their cupidity. Iran has gone the extra mile by trying to surround the kingdom with client states or groups. Other powers, such as Turkey, do not hesitate to flex their military might. Taking advantage of the Qatar dispute, Turkey has dared to make a show of its military power inside the Gulf region. Such brazen threats can only be met with escalation.
Crown Prince Mohammed has spoken of the nature of the challenges facing the kingdom on more than one occasion. He addressed the nature of the responses needed and wondered if there were previous solutions and measures that can be relied on now or whether the time for change has come.
The 31-year-old prince seems confident of his approach, perhaps because he feels that many of Saudi Arabia’s young people have rallied to his reform project and want to be part of it. He also seems determined not to let the achievements resulting from a century of stability in the kingdom be destroyed at the hands of adverse political and regional powers. He is finally comforted by the faithful support and help of neighbouring brotherly countries.
Crown Prince Mohammed does indeed stand ready for the coming changes and challenges.