My very strong opinion is that whatever his actual intentions, King Salman has just laid the groundwork for a Saudi civil war.
In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.
Muqrin himself was only appointed “Deputy Crown Prince” just over a year ago, and became Crown Prince when King Abdullah died a few months ago. His appointment jumped him up the line, bypassing several senior princes. The circumstances of the appointment leave cause for doubt that everyone was happy with the situation:
[text bolded by me].
The royal decree stated that King Abdullah had made his decision in cooperation with Salman, but it appears that the council was not called into session to participate in Muqrin’s selection. Instead, its members were polled individually, according to an April 1 tweet by Khalid bin Talal, son of Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz who is regarded as an independent-minded maverick within the royal family. Asked about this tweeted information, the Saudi academic wrote in an email, “It seems that what Khaled bin Talal tweeted is more realistic and is accurate in stating that members were consulted individually.”
By accounts, 25% of the council opposed the vote. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the educated guess that it was, most likely, the princes skipped over by this appointment who were unhappy with it. Additionally, Muqrin held the post for about 13 months. Long enough to gain a bit of a power base, but not long enough to cement it. He is, however, a prince of the royal family, which means that he’d almost have to have a power base of his own before that.
bin Nayef, on the other hand, is recently appointed to the position and hence will also not have had much time to consolidate his power. Again, however, he is of the Saudi royal family, so there will be some built in power base there. But he’s also unlikely to have the time to consolidate a power base. King Salman is 79. How many years before he, too passes? His predecessor, King Abdullah, lived to 90. So perhaps another decade? Maybe a few years after that?
So two factions now exist for sure, each of which has an unconsolidated power base. Let’s not pretend for a minute that the princes who were passed over by these two aren’t interested in making a play themselves. And then recall that Saudi Arabia has only been a country since 1932 – a mere eighty three years since it was united by conquest. Don’t forget that there’s also an ongoing power struggle between those who would support the jihadis against the west and those who want to continue comfortably making money selling oil to the western world.
There’s no way to predict a timeline, but ultimately this only ends one way.
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