With its foreign policy, the new Saudi Arabian crown prince has made the country an unpredictable and unstable alliance for most business partners, both in the region and in the West. His metier in the foreign policy is at present certainly not convincing. It rather refers to an inexperienced impulsive leader who can not understand the political power game in the Middle East. Yasmin Abdel-Hak´s analysis of the many political challenges that await the new, powerful leader.
Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that the royal house has promoted the former deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince. Thus, the 31-year-old crown prince is placed in position for his future task as the king of the country. The former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, has also been freed for all his previous responsibilities.
Since he first appeared in the royal scene in 2015, bin Salman has been busy positioning himself as a reformer of the country.
This is a man who has so far created a very strong power foundation on the domestic policy front
He has thus presented a long-term action plan with a new energy policy; He has been advocating that the country launches a new economy when the – still massive – oil sources dry out in the future. He has managed to drastically reduce the generous state subsidies for the population, and has proposed partial privatization of the state-owned oil company Aramco.
It is quite significant for a 31-year-old prince, as before 2015, when his father was appointed king and then dragged him into the government cabinet as defense minister and deputy crown prince, had only a minor role as minister and adviser to his father.
In addition to bin Salman now crown prince, he is also Deputy Prime Minister, Defense Minister with access to one of the world’s largest military budgets, as well as Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development. A powerful cabinet council that has a decisive influence on all political work on housing, health and social conditions, as well as educational conditions in the country. He is also chairman of the state-owned oil company Aramco. Last but not least, he is the one closest to the king who is the final decision maker.
In other words, it is a man who has so far created a very strong power foundation on the domestic policy front.
A royal humiliation of dimensions
The appointment was generally received positively among the younger generation of Saudi people who sees the Crown Prince as a far more action-oriented man than his predecessor. How the appointment is perceived within the royal family’s own rows is another matter. No doubt that the crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef can only regard it as a royal humiliation of dimensions.
It is special for rentier states that the people only fail to rebel as long as the social contract with the governor remains intact. In other words, the Crown Prince’s support from the population rests on a very thin basis
As a crown prince, bin Nayef was responsible for the fight against terrorist attacks and the maintenance of security in the country. He thus held responsibility for an extremely important area for securing the continued survival of the Saudi state. And with an area of responsibility of several hundred thousand employees in intelligence and security services, bin Nayef became synonymous with The Deep State.
But although bin Nayef was nominated by the new Crown Prince himself, it does not necessarily mean that the Deep State device per. Automatically will follow the new crown prince uncritically.
Intelligence and security services do not follow per. Defining blindly their leaders. It is the extremely strained and inflamed relationship between intelligence services in the United States and President Donald Trump a brilliant example of. So here too, the new crown prince should consider what these services have to say.
Out of the 34 members of the Troika Council there were 31, who supported the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman. Although, of course, it is a very overwhelming majority, it is nonetheless remarkable with the lack of consensus that is usually used in these generous appointments.
The art of balancing on a knife egg
There is no doubt that the appointment will give shakes to the inner rows of the royal family. The question is whether it will give rise to greater turmoil and instability in the royal dynasty. It does not have to be done immediately. Indeed, there are many other interest groups that can do the work for the unhappy members of the royal house.
Broadly simplified, one can say that if the economic gifts are cut to the population, in some cases, the religious favors of the population must be relaxed
There are many different interest groups to take into account when trying to push a mastodont like Saudi Arabia out of the stalemate, landed after several years of despair economic policy has placed itself in.
This exercise corresponds to having to push a stranded ship out of the desert sand dunes. There is an older generation within the rows of the royal house, which does not necessarily share the crown prince’s enthusiasm for too many political changes and that the younger generation in the country loses privileges.
And finally there is the extremely well-established religious establishment, which in itself is as powerful and well-founded as the new crown prince appears to be with his new appointment.
The religious establishment is the foundation of the state and legitimacy of Saudi Arabia itself. It is not without reason that the royal family calls guardians of two of Islamic sacred mosques, and that the state itself sees it as its prime task to position itself as the supreme castle for not only Sunni Islam, but also Wahabism, the strict interpretation of the Qur’an, as a special feature of Saudi Arabia. In other words, the religious establishment is a very important and important player in the Saudi community, which does not allow itself to be overheard.
Religious easing and economic tightening
A third, though a somewhat more passive actor, is the country’s population. Saudi Arabia with its dynastic monarchy and infinitely deep pockets has for many years been a so-called rentier state .
It is a term used for oily monarchies which post large amounts of money into the population in terms of social benefits, tax exemptions and other economic gifts in return for lack of democracy and freedoms.
In general, the rentier state is best described as a relationship between the royal family and the population with an undisputed social contract that should not be broken if the royal family wants a stable society without much political unrest.
Therefore, as a king and crown prince, one must be very careful starting to cut into the social benefits that the people have enjoyed so far. Broadly speaking, if the economic gifts of the population are cut off, the religious favors of the population must be laxed.
An example of this delicat balance is that the Crown Prince launched a visionary economic action plan for the country, called Saudi Vision 2030 in 2016, including radical changes and cuts in economic benefits.
In order to accommodate the population, however, the crown prince, in turn, recently allowed the conduct of concerts in Saudi Arabia. And even though the concerts were only available to the male population, it was nevertheless something of a business in the religious capital. The Crown Prince has likewise ventured the possibility of showing cinema – again for the male population.
In the foreign policy scene, the Crown Prince has as many sharks to fight. Most of them even created by himself
These are actions that are popular with an increasing younger generation of Saudi people. But at the same time there are actions that contradict what the religious establishment preaches. And when the proposal that women should be allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, again aired, the Crown Prince concluded that the country is not ripe for such a revolutionary thought with a silent reference to religious leadership in the country.
The above example clearly shows that the Crown Prince needs to navigate his way through dangeous and treaserous waters in order to avoid turmoil and criticism from the royal family’s own rows, while respecting religious leadership and its power, all the while attempting to put his economic action plan for the country, without causing a turmoil in a population used to much better economic conditions.
For his own sake and for the survival of the state, the crown prince must aim to be able to accomplish this skill to perfection. Because that is the thing with rentier states; people only fail to rebel as long as the social contract with the governor remains intact. In other words, the Crown Prince’s support from the population rests on a very thin basis.
In the foreign policy scene, the Crown Prince has as many sharks to fight. Most of them he even put himself in the water.
First of all, the Crown Prince’s decision to initiate a David and Goliat war against the poorest country in the region – Yemen – was something of a political error in 2015.
What started with the expectation of a fast and convincing victory has ended with a fatal political failure and military humiliation of the Saudi army, which has failed to fight the declared enemy, Houthi tribe. Recognizing that the Houthi tribe is funded with both weapons and money from Iran, Saudi Arabia is once again involved in a proxy war (deputy war) against Iran.
The same goes for the country’s financial support for several rebel groups in Syria.
Again, the support has been given the status of a proxy war against Iran, which supports the seated regime. In Saudi Arabia, the crash recently resigned with Qatar with related economic sanctions, landlock closure and airspace is another example of missing Saudi Arabian flair for foreign policy. For if the Crown Prince believed that, with this disposition, he would put Qatar in place once and for all, he had also counted on it. Other countries were ready to help Qatar, first and foremost Iran and Turkey. And so Saudi Arabia once again caused turmoil in the alliance that the country is dependent on compared to the declared enemy of Iran.
In general, his foreign policy seems to have made Saudi Arabia an unpredictable and unstable alliance for most partners, both in the region and in the West. His metier in the foreign policy is at present certainly not convincing. It is more about an inexperienced impulsive leader who can not understand the political power game in the Middle East. In view of the crown prince’s previous role in the royal dynasty, the appointment of Crown Prince seems to be primarily a confirmation of the status he already de facto took before Wednesday .
In any event, the appointment may, in the first place, be seen as a consolidation of his position. But even though it may be sufficiently consolidated, the Crown Prince still has a heavy balance of power to relate to. With many considerations to take and many actors just waiting for him to make mistakes. Both domestic and foreign policy.