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TECTONIC SHIFTS IN SAUDI ARABIA

  • Murad Ali
  • Dec, 2017
  • 68
  • International

What is there for Pakistan and Iran?

Saudi Arabia announced the arrest of 11 princes, including a prominent billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and dozens of current and former ministers in a sweeping clean-up operation which sent tremors in the Kingdom and shocks around the world capitals. In a separate but related move, the Commander of the Saudi National Guard, once a leading contender to the throne, as well as the navy chief and the economy minister were replaced. Particularly significant were the arrests of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, two sons of late King Abdullah, particularly Prince Miteb, 65, who hoped for the position of crown prince. Private jets were grounded in Jeddah, possibly to prevent any high-profile figures from leaving.

These moves were reported immediately after a new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was established by a royal decree the same day. The arrests were made as a probe was launched into old cases such as floods that devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009. What was described as move against corruption is however being generally regarded as gearing to consolidate grip following the tectonic shift of power to the family of King Salman bin Abdel Aziz.

Arrests, detentions and removals indicate a method in madness. The position of National Guard command, for example, was very significant for Prince Miteb as King Faisal, in a tussle with his elder brother and King Saud, had appointed Prince Abdullah in 1962 as Commander, effectively consolidating his grip on power which ultimately resulted in dethroning his brother Saud bin Abdel Aziz in 1964. Now Prince Miteb had inherited the command from his father King Abdullah which has 250,000-personnel well trained members from the Bedouin tribes from Nejd, loyal to the House of Saud particularly including the Shamri tribes with allegiance to the late King Abdullah. The force is independent of the Ministry of Defence and distinct from the regular Saudi army which has predominant Hejazis and Yemenis. The shake-up is an effort to remove possible challengers to the authority of Crown Prince.

The 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely believed to be the driving force behind this canvas-wide shake up in the Kingdom. After King Salman took the reign in 2015, his son was appointed as Deputy Crown Prince and in charge of defence, oil and economy portfolios. In the middle of this year he replaced his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne that shook-up the traditional descending line of the Saud family, although, in a video clip, he went an extra mile to show his respect by kissing his hands. The Crown Prince is also the main proponent of a wide-ranging plan, called Vision 2030, to bring social and economic change to the kingdom and promoter of diversification of the economy away from dependence on oil revenue. The Prince has also shown intolerance to extremism and wants to return to ‘’moderate Islam’’ as he recently said "We won't waste 30 years of our lives dealing with any extremist ideas. We will eradicate extremism." His attacks on some social constraints, including a long-standing ban on female drivers - women will be allowed to drive in June 2018 - has been widely hailed. Saudi Arabia has generally been seeing a smooth transition of power and is perceived to have a history of promoting extremist ideology around the globe.

Since the death of the founder King Abdul Aziz bin Saud in 1953, Saudi Arabia, home to two holiest Islamic places, has generally witnessed smooth throne succession from elder brother to the younger, some bestowed with greater reverence and respect than the other by the Muslims around the globe. The dynastic rule saw was marked by continuation of conformist policies which were termed as ‘Wahabi’ brand after 18th century Najadi jurist Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who opposed most popular and well followed Sunni practices which he believed amounted to heretical religious innovation (Bida’a)). Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Ibne Saud agreed to work together to purify Islam by bringing it back to its purest form. Since then descendents of Abd al-Wahhab have historically led the ulama in Saudi Arabia. All this seems to undergo a metamorphic change with the coming to power of King Salman bin Abdel Aziz and appointing 32 year old son MBS as the Crown Prince.  

The Prince, it seems, in his impressionable young age was watching the criticism which was being heaped on his country by the world media about its support of extreme ideology. The intensity with which criticism unfolded after 9/11 may not have surprised non Saudis, but the hijackers’ nationality issue was a huge setba...

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