Princes Muted Infighting, The Calm before The Storm?

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Articles
Wednesday, 04 November 2015


Saudi Arabia is full of change potentials. The changes have even sped up remarkably after the new Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, have ascended the throne almost ten months ago, pushing the founding king’s trend into fresh and variable processes, which are new to the conservative and tolerant Saudis, and at the same time looking strange and disquieting. The release of a couple of letters by one of the Saudi princes, who highlighted the need for instant reforms, and asking for king removal, shows that the divisions between the king’s brothers and other princes have upgraded to intensive competitions, having the potentials to emerge as power struggles over the legacy of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who died on January 23, 2015 after suffering a long-term disease.

The political rivalry and the semi-power struggle are not novel, as they have been having deep roots in the kingdom’s history. However, in the present time, due to changes taken place and the new mechanisms for selecting a crown prince and the successor and the absence of a clear and agreeable set-up, the competition could potentially bring forth rapid changes inside the kingdom. Thanks to the specific nature and vertical power transition model, which makes it different from other models of monarchies, the competition of a wide range of the princes carries the potentials to shift into a struggle over the posts of the crown prince and the throne.

But, the point should not be ignored that the tradition of consensus and seniority among the Saudis has historical roots in the Saudi monarchy, as in critical times the kingdom has managed to bring the inconsistent royal members under a firm union. However, in the current stretch of time, it seems that the case is very different, especially with an awareness of the region’s massive conflicts, the kingdom’s economic conditions and the international considerations.

To test the aspects of the theory of change in Saudi Arabia a clear picture could be reached by observing and examining the royal court’s conditions as well as the competition between the Kingdom’s princes. Raising four questions could help receive a better perception of the case. Is there a possibility in the present time that a coup takes place as it happened in 1964, when King Saud was removed and succeeded by his brother, King Faisal? Why does the power transition mechanism in the kingdom have the potentials to be hit by crisis in the current time? Which princes have a greater chance to rise? And lastly, what type of power transition model would be prescribed by the current internal competitions for the Saudi monarchy?

A Coup: Possible or Not?

As an answer to the first question, it could be said that there is a narrow chance of a coup similar to that of 1964, in which King Faisal ascended the throne after his brother, King Saud, was dethroned. At that time most of the brothers or sons of King Abdulaziz officially upheld King Faisal coming to the power, and even the court and the royal guards intervened, pressurizing King Saud. The dispute was finally settled, and King Faisal came to the throne.

In the present time there is no definite and firm advocacy for the removal of King Salman, and that just release of a letter by Saudi prince, who there are doubts on his identity, would not mean existence of massive court opposition to King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Currently, King Salman, among his 11 brothers- Bandar, Mashal, Abdulrahman, Mutaib, Talal, Turki bin Abdelaziz, Mamdouh, Abdul Elah, Mashhur, Ahmed and Muqrin- doesn’t enjoy firm support of his blood brothers such as Abdulrahman, Turki bin Abdelaziz and Ahmed, who three of whom belong to Sudairi faction.

Bandar, Mamdouh, Mutaib, Mashhur and Abdul Elah posed no serious opposition to King Salman, and due to old age and inexperience in governing they have been pushed out of the competition circle. Meanwhile, Muqrin, for being dismissed from the promised crown prince post, Mashhur, for being ignored as the head of Allegiance Council, and Talal, for his persistent opposition to the model of power transition, have greater potentials to oppose Salman. But, because they do not serve in such key posts as the crown prince, deputy crown prince, the ministry of interior and defense or the national guard, their opposition remains personal, not going far from a limited circle of their relatives.

The Succession is Susceptible to Crisis

As an answer to the second question, it can be said that the present state of the kingdom carries a bigger susceptibility to crisis. There are two reasons for that. The first is that King Abdulaziz charter, known formaly as Charter of Abdulaziz- stating that as long as the king’s brothers were alive the power should not be transferred to the grandsons or the third generation princes- has expired. The royal decree was violated in the last years of King Abdullah’s throne and especially in the time of the current King Salman after the crown prince and the deputy crown prince were selected among the King Abdulaziz’s grandsons. This state has left King Salman’s eleven brothers practically ignored, a move against the father’s political decree. The problem is not solely disregarding the king’s brothers, which is a source of discontent, but there is a greater one, and it is that there is no certain framework, just like the Order of King Abdulaziz, for power transition in later times to decrease the cost of power struggle inside the royal family. Especially that there is no clear democratic electoral mechanism for circulation of the county’s political elites, an issue causing a wide spectrum of the princes to consider themselves qualified for the royal posts. The second factor is ignoring the Allegiance Council, which was formed in 2007 by King Abdullah, the intended function of which was to appoint a crown prince once a new king succeeds to the throne. Actually, on the threshold of its formation, when King Abdullah appointed Nayef and then Salam as Crowns of Princes without consulting it, the Allegiance Council was almost a figurehead, and even not dating any function could be presumed for it.

Contests between Two Mohammads

Answering the third question, it could be said that a chain of princes who have taken crown prince or ministerial posts from the past decade enjoy a bigger chance to be appointed as crown prince or a monarch in the future. But, the close competition is between Mohammad bin Nayef and Salman’s sons. Mohammad bin Nayef and his cousin Mohammad bin Salman, whose dispute rumors in the recent months have been circulating in the news outlets. The contest between these two princes is totally going in favor of bin Nayef, because he enjoys support of the Americans, other princes and the Wahhabi clerics, therefore he stands in a higher position than his cousin to rise to power. Out of the circle of the major completion between the two Mohammads are there such princes as Mutaib bin Abdullah, the Minister of National Guard, Faisal bin Bandar, the governor of Riyadh, Faisal bin Salman, the governor of Madinah, Khaled bin Faisal, the governor of Mecca, Saud bin Nayef, the governor of the eastern province, Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Deputy Minister of Petroleum And sons of King Abdullah as well as Sultan bin Abdulaziz’ sons are considered in this pack.

Monopolization of power

As an answer to the fourth question, it can be presumed that, in the current time that the legal political traditions, like the Charter of Abdulaziz, are pushed to the margin there is a possibility of fast-moving changes, as the kingdom could move into a different process of power transition and seizure of power in the hand of one family, without any room for circulation of power between the brothers and the cousins. To put it another way, the contest between a wide spectrum of the princes, or in a more normal condition, the contest between the son of Salman and Nayef is shaped in a way that the power would be seized in Nayef or Salman’s family, or a new mechanism similar to Allegiance Council could be introduced, in which the hierarchy pattern and the model for power transition are explicitly pinpointed.

Is seems that even the two mentioned scenarios would not be able to settle the main problem in the Saudi royal family, especially that the monopoly of power by the current King Salman has shown that he and his son, Mohammad, are less bound to adhere to the consensual and covenantal procedures of power transition among the brothers and the cousins. Therefore, the monopolization of power is a possible theory with regard to the present situation in the kingdom.

So, in an inclusive picture it could be said that a couple of factors including king Salman and his sons’ thought about holding the power, the absence of traditional legal models and an electoral mechanism, the US monitoring of the changing processes of power transition in Saudi Arabia, some princes’ warning about eruption of power struggle and the need for political reforms, the considerable size of social demands, economic troubles and the kingdom’s involvement in regional conflicts could play as catalyzers for accelerating the speed of painful and rarely successful changes in Saudi Arabia.

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