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Saudi Arabia’s succession: runners, riders, and dynamics 16, June 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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The key positions in Saudi Arabia are still mostly held by sons of the founder the modern Saudi state, Abdulaziz Al Saud (or Ibn Saud, as he is commonly known). This means that those in power are often exceedingly old and thus in ill-health and the death of two Crown Princes within nine months testifies to this concern.

There is a paradoxical issue here. On the one hand, the passing of power from one man to the next does not make a huge amount of difference. Change in Saudi Arabia occurs at a glacial pace. There is just no room for a new, dynamic leader to take the top job, ‘clean house’, and institute significant changes. Thus, there is no real concern that immediate policies and practices will change. However, simultaneously, Saudi Arabia’s politics is heading towards a cliff of some description. It is running out of sons of Ibn Saud and the stints in power of coming Kings will necessarily be short. There need to be practices and procedures in place to manage the transition to the next generation, the grandsons of Ibn Saud. An Allegiance Council was set up to deal with this but this is essentially untested and everyone is fully aware that it will only play a role if it is allowed to by the more powerful Princes.

Another key piece of the succession pie lies in the blocks of power within the Kingdom.

The Sudairis

Carrying a disproportionate amount of sway are the descendants of Ibn Saud and his marriage to his favored wife, Princess Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi. Former King Fahd was the leader of this block and held power – nominally at least – from 1982 to 2005 allowing several Sudairi to be firmly inculcated into seats of power in Saudi Arabia. Despite this ‘good start’, this branch has suffered recently so some degree, with the deaths of Crown Prince Sultan in 2011 and Crown Prince Nayef.

Nevertheless Sudairis still include Defence Minister Salman, Deputy Minister of Interior Prince Ahmed, a former Deputy Minister of Defence Prince AbdulRahman, and Prince Turki, who seems to be agitating after his return to Saudi Arabia for a position.

The Faisals

Successors to King Saud, the immediate successor to Ibn Saud, the current long serving Foreign Minister, Saud is the leading Faisal member. Other prominent Faisals include Prince Khalid who has the centrally important role as Governor of Mecca, and Prince Turki who was the intelligence chief from 1977-2001. Turki was subsequently Ambassador to America and the UK, but subsequently disappeared from view for some time, though he retains a latent importance.

The Abdullah faction

The current King, Abdallah, has, so to speak, his own faction. He forged his place as head of the well regarded Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) from 1962-2010 as key to balancing to the ordinary Saudi Arabian Land Forces under Sudairi control. His problem stems from the fact that he has no full brothers in key positions, so his power has been invested in his sons.

Miteb was recently given charge of the SANG in a move which guarantees that he will be powerful for the foreseeable future, while Khalid is on the Allegiance Council, Mishal is the Governor or Najran province, and Abdulaziz as an adviser in the Royal court.

 

Runners and riders

Salman bin Abdulaziz (b.1936, Defence Minister)

Elevated to Defence Minister in November 2011 after being Governor of Riyadh. In his 9 months at the MOD he became highly respected for his work ethic and his desire to implement changes to the archaic practices and procedures. He is widely seen as likely to be elevated to Crown Prince.

Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (b.1945, Saudi Intelligence Chief)

A Minister with a key portfolio and an impressive track record in his post. Moving him would be a tricky matter and he does not have a good lineage, with his mother being non-Saudi. Unlikely to become Crown Prince. Could move to Defence, but will probably stay where he is.

Khalid Bin Sultan (b.1949, Assistant Defence Minister)

Performed poorly in battle in Yemen in 2009 and thus was not elevated to Minister of Defence when his father died. Given this public rebuke, he cannot become Crown Prince, but could conceivably finally become Minister of Defence if Salman becomes Crown Prince, though this is far from guaranteed.

Bandar Bin Sultan (b.1949, Former Ambassador to America)

Formerly a hugely important figure who has more recently been lost in the proverbial desert. Despite this and his non-traditional lineage on his mother’s side, he is a widely respected figure who could play some role.

Saud Bin Faisal (b.1941, Foreign Minister)

Widely respected but old and ill. There has been talk of him stepping down from the Foreign Ministry so taking on another role would seem to make no sense.

Prince Turki Bin Faisal (b.1945, Former intelligence head; UK & US Ambassador)

Still an influential and ethereal figure today. A chequered history, though, and a decidedly non-conservative streak suggest that he will not be promoted.

Mishaal Bin Abdulaziz (b.1926, Former Defence Minister, Governor of Mecca, Chair of Allegiance Council)

Far too old even in a Saudi context to be considered.

Sattam Bin Abdulaziz (b.1941, Governor of Riyadh)

Recently became Governor of Riyadh, a key position; it is distinctly possible that he would be elevated at some stage.

Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz (b.1941, Deputy Minister of the Interior, Deputy Governor of Mecca)

Largely overlooked thus far, Ahmed nevertheless has a strong reputation and could conceivably find himself with another job in the coming weeks.

…..

Mohammed Bin Nayef (b.1959, Assistant Minister of the Interior)

He has earned an excellent reputation in the MOI for improving its counter-terrorism and intelligence abilities though being a worldly, un-dogmatic, and diligent worker. Would have been a clear leader to be a future Crown Prince had his father lived to be King. Will still be among the key contenders; he is the son of a key Sudairi after all, though he is very young.

Khalid Bin Faisal (b.1940, Governor of Mecca)

The Governorship of Mecca carries with is significant responsibility and prestige. He has been in the post for five years now. He is one of the older candidates of those not a son of Ibn Saud, which in the Saudi context could be significant.

Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah (b.1963, Deputy Foreign Minister)

Formerly of the SANG where he spent over a decade, he has for almost a year been the Deputy Foreign Minister. He is also on the board of KAUST, hoped to be one of the key institutions of change in Saudi Arabia, and stands a good chance of being the next foreign Minister at least.

Abdulaziz bin Salman (b.1960, Minister of Oil)

His position as Minister of Oil guarantees him a prominent role in Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen how much Salman will seek to elevate him.

Miteb bin Abdullah (b.1953, Commander of SANG)

In control of arguably the most potent army in Saudi Arabia and carries significant sway. Certainly a potential for future Crown Prince, though it depends upon whether his father can make a deal to see this come to fruition after he passes, or whether he can arrange a ‘second Deputy Prime Minister’ spot as he did for Nayef in 2009, effectively lining him up to the throne.

Mishaal Bin Abdullah (Governor of Najran Province)

Najran Province borders Yemen and is thus of huge strategic importance to Saudi Arabia. This kind of ‘training’ can be played upon to secure his future elevation in position.

Mohammed bin Fahd (b.1951, Governor of the Eastern Province)

Like Mishaal, with ‘training’ in such a key areas as the Eastern Province, Mohammed is potentially ready for a higher role.

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Abdullah fires KAUST critic 5, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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kaust1

Saudi King Abdullah has fired the recent outspoken critic of his newest project, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST). Sheikh Saad Al Shethry decried the University where sexes can mix together freely, women can drive and do not have to wear the Hijab. Perhaps worst of all for Al Shethry, the curriculum itself along with the University as a whole is outwith the remit of the Religious Authorities.

Abdullah’s quick removal of this vocal critic is a strong sign of his intent to protect the integrity of the University. However, as I said in an earlier blog posting, the real challenge comes when the presumed successor – the arch Conservative Prince Nayef – takes over. If he carries on with his Conservative outlook that has epitomized his time in the Ministry of the Interior, it seems unlikely that the University will retain such protection.

Nayef: not good for UAE relations 29, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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Some interesting thoughts on the possible (negative) implications for the UAE if (or rather when) Prince Nayef takes the reigns of power in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi’s new hi-tech University: both too much and not enough 25, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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One advantage of covering the Gulf region is that there is rarely a dull day. The sheer pace of development means that more or less every week there is some new mega-project of some description announced, unveiled or – in these more constrained times – cancelled.

This week saw the opening of Saudi Arabia’s newest University. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), based north of Jeddah, is ground braking. Not only will it be the first public space in the Kingdom where men and women are allowed to mingle freely, women can drive and do not have to wear the Hijab but also this University aspires to remain outwith the sphere of influence of the clerics. Whilst this is undoubtedly a reformist move and may even be described as somewhat revolutionary, there are, as ever, caveats.

First, whilst the rights established here for women are a huge leap forward, at the moment only 15% of the student body is female; it is a tentative start. However, this percentage seems certain to increase. Female students across the region are outstripping their male rivals for the top prizes in just about all subjects. Unless there is some draconian policy of keeping the ratio of male to females as it is now, it is sure to change.

Second, whilst at the moment, the religious establishment appear to have been successfully repelled from interference in KAUST’s practices, one must wonder exactly how long this will last. This University, where the feared religious police are not allowed to operate, will be the beacon issue for conservatives. Whilst to some the fact that a woman can drive and can mix freely with men might seem to be a trivial matter, this is a giant step forward for such a conservative Kingdom. Indeed, although there has been a lot of pressure to drag Saudi’s educational doctrine and practices out of the dark ages in recent years, the conservative elements are well anchored in society and flex their muscles from time to time. For example, they forced the cancellation of the Jeddah International Film Festival in December of last year; cinemas, of course, being mostly illegal in Saudi Arabia.

What is worse for those looking or hoping for a less staunchly conservative, Wahhabi or puritanical Saudi Arabia is that the man that most experts believe will take over from the 85-year-old ailing King Abdullah, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, is as squarely conservative as they come. His views towards political opening, woman’s rights and Muslim minorities are uncompromising and staunchly conservative. More to the point, his support for the religious police is reputed to be strong.

Under his watch, unless he performs a 100% about turn, he cannot be expected to carry on implementing any reforms in the Kingdom. On the contrary, pessimists fear that he may seek to roll back some of the reformist gains. If this were the case, then KAUST’s liberal policies would surely be the prime target.

All this is in stark contrast to similar openings and announcements in Qatar. They too realise that they need to educate their young people to a high degree so that they can take part in their economy and, to put it bluntly, not be solely a burden on society. Their flagship project (imaginatively called Education City) will be, like KAUST, full of state-of-the-are facilities when it is completed. This includes the Sidra Medical & Research Centre, which was funded with a whopping $7.9bn endowment from Qatar’s philanthropic Qatar Foundation. This facility joins a host of other Western Universities on the same campus including Georgetown School of Foreign Service and Cornell Medical School. One key attribute to note is that these establishments have not lowered their entry standards for the Qatari market. This is, of course, unlike so many other Universities in the Gulf where entry standards are massively diluted and lowered.

Yet, this is something that can be done in Qatar. Such a system would be much more difficult to implement in Saudi or, for example, Kuwait. In these countries where religious or political pressures alter the educational curriculum, education itself suffers massively. A recent UNESCO survey highlighted in the Daily Star has Saudi Arabia down in 93rd place (out of only 129) for overall educational quality. Considering just how rich a country Saudi Arabia is, this is a shameful statistic. In Kuwait, to give a more concrete example, students cannot be taught about the Holocaust in any meaningful way; teachers are proscribed from doing so. Yet, these very same students could easily sit down in an exam, set in the UK, and be asked about this. This is but one example of a plethora of minor and major instances of political or religious interference that directly affects the pupils.

Saudi Arabia (or Kuwait, if their Parliament could stop arguing for any length of time) can invest as much as they want in Higher Education. They can build the swankiest campuses, (try to) hire the best scientists and faculty, buy the latest equipment and give it all to students for free, but if they do not attempt some kind of reform in the earlier stages of education, the latent potential of their students and the facilities will never be fulfilled.