The era of Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi Arabia

Ali Hajizade

Editor’s column

AHajizade


Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative monarchy. The country has been ruled by elderly kings for a long time. Some believe that this “authority of the elderly” is the guarantee of stability for the kingdom.

However, it looks like this practice comes to an end. Just recently, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud appointed his young son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as the Crown Prince.

Quite a bold move for Saudi Arabia where, as a rule, the power has passed not from father to son, but from brother to brother. As a rule, the power has passed to the sons of the founder and the first King of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.

At the time of the appointment, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, served as Minister of Defense, Second Deputy Prime Minister, Head of the Royal Court and Chairman of the Council for Economic Affairs and Development of Saudi Arabia. I addition, Prince Mohammed is the head of a charitable foundation, modestly named in his honor (MISK Foundation).

Experts have long assumed that there is a possibility for King Salman to give the throne to his son. Speculations on this topic intensified when Prince Mohammed was appointed deputy crown prince and defense minister. The appointment as the Crown Prince is another big and important step for the prince on the way to the absolute power of a monarch. But is this way so simple?

The prince has a number of unconditional advantages this is his age, his ambitions and determination, and even the fact that Prince Mohammed has only one wife unlike other princes (that is a plus in the eyes of Western partners).

But on the other hand, there are obvious problems that the country has faced. Among these problems, it is possible to show the conflict in Yemen, which is directly related to the prince, as to the Minister of Defense. Saudi Arabia has not been able to boast of serious success in the Yemeni issue yet.

Further, a sharp drop in oil prices, which increased pressure on the Saudi budget and is draining the currency reserves of the kingdom, constant attempts of Iran to destabilize the situation in the regions of the kingdom inhabited mainly by Shi’ites.

The Prince has an ambitious plan of “Vision-2030” to save the country from oil dependence. Mohammed bin Salman also stated that Saudi Arabia will be able to live without oil by 2020. Honestly, as a person living in a country where the “lion’s share” of exports is oil and gas, it’s hard for me to believe that the Saudis will be able to carry out this task until 2020. Nevertheless, the benchmark is set, all that is left is to wait until 2020.

Moreover, the country has serious problems with its neighbors. They are Qatar and Shi’ite Iran, a longtime antagonist of the Saudis. It should not be forgotten about the stalemate in Syria.

Furthermore, many experts complain about the young age and inexperience of the prince. The concerns of the experts are quite expected on this issue. Indeed, to rule such a country as Saudi Arabia, especially in such a difficult period requires a huge will, solid experience and endurance. In addition, we should not forget about the dissatisfaction inside the Al Saud dynasty. Far from all in the house of Saud agree with the king’s decision. And therefore I believe that the prince will have to work hard to strengthen his authority and his position within the dynasty. Also, the reforms of the prince may face opposition from a part of the clergy and conservative citizens, which may contribute to the instability in the country. However, these reforms are necessary to ensure a long-term development perspective for the kingdom.

One of the grand plans of the Prince is to turn Saudi Aramco into a public company, and create a huge investment fund designed to compensate the falling oil income. It is believed that the assets of this fund can reach 2 trillion dollars, the amount is astronomical even for Saudi Arabia.

There is also a danger of an alliance of dissatisfied members of the ruling dynasty and the clergy against the Prince. If this happens, it can cause serious damage both to Mohammed’s plans and the perspectives for a long-term development of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the importance of external geopolitical factors shouldn’t be underestimated. Yemen is not the only conflict in which Saudi Arabia is involved. Riyadh is involved in the proxy confrontation with Iran in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. The task of keeping Egypt in the geopolitical orbit of Saudi Arabia is being solved simultaneously. In addition, the recent crisis with Qatar shouldn’t be discounted.

Together with internal factors, external factors will also influence the reign of Mohammed bin Salman.

Of course, each proxy conflict carries the risk of developing into a full-scale war like the Yemeni one, and each war bears chances for leaders to become a winner or a loser. In the next few years, the prince and his team will have to solve herculean tasks, the fate of Saudi Arabia and its future role in the region and throughout the Islamic world in many ways will depend on whether and how these tasks are solved.

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