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Feature Article

The Crown Prince, Change And Failure: Grooming For Power?

In the midst of excited chatter over the latest news on Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, it has nearly been forgotten that King Salman is still in charge. The king, despite exaggerated reports of his declining health, continues to groom his favorite son for office, allowing him wide latitude for action while still holding back from a complete abdication.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

A series of royal decrees on on February 26 once again shook up the Kingdom's bureaucracy, in a wholesale sweep which has become the hallmark of King Salman's reign. Among the royals affected, Fahd bin Badr was removed as Governor of al-Jawf Region and replaced by Badr bin Sultan, Turki bin Talal was named Deputy Governor of Asir Region, and Faysal bin Fahd was appointed as Deputy Governor of Ha'il Region. All three were members of the so-called younger generation of princes, the latter two being grandsons of the Kingdom's founder Abd al-Aziz (along with the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, known as MbS). Badr is the son of the late crown prince and long-serving defense minister Sultan (and member of the al-Sudayri family branch), and Turki is the brother of well-known businessman and investor al-Walid, who was famously one of those detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel and only recently released. Faysal is the grandson of Muqrin, whose tenure as crown prince was remarkably short.

Among those princes serving in the military, Turki bin Bandar was promoted to Commander of the Air Force, while Fahd bin Turki, less than a year into his role as Commander of Ground Forces, was promoted to Lieut. General and appointed Commander of Joint Forces. Both are career officers, but in one sense this marks a break with the recent trend towards highly-qualified commoners replacing those royals positioned well up in in the armed forces, conveniently illustrating the Al Saud's knack of always achieving two goals with every one action. In the case of the provincial governorships, too, fresh leadership is injected where needed, whilst new allies are brought into the fold. Salman is aware of the widespread belief that he is setting out to establish an alternate line of succession, one now passing through his heirs alone (rather than for others of the founding line to have any chance at all), and the continued promotion of nephews, including those such as Muqrin's offspring, who might be expected to bear a grudge at their casting out, goes some way towards assuaging those concerns. The position of deputy governor is relatively innocuous, yet holds the promise of much more to come, and binds one in even firmer ties of loyalty. As for Turki bin Talal, the imprisonment of his brother al-Walid caused perhaps the greatest stir when the roundup of princes and the nation's elite became known; the pointed inclusion of a family member sends a strong signal that a state of normalcy has returned.

al-Walid's arrest and confinement, it seems to have dawned on those responsible, turns out to have been a major misstep. The ostensible purpose of the "anti-corruption" purge was to stamp out the most egregious of business practices which were the source of both outrage among the general population, who saw a small number profiting unfairly, and hesitation among foreign investors, who were reluctant to commit to the Kingdom as long as the perception remained that corruption at the top was endemic. A key element of the long-term strategy of MbS is opening up the country to foreign investment, and as long as that money was frightened off by Saudi's opaque culture and the rampant flouting of the law by those, including many princes, who seemed unaccountable, that goal would remain aloof. Of course, a crackdown also gave the perfect opportunity to stifle any opposition to the power grab underway by MbS (coinciding as it did with another round of purging officials who might be potential threats), and raise some money on the side. Those released are said to have "settled" the charges against them by offering stakes in their business holdings, if not outright payments, to the government in return for their freedom. Most have now been re-integrated, suitably chastised (and appreciably poorer), though still under travel restrictions. At any rate, al-Walid does not seem to have been physically tortured, as alleged by the tabloids.

Related articles: Age of Disruption: The Fourth Saudi State?
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Page 2: a guiding hand?
Top 5 Royal Biographies

Al Walid bin Talal
Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz
Salman bin Abd al-Aziz
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Past Feature Articles
Age of Disruption: The Fourth Saudi State?

Now that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is firmly in control, is it premature to ask whether his footing is so secure, and his power base so distinct from that of his predecessors, that one may begin to distinguish the outlines of a fundamentally new political state?

The Strange Case Of The 'Salvatore Mundi' - Hiding In Plain Sight?

At the same time as the identity of the mysterious buyer of an expensive and controversial work of auctioned art is revealed to be Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the fate of dozens of royals detained for alleged corruption remains uncertain. Does the news of his purchase make a mockery of his economic austerity program, or is Muhammad sending a subtle message to his opponents?

A Royal Purge: Public Relations or Private Scores?

The spectacular arrests of high-profile members of the royal family on November 4 rivetted the world's attention on Saudi Arabia and it's young crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. Under the guise of an anti-corruption drive, any opposition to Muhammad from within the royal family has been effectively shut down; at the same time, the purge solidifies his support from the broader public.

The Disaffected Princes: Danger From Within?

Despite an implicit admission that achieving the targets of Vision 2030 will be difficult, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is ploughing ahead with reforms. At the same time, any criticism of royal rule is being firmly rebuffed. Dealing with immediate threats to royal rule, however, may leave Muhammad exposed to challenge on another front.

The Islamist Crackdown: Impending Autocracy Or Crumbling Support?

The month of September got under way with an alarming crackdown on dissent which targeted critics of the newly-installed crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. At the same time as he scales back plans for the ambitious Vision 2030, the crown prince is moving to solidify his position. But do his aggressive tactics underline how tenuous his position really is, or rather, do they expose an overconfident belief that he can navigate the treacherous waters alone?