Chuck Spinney: Saudi Arabia Over the Cliff?

08 Wild Cards, Peace Intelligence
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

There are signs of mounting discontent in the Saudi princes over the rule of King Salman and the preferences he has given to his favorite son Prince Mohammed bin Salmon( age 30), who is architect of the bloody and floundering Saudi intervention in Yemen and has been named Deputy Crown Prince, making Mohammed, at least technically, second in succession to the Saudi throne and in front of many older and more experienced contenders for the throne.

King Salmon is the seventh king of Saudi Arabia since the founding of the modern Saudi state in 1932 by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud (1902-1953). Abdulaziz  had an estimated 22 wives and 35 sons who reached adulthood and an unknown number of daughters.  Today, there are thousands of his 3rd and 4th generation descendants. This complex family owns Saudi Arabia, and the rules for picking the King are secretive. The the six successive kings have all been sons of Abdulaziz, with  four of his successors coming from different wives of Addulaziz,  and two — i.e.,  King Fahd II (the 5th king) and King Salmon (the 7th and current king) — being born by the same mother.  Other sons were planted in key posts of each regime — so the hierarchy of government is a complex alliance of clans and family relationships.  Salmon may well be the last of the Abdulaziz’s sons to be named king, before the torch is passed to Abdulaziz’s third generation.  The polygamous character of the royal family was a way of uniting and controlling the fractious nature of the various clans in Saudi Arabia, but it has made succession a murky issue, decided behind closed doors in accordance with arcane family alliances that appear to be rooted in the clans of the various mothers. But this character also creates a complex web of power sharing relations that grows geometrically more complex with each succeeding generation.  At some point, that complexity will become unmanageable and a governmental succession crisis will ensue.

Attached are two closely related reports that may indicate that point is approaching.  They describe an anonymous letter written by a grandson of Abdulaziz.  They say the Prince is calling attention to the discontent that is building up in the royal family over the rule of King Salmon and his favorite and youngest son, the young and inexperienced Prince Mohammed.  Attachment #2 is written by Oliver Miles, a Saudi expert, for his newsletter, The Arab Digest, and it appears the to be the first reference to the anonymous prince’s letter.  Attachment #1, which seems based on Miles’ report, adds considerable information to the nature of this letter. It is written by Rori Donaghy for the Middle East Eye, an electronic newsletter based in London. Miles’ report includes an op-ed in the Washington Post, written by David Ignatius, about the meeting President Obama just had with King Salmon and Prince Mohammed bin Salman — and it is a juxtaposition that suggests indirectly that Washington does not yet have a clue about what may evolve into another middle east crisis — particularly given the pressures of Saudi Arabia’s demographic  problems (e.g., population growth and youth unemployment), its metastasizing water crisis,  and its budget imbalances resulting from the decline in oil prices.

Donaghy reports that the anonymous prince is calling on the remaining sons of Abdulaziz to convene an emergency meeting to counter the the possibility that the royal family is losing its grip on power in Saudi Arabia and to save the country.

The fact that the Prince’s letter is anonymous means that we must treat its veracity carefully, but according to people familiar with Saudi Arabia, the letter appears consistent with the murky ways of the Saudi ruling family.

Chuck Spinney

Original References:

Senior Saudi royal urges leadership change for fear of monarchy collapse

Summary: Salman mends fences in Washington

The son who would be the Saudis ‘ king

New Reference from Phi Beta Iota:

Anger, criticism rising at Saudi government for hajj stampede

Saudi Arabia Accused of Neglect Over Deadly Disaster at Hajj