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The Saudi house of cards

  • Published at 04:56 pm November 10th, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:26 pm November 10th, 2017
The Saudi house of cards

The Saudi Royal family’s decision to arrest 11 princes, four ministers, and dozens of former ministers has spurred speculation and analysis.

There was the element of surprise; the detentions took place on Saturday night and without warning, with most of those arrested being men of influence. And an element of uncertainty: Is this about purging corruption or consolidating power?

Some say Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is in a rush to take over power from his father. Others argue that he is on a path to reform Saudi Arabia. But what are the risks of such a move? And can he meet the many challenges he faces both at home and in the region?

Up in the air

Saudi Arabia is currently witnessing tremendous changes in its government. It has a new leadership that has been in place for about two years only. So, obviously, a consolidation of power on the part of the heir is to be expected.

Mohammad bin Salman is determined to push forward with his very complicated economic, political, and social agendas. So, therefore, the world is seeing the implementation of the plans that he has presumably thought of for the past several months.

Moreover, the world will see a lot more in the next phase. The question is: What kind of a ruler is he going to be? Is he going to be a just prince or someone who will push everyone around?

Saudi Arabia is currently witnessing tremendous changes in its government. It has a new leadership that has been in place for about two years only. So, obviously, a consolidation of power on the part of the heir is to be expected

The Middle East on fire

The Middle East has, of late, been on fire and the Qatar crisis has added fuel to this fire.

Financially and politically, the Gulf was able to act as a centre for all the other conflicts and now it has become a mess.

Now, Riyadh is facing instability and uncertainty as well and that has had a ripple effect on all the other conflicts in the region. It is important to note that we have to look at this in the context of what’s going on in the Gulf widely.

Finally, what Mohammad bin Salman is trying to do is to emulate Mohammad bin Zayed’s push for centralised power in the United Arab Emirates that the world has been seeing over the last decade. But he’s trying to do this not over a decade but within a few months, in a system that is a lot more retrograde than the UAE.

Expanding horizons

Tehran’s growing influence is rising; it’s come out pretty well from the wars in Iraq and Syria and that may have influenced what’s happening in Riyadh.

Salman wants to reassert Arab leadership over the Middle East vis-à-vis the Persian leadership of Iran.

This is very important; he wants Saudi Arabia to work as a bulwark against Iranian expansionism and Mohammad bin Salman in particular sees Iran as a huge threat.

Some would argue that he is paranoid about Iran’s influence in Iraq and that’s why he is reaching out to even the Shias in Iraq who are anti-Iranian in ideology and mind; he is trying to consolidate power in Lebanon thereby working under the table with the Israelis to trigger something against Hezbollah.

This is very much about expansionism but Crown Prince Salman wants to strengthen the kingdom overall. It all fits in with US foreign and security policy in the region as well.

Sharif Hasan is a commentator on international politics and is currently working as a field researcher on behalf of Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka.

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