King Muqrin and stability

The internal debate about the succession in Saudi Arabia has ended with appointment of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to the vacant post of second deputy prime minister. Thus he is effectively king in waiting after the death or accession of Crown Prince Salman. The highly informed Simon Henderson writes “Muqrin’s new status also challenges another presumed succession principle: that the king’s mother should be from a Saudi tribe. Muqrin’s mother was Yemeni, and it is not even clear that Ibn Saud was married to her”.

It has been commented on that “Generational change has been postponed again in Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom’s succession process is now clear for the foreseeable future. With King Abdullah’s appointment this week of his half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to the position of second deputy prime minister behind Crown Prince Salman, the inner circle of princes that has run the kingdom for half a century will retain power”. This supposed lack of generational shift has occurred despite the fact that Muqrin is 67 and is the youngest surviving son of the kingdom’s founder.

The article continues that Prince Muqrin “like many of the royals, he was given a remote province to govern as a young man. In 1999 he was promoted to be governor of Medina province, home of the kingdom’s second holy city. Eight years ago, Abdallah made him head of Saudi intelligence, a job he held until last year, when he was replaced by the former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Muqrin is an affable and competent leader, but he did not excel as spy chief”.

The piece continues predictably “Simmering just below the surface is a country perhaps increasingly ripe for revolution. Sixty percent of Saudis are 20 or younger, and most have no hope of a fulfilling job. Seventy percent of Saudis cannot afford to own a home; 40 percent live below the poverty line. The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune. Foreign labor makes the kingdom work; 19 million Saudi citizens share the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers. Since the start of the Arab spring, the king has spent $130 billion in new stipends and projects to try to buy off dissent”. This is despite the fact that the previously organised day of rage was an utter flop. That does not however mean that reforms are not badly needed.

Others have taken a decidedly different view, “Change is coming to Saudi Arabia — but however it plays out, expect some basic truths about the kingdom to remain the same. Saudi Arabia will remain a strong Western ally, it will keep the oil flowing, and — perhaps most importantly — it will remain immune from the uprisings that have spread across the Arab world. While former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel made the case that “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable,” the truth of the matter is that for the vast majority of Saudis, a revolt is still an almost unfathomable event. And the House of Saud’s approach to succession is designed to keep it that way”.

He goes on to mention “Perhaps more important than Muqrin’s appointment is Abdullah’s elevation of competent younger princes to prominent roles within the kingdom. Their promotion is meant to improve governance, while also bolstering the foreign support that will allow Saudi Arabia to continue its domestic reform at its own pace”. He adds context to this noting, “Reform is coming to Saudi Arabia — albeit slowly. The appointment in January of 30 women into the Majlis al-Shura, a 150-member consultative council with the power to draft laws, was long overdue — but nevertheless a huge step forward for the kingdom, particularly coming less than six months after female Saudi athletes were allowed for the first time to compete in the Olympics. Both moves mark a positive step forward for the country, and ones that will have fundamental and permanent effects on Saudi Arabia’s social fabric. They are also not steps that Abdullah undertook lightly. Through sheer force of personality, the aging monarch removed many obstacles in his way: The number of jobless conservative advisors and sheikhs who raised objections to these social reforms are a testament to the king’s determination”.

He then makes the humorous point that “Those who believe in a coming Saudi apocalypse usually list a number of factors they believe point to imminent calamity — a youth bulge, mass unemployment for Saudis under 35, security issues in the predominantly Shiite Eastern Province, domestic oil consumption overtaking capacity, female social and economic empowerment, liberal-conservative tensions, and potential instability in the ruling family as power is handed down to a younger generation of princes. This tiresome analysis assumes Saudis would seek the wholesale downfall of their monarchy, if only they were not so oppressed by the governance structures and conservative religious establishment. But it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Saudi Arabia is, and how Saudis perceive their government”.

He goes on to argue, quite forcefully, that “the kingdom is far more politically accountable than Arab countries that underwent revolutions in 2011: Traditional governance structures in many parts of the kingdom still prevail, and the role of the provincial governor in attending the daily majlis to address the problems and needs of his constituents is still highly important in maintaining ties between the people and the ruling elite. It would have been unthinkable, for instance, for a normal citizen to be given the right to petition directly to former President Hosni Mubarak, or even current President Mohamed Morsi — such is the enforced bureaucratic distance between the citizens and the ruling class in Egypt. Not so in Saudi Arabia”.

He ends “the jihadist movement nevertheless represented an existential threat for the kingdom because it struck at the heart of the foundation for the regime’s legitimacy. By overcoming it, the House of Saud has proved its resiliency. Put aside notions of Saudi Arabia’s imminent collapse — it isn’t going to happen. The kingdom will play an integral role in reshaping the post-revolutionary Middle East, whether people like it or not”.


3 Responses to “King Muqrin and stability”

  1. “Will determine who leads” | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] the immediate succession in Saudi Arabia had been settled with the appointment of Prince Muqrin as second deputy prime minister, an article has been published that notes that the […]

  2. Deputy Crown Prince | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] on. After the death of two Crown Princes before the death of King Abdullah the government named Prince Muqrin, former head of the Secret Intelligence as the second deputy prime minister, effectively Crown […]

  3. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] a comeback in Afghanistan. Libya is falling apart. The House of Saud is nervous about a potentially existential succession crisis. In this region, Iran looks like an island of […]

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