New Saudi reshuffle

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued on April 29 a set of 24 decrees making sweeping changes in the royal hierarchy. Four of these changes are relatively more important than the others. In this article I will examine these changes from the standpoint of the method used to carry them out.

One of the important changes is the removal of Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the half-brother of the king, from the position of crown prince. Another one is the appointment to this post of his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, who will continue to hold the posts of minister of interior and chairman of the Council for Political and Security Affairs. The third is the appointment of his son Mohammed bin Salman as deputy crown prince. He will also continue to hold the post of defense minister and chairman of the Council for Economic Development. The fourth is the removal of Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his replacement by Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubair.

This is the third wave of decrees that King Salman has issued since he assumed the title of king. The first one was on the very day the previous King Abdullah passed away and Salman became king. The second was on Jan. 29.

The way these changes were made raises several questions.

First, the time of the signature of decrees is unusual. They were signed at dawn, hence the nickname, “the dawn coup.”

Second, the language used in the decrees gave the impression that the king owed the public an explanation for his reshuffle. The decree on the removal of Crown Prince Muqrin reads “We have decided to respond to His Highness and what he expressed about his desire to be relieved from the position of crown prince.” In fact, Prince Muqrin is among the members of the Allegiance Council who voted in favor of the changes.

A similar need was felt to explain why the king appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman as deputy crown prince. King Salman points out in his decree that the appointment of his son Mohammed as deputy crown prince was made upon the “recommendation” of the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and “the support of the overwhelming majority of the members of the Allegiance Council for the choice of His Highness Mohammed bin Salman as deputy crown prince.” It is true that out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, 28 voted in favor of the king’s decision, two abstained and four voted against. An article by Raghida Dergham published on April 24 in the Al-Hayat newspaper owned by Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz hints that at least one of the opponents to the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as deputy crown prince may be Khaled bin Sultan. Khaled is a prince experienced in military matters. When I was serving as the Turkish ambassador in Riyadh, he was the commander of the joint Arab forces during the second Gulf War. I had several talks with him when Turkey’s invitation to join the Gulf War was being discussed. He may have opposed the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman because, as a result of his wide experience in the Saudi army, he thought that Saudi air raids in Yemen were a miscalculated, hasty decision without a Plan B. He may be holding Mohammed bin Salman responsible for this misconceived decision and finding him unfit for the post to which he has been appointed.

The royal decree on the appointment of Prince Saud al-Faisal states that the prince quotasked to be relieved from his duties due to his health conditions and that he was appointed as an advisor and a special envoy of King Salman, as well as a supervisor on foreign affairs.” Unlike the other princes, I believe that Prince Saud al-Faisal’s request to be relieved from his post may be genuine, because he has serious health problems. We cannot foretell whether he will be consulted on critical foreign policy issues, but King Salman made a good move by appointing him as a supervisor on foreign affairs. Thus, Prince Saud is given an honorable title and, if he is consulted, his expertise as the longest serving foreign minister in the world will be very useful for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.

I will examine the implications of this reshuffle in my next article.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN