Palace Revolt Threatens Crown Prince

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz had been looking forward to a September vacation at his palace in Rabat, Morocco, when word reached him that his princely rival was planning a quiet palace revolt to unseat him. He cancelled his trip.


This is revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf.


The de factor ruler of Saudi Arabia learned that his foremost rival, the defense minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was standing ready with his following to pounce quietly and remove him the minute Abdullah committed “one more big political, economic or military blunder”.


Several sources in the Gulf and Middle East familiar with the Byzantine workings of the Saudi royal court told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the standoff between the two Saudi royal strongmen had reached a new low. One source said: “An armed showdown between the two camps cannot be ruled out.”


Abdullah, deciding that Sultan’s following was ready to make a move, decided to forego his Moroccan holiday for the third time this year, each time for fear of a coup.


Our experts report recently exacerbated frictions between the two half-brothers over a comprehensive reform package Sultan and his aides prepared for the hidebound Saudi


educational system, a partial response to American demands that Saudi schools stop teaching Saudi children to hate non-Islamic faiths. Contemporary subjects, such as math, physics, biology and the humanities were to be raised to an equal footing with religious instruction. The reforms, the most extreme ever seen in the oil kingdom, were to have been introduced in schools from mid-2002 until the end of 2003.


Up until early summer, the defense minister believed he had won round the most influential royal princes, including Abdullah, to the realization that educational reform was a prerequisite for the good health of Riyadh-Washington relations and, indeed, for the future of the Saudi crown.


In late August, Sultan discovered he had been over-optimistic. Instead of enacting the reform program, Abdullah had mounted a vigorous clandestine campaign to make sure it never took off, despite his promise of reforms to US President George Bush during his visit to the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, last May, and his public avowals of support.


Sultan had hoped to bolster his standing in and outside the kingdom as the father of the reform program. Instead he saw it being shot down by his rival, who pressed the state clerics to publish a fatwa forbidding teachers from falling in with its precepts.


Abdullah then took the feud a step further. He reviled Sultan to their brothers and foreign visitors over the economic crisis besetting the kingdom.


On Thursday, October 24, the International Monetary Fund issued a warning on Saudi Arabia’s economy, saying: “Unless addressed effectively and expeditiously, macro-economic imbalances could weaken confidence, discourage investment and reduce non-oil growth, thus making it more difficult to achieve the employment objective.”


Sultan holds the purse-strings of “Prince Oil”, the palace fund that hands out annual stipends to the kingdom’s 10,000 princes. The crown prince alleges that the defense minister could have averted the economic crisis by more even-handed allocations of the princes’ handouts and performing cuts in his ministry’s exorbitant defense spending.


Our Gulf sources report Sultan’s response to these allegations was an angry threat to his supporters that he would make the crown prince sorry.


According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the latest Saudi economic figures show a 3.5 percent annual population growth, which means that seventy percent of the population of 22 million – seven million of them foreigners – are under 30, while 40 percent are younger than 14. While officially, the unemployment rate is 16 percent, our sources put the real figure at 30 percent.


 


One Million Jobless Graduates


 


By the end of the year, the number of out-of-work Saudi university graduates will rise to one million. According to Saudi domestic statistics reaching DEBKA-Net-Weekly, the kingdom will need an annual six percent growth just to begin to meet the needs of its workforce.


Growth is currently running at 1.5 percent. It is forecast to increase gradually – but not fast enough – to between three percent and 4.2 percent in 2003 and 2004.


The situation is no brighter in agriculture, where growth stands at an annual five percent, covering half of the kingdom’s needs.


The state defense budget, accounting for 35 percent to 40 percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual expenditure, is a major drain on the treasury. Prince Oil eats up between 10 percent and 12 percent of revenues; payments to foreign workers average an annual $16 billion. Saudi Arabia’s domestic debt of $170 billion rounds off a generally sorry picture.


Saudi Arabia’s economic woes can only be alleviated by a sharp rise in oil prices. But most experts predict just the reverse; they suggest a steep drop in the price of oil will ensue from a US war on Iraq. It was this prospect that prompted the IMF warning.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s believe the harsh facts of the Saudi economy and the IMF warning will combine to heat up the Abdullah-Sultan power struggle. The crown prince will continue to pin the blame for the kingdom’s troubles on his rival. Sultan, for his part, will accuse Abdullah of blighting the kingdom’s prospects by exploiting his ties in the Ulema to obstruct social and educational reforms that could offer the kingdom a brighter future. At some point, the two rivals will fight it out.

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