Will Saudi King’s Son Be Next Monarch? Only If He Can Jump the Line

When King Salman bin Abdulaziz acceded to the Saudi throne in January, the most important change he introduced in his realm’s short, conservative history was to break the line of succession, which had moved horizontally from brother to brother, and pass it down to the founding father’s grandsons.
”Young” Interior Minister Muhammed Bin Nayef (MBN), 59, was elevated to Crown Prince, and the king’s son Muhammed Bin Salman (MBS), a young sprig of 31, was appointed Deputy Crown Prince.
That was less than a year ago. Since then, people in Riyadh have been holding their breath to see which of the two Muhammeds would reach the throne first: The senior prince appears to be solidifying his position as first in line; but his younger rival has amassed powers and fame by floating his “Vision-2030” economic and social reform program and by initiating Saudi intervention in the Yemen civil war.
In July, young MBS pulled ahead and stole the limelight from the crown prince by a successful marketing campaign for his Vision-2030 program at home and overseas. During a successful business trip to the United States in June, the young prince left a favorable impression on President Barack Obama, American financial leaders and senior hi-tech industrial executives.
The analysts and media were soon marking him out as his father’s chosen successor and predicted he would soon jump ahead of Crown Prince MBN as the next in line to the throne.
However, DEBKA Weekly’s Saudi experts are not so sure. His bounding energy and too-rapid rise to eminence has put up many princely backs at home.
They resent finding his finger in too many pies and criticize him for putting national security at risk by pushing the kingdom into the Yemen adventure.
In recent weeks, the buzz in Arabian Gulf ruling and intelligence circles is that King Salman is aware that MBS’s meteoric rise is displeasing powerful circles at home and has embarked on counter-measures.
First, he asked MBN to try and persuade key royal factions represented in the Allegiance Council (which is responsible inter alia for setting the order of succession) to throw their support behind his younger cousin’s reform program, which is designed to create jobs, diversify the economy and sell off stock in the oil giant Aramco..
This mission gave the elder prince an edge in any contest for the throne. Some experts predict that the seesaw contest will eventually be settled with a pact for installing MBN on the throne, while devolving some of his royal powers on the younger MBS.
This arrangement has a precedent: During the reign of King Khaled (1975-1982), the kingdom was administered in effect by the more dynamic Crown Prince Fahd.
But the most powerful opposition to MBS comes from the clerical establishment, the Saudi House’s partner in rule. The imams prefer MBN as future ruler of the Saudi Kingdom because he never challenges their authority. The deeply austere Saud clergy have consistently greeted the MBS reform program with stony silence, out of stiff resistance to opening up the kingdom to foreign influence. They fear that the intrusion of Western culture would undermine their authority and sweep away the cultural norms they impose on Saudi society.
The younger Muhammed put a foot wrong with the imams by a decree which, to the delight of many Saudi youngsters, stripped the morality police (the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) of their powers of arrest.
The morality police is the clerical establishment’s principal arm for enforcing its will and norms. Henceforth, it is obliged to refer cases to the regular authorities.
MBS undercut the ulema’s authority still further by granting the judiciary greater leeway for easing the bureaucratic regulations strangling entrepreneurs and foreign investors in the kingdom.
In an attempt to keep things quiet on the home front, King Salman gave the Crown Prince public responsibility, such as representing the kingdom at the opening session of the UN General Assembly in September..
Later that month, MBN was sent to Ankara to lay out Riyadh’s position in the Syrian and Iraqi crises and the war on the Islamic State. The Saudis seek cooperation with Turkey for ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad; they support moderate Syrian opposition groups and would magnify the intensity of the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The Crown Prince’s mission to Ankara was factored into his responsibilities as interior minister who is in charge of homeland security and defending the kingdom against terror. The king hoped that by endowing him with national prominence, he would blunt the opposition to his son’s dynamic enterprise. Some of it may stick in the long term.

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