From Dr Hamid Hussain
Overview of challenges faced by Saudi Arabia and role of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS). His meteoric rise from obscurity in an interesting phenomenon.
“Men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves, and while they are in the puzzle of business they have no time to tend to their health either of body or mind”. Francis Bacon’s Of Great Place
Kingdom at Crossroads
“We always take criticism from our friends. If we are wrong, we need to hear that we are wrong. But if we are not wrong, we need to hear support from our friends. What I request is that the thing you actually believe, to say it”. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman interview with The Economist, January 6, 2016
External environment of Saudi Arabia changed dramatically in the aftermath of murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. It made international headlines and many started to ask questions about Saudi Arabia and the royal family. This event also strained relationship of Saudi Arabia with its western allies as governments came under increasing pressure to raise this issue.
Saudi Arabia operates in a zone of opacity and not much is known about royal family dynamics and Saudi public opinion. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (nick named MBS) moved rapidly to consolidate all power centers under his own personal command since the ascension of his father King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz to the throne in 2015. Very little is known about how MBS consolidated his power inside the Kingdom. He also broke with the tradition of family consensus and removed many powerful royal family members and their sympathizers from important centers of power.
MBS was first appointed Defence Minister and in this capacity, he gradually took control of all branches of the military. Defence procurement and defense construction contracts are a major source of patronage and in June 2017, MBS took control of this cash cow of patronage. He established Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI) and made it a defense subsidiary of Public Investment Fund (PIF). PIF is country’s sovereign wealth fund under direct control of MBS. In August 2017, General Authority Military Industries (GAMI) was established and made responsible for all defense procurement. SAMI and GAMI are controlled by an inter-ministerial committee headed by MBS. In July 2017, commander of Royal Guard was removed, and six months later Chief of Staff of land forces and air force and air defense commanders were also removed. Within few months of becoming heir apparent, MBS was in full control of operational and economic aspects of all defense establishments.
Parallel to these developments, interior ministry; a potential rival power center that had become a behemoth patronage center of deposed Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef was gradually neutralized. In July 2017, a new ministerial level agency named Presidency of State Security (PSS) was established that reported to Crown Prince. Counter-terrorism, internal surveillance, cyber-intelligence and national information center functions of interior ministry were transferred to PSS. MBS also took control of all economic activities as Chairman of Council of Economic and Development Affairs. In this capacity, he cancelled and revised many previous civilian contracts most likely creating new networks of patronage loyal to him. Continue reading “Saudi Arabia; Kingdom at the Crossroads..”