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The crown prince is the prime minister, a prelude to the inheritance of the Saudi throne?

  On September 27, 2022, the 86-year-old King and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Salman suddenly issued a king’s decree, announcing the reshuffle of the cabinet and the appointment of Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman as Prime Minister. This is the first time since 1964 that a crown prince has served as prime minister in Saudi Arabia. Although the king’s decree emphasized that if the king himself attends the cabinet meeting, the meeting will still be chaired by the king himself, but this still arouses the concern of all circles about the inheritance of the Saudi throne and the changes in domestic and foreign policies. King Salman changed the practice to appoint the crown prince as prime minister. What does it mean?
change the tradition

  The King of Saudi Arabia issued a king’s decree. In addition to appointing his eighth son, Crown Prince Mohammed, as prime minister, he also announced a list of 35 new cabinet members. Among them, Crown Prince Mohammed’s concurrent role as Minister of Defense is replaced by the king’s ninth son. Khalid took over with Yusuf bin Abdullah as the new Minister of Education. In the list, there are 11 members of the Saudi royal family, covering important departments such as internal affairs, foreign affairs, energy, and military.
  It is worth noting that the day before the announcement of the reshuffle of the cabinet, King Salman personally received the visiting King Hamad of Bahrain, trying to dispel doubts about his health or whether he was about to pass the throne. On October 4, at the first meeting of the cabinet after adjustment, King Salman attended and presided over as usual. These all show that King Salman himself is still the head of state and will continue to hold the final decision on state affairs.
  However, this cabinet reshuffle is the first time that Saudi Arabia’s head of state and head of government have been separated since Saoud and Faisal, the sons of Saudi Arabia’s first king Aziz in the 1950s. After the battle for the throne, in order to avoid another power struggle in the royal family and to ensure the unity of the supreme power and executive power, the Saudi throne has been a brother-in-law since 1964, and the king himself serves as the prime minister.
  Although Crown Prince Mohammed’s appointment as prime minister goes against the Saudi royal family’s political tradition for more than half a century, Salman’s decree cited Article 5 of the country’s Basic Law of Governance, which states that “the crown prince shall undertake any other duties designated by the king. Responsibilities”, breaking the convention and propelling Crown Prince Mohammed to the position of Prime Minister. The day after the change of the prime minister’s post, key officials such as Saudi cabinet ministers and provincial governors congratulated the crown prince to show their support. At this point, as the “actual ruler” of Saudi Arabia in recent years, Crown Prince Mohammed has finally “deservedly deserved” to become the head of the government.
orderly transfer of power

  Arab monarchies in the Gulf have been undergoing an orderly transition of power over the past decade. Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have completed the transition of power from the old generation of kings to the new generation of monarchs, and only Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have not completed the intergenerational transfer of power.
  Looking back at the political arrangements of the Salman father and son, in fact, they have been methodically advancing the transfer of power. Since Salman took over as king in 2015, he has successively appointed his eighth son Mohammed as defense minister, heir to the crown prince, and crown prince until he also serves as prime minister this time. At the same time, King Salman has continued to promote other sons, gradually allowing members of the royal family to occupy key positions of real power in the country. For example, in 2019, King Salman appointed his son Abdul Aziz as energy minister, the first time a royal family member has held the position in Saudi Arabia.
  A representative figure of the third generation of the Saudi family, Mohammed smugly became crown prince in 2017 with the full support of King Salman. Since then, he has actively implemented the unprecedented economic reform “Vision 2030” and launched a large-scale anti-corruption campaign. He has also implemented a series of new policies externally that are different from Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic traditions. These measures allowed him to win the general support of the domestic people and become the de facto “ruler” of Saudi Arabia, but it also caused him to attract a lot of controversy from the outside world. Before the cabinet reshuffle, Crown Prince Mohammed was neither the head of state nor the head of government, which made it inconvenient to sign decrees domestically or handle foreign affairs. For example, after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed was restricted from visiting the United States and European countries. Since the head of government enjoys sovereign immunity, this problem has been resolved to a certain extent when he officially takes office as prime minister.
  After this cabinet reshuffle, Saudi Arabia’s power structure is clearer: King Salman continues to serve as head of state, Crown Prince Mohammed becomes head of government, the crown prince’s brother Khalid takes over as defense minister, and the crown prince’s brother Aziz continues to be in charge of the energy sector. The three sons of Salman are in charge of the three most important political, military and energy powers in Saudi Arabia, initially establishing a power framework with Crown Prince Mohammed as the core in the “post-Salman period”.
Entering the “post-Salman era”

  After the change of the prime minister’s post, rumors about whether King Salman will abdicate early again are rampant, but this situation is unlikely to happen in the short term. First, after the cabinet reshuffle, King Salman has attended two regular cabinet meetings in a row, which indicates that he has no intention of giving up his position as head of state. Second, if King Salman abdicates early, the political arrangements after his abdication will also face many problems. There is no precedent to follow, and there is currently no suitable identity and title. The third is that after Crown Prince Mohammed ascends the throne, the candidate for the next crown prince will inevitably arouse the attention and competition of all parties. At present, King Salman does not necessarily want to intensify this contradiction.
  Although the prime minister’s position has been changed, it is difficult for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy to change significantly during the period of King Salman. Although Saudi Arabia, at the 33rd ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC oil producers (OPEC+), despite the opposition of the United States, supported the members of the mechanism to cut production significantly from November 2022, a week after the crown prince was also prime minister , that is, the average monthly output will be reduced by 2 million barrels per day on the basis of August 2022 production, which will trigger a diplomatic dispute between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but Crown Prince Mohammed already has real power, and this policy is not directly related to whether he is also prime minister or not. . On October 8, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs al-Jubeir said, “The idea that Saudi Arabia’s move is to harm the United States, or to seek political participation in some way, is a big mistake.”
  However, as a new generation of royal family members have begun to take power one after another, in the long run, Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policies may inevitably fluctuate. King Salman and other members of the older generation of the royal family were generally born in the 1930s. They have been honed in politics for a long time and have seen the game of great powers, the ups and downs of the Cold War and the cruelty of geopolitical competition in the Middle East. However, the new generation of royal family members mostly grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, when Saudi Arabia was developing and affluent, and they were full of ambitions but lacked long-term experience in governing the country. They are more inclined to adopt a strong attitude externally, and are willing to spend a lot of money to promote various projects internally, but rarely consider whether they can achieve their goals. At present, Saudi Arabia’s national policy is still finalized by King Salman, but with the arrival of the “post-Salman period”, a new generation of royal family members will eventually enter the political arena.
  In addition, King Salman’s well-designed “three-child separation of powers” structure is conducive to the stability of the Salman family’s regime, but there are still certain political hidden dangers in the long run. On the one hand, the candidate for the next crown prince after Crown Prince Mohammed’s succession is still undecided, which will inevitably lead to fierce competition within the entire Saudi royal family and the Salman family; on the other hand, the brothers of Crown Prince Mohammed hold important positions respectively, which not only consolidates the regime , also decentralizing the power of the crown prince.
  All in all, this cabinet reshuffle enables King Salman to complete the final step before inheriting the throne. After Crown Prince Mohammed also served as prime minister, he has “both in name and reality” with the political qualifications and power base to inherit the throne, and is only one step away from the throne.

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