The death of King Abdullah has finally opened up space for the next generation of Saudi royals to step into the limelight. The new King Salman announced that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, currently serving as Interior Minister, has been appointed Deputy Crown Prince. This ensures his position as future king from among the grandsons of Abd al Aziz ibn Saud. Mohammed's choice as future king reveals the regime's nervousness about internal threats.
Friday January 23, 2015, 17:57 EST
The most important news out of Saudi Arabia over the last two days was not the death of King Abdullah, confirmation of Crown Prince Salman as King or Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin’s appointment as the new Crown Prince. The real news is the elevation of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, currently Interior Minister, as Deputy Crown Prince thereby confirming his position as the future king of Saudi Arabia. It also ends years of speculation about who from among the army of grandsons of Abd al Aziz ibn Saud would become the king.
While Abd al Aziz sired 45 sons, of whom 36 survived past infancy, only six made it to the throne: Saud, Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, Abdullah and now Salman. If Muqrin survives Salman—and there is no guarantee since Abdullah dispatched two crown princes ahead of him to the grave—Sultan and Nayef—he would be the last of the sons of Abd al Aziz to become king. With the baton passed on to the next generation, Mohammed bin Nayef’s choice indicates the fear that grips the ruling family. He remains Interior Minister, the most important post in the kingdom after the king himself.
The Interior Minister, as the name suggests, controls internal affairs. He does more: he is also in charge of the Mabahith (intelligence department), the police, border security, customs, prisons as well as the mutawwas (the religious police). There is hardly a branch of government that is outside his control. Why he got the nod over a number of other contenders can be explained by the fact that during his father’s tenure as Interior Minister, Mohammed was made in charge of security. He came down hard on dissent and crushed it.
Further, he was the one who devised the policy to deal with the threat from al Qaeda that the regime had created. Today, the takfiri terrorists pose a serious challenge to the regime. There appears to be considerable support for the takfiris inside the kingdom especially within the religious establishment. Thus, it requires someone with Mohammed bin Nayef’s experience to deal with them.
Like his father, Mohammed continued the brutal crackdown on internal dissent. There are at least 30,000 political prisoners in the kingdom, their only ‘fault’ being that they asked for political reforms. Mohammed bin Nayef’s iron-fist policy also won him plaudits from the British and the Americans. Soon after his appointment as Interior Minister in November 2012, he embarked on a well publicised visit to Britain and the US.
British Prime Minister David Cameron received him at 10 Downing Street, his official residence in January 2013. A few days later, US President Barack Obama threw a White House dinner for him, an honour usually reserved for heads of State or government. With British and American blessings, King Abdullah then went on the offensive. In a decree issued at the end of 2013, he considered it a crime for anyone to call for reforms, expose corruption in the kingdom or withdraw their allegiance from the king!
Mohammed bin Nayef was the one that could ensure compliance through his army of informants, the brutal Mabahith as well as the even more oppressive mutawwas. While there is no certainty of life, at his age (he is 55), Mohammed bin Nayef is likely to get an opportunity to put his brutal tactics to full use when he becomes king.
The only caveat is whether the kingdom will survive that long.