by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 9, Muharram, 1437)
The Najdi Bedouins’ (aka Bani Saud or the House of Saud) hold on power has always been tenuous. It has become even more precarious because of recent developments in the region. Things are not working out as they had hoped for and their ill-conceived and totally destructive policies have constrained their options even further.
Internally the Najdi Bedouins have pursued three policies that had so far served them well. The three legs of this stool were an unholy alliance with the religious establishment giving it a free hand to dish out whatever punishment it deemed appropriate for people not sufficiently “religious”; bribing tribal leaders to buy their acquiescence in the excesses of Bani Saud; and the brutal suppression of those refusing to remain silent about the ongoing oppression.
Externally, Bani Saud have made subservience to imperialism and Zionism a fundamental article of faith. This has been augmented by low oil prices to serve their masters’ interests. In the Muslim world, petrodollars have been used to buy loyalty. Governments, institutions and people have all been roped in, corrupting them to the point that they have become dependent on handouts. Such Saudi front organizations as Rabitah al-‘Alam al-Islami (Rabita for short), the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and Madinah University to train “‘ulama” with the promise of a job at the end of the course have been used to serve the Najdi Bedouins’ interests abroad.
No more. There have been major changes — nay upheavals — in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) over which Bani Saud have little control. It is not for lack of trying. With the exception of the invasion of Bahrain to shore up the oppressive Khalifah family in power, their involvement in other locales has been an unmitigated disaster. Unleashing the takfiri cannibals in Syria has not yielded the desired result: ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. And despite killing thousands of innocent civilians in Yemen, Bani Saud have failed to re-install their puppet ‘Abd Rabbou Mansour Hadi back in power in Sana‘a. Even their success in Egypt to finance the military coup against the first-ever democratically elected government led by the Ikhwan has not turned out the way they had hoped for.
Repeated failures have led to discontent on several fronts, none more serious than that within the ruling family. While extremely secretive, discontent has seeped out of the inner sanctum into the open, exacerbated by the proposed transfer of power to the next generation. This was bound to be problematic as the octogenarian generation of the sons of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud shuffled to their graves.
Problems started last April when King Salman, known to be suffering from dementia, suddenly dismissed crown prince Muqrin and elevated Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef to that position. This had never happened before in the nearly 100-year-rule of Bani Saud. True, a number of crown princes had dropped dead before the king went to his grave — a la Sultan and Nayef — but they had no control over life. In 1964, King Saud was eased out of power because he was deemed unfit to continue to rule but that was a relatively civilized affair. Now the stakes are much higher.
In another surprising (or not so surprising) move, King Salman appointed his own son, Muhammad bin Salman to the position of deputy crown prince. While this may not appear a big deal, given intense rivalries and jealousies in the ruling family, it has assumed great significance. Ibn Nayef has no male children and females have no rights in the medieval kingdom. Thus, at his departure, Ibn Salman would automatically ascend the throne. Or was this the scenario the demented king had in mind whenever it functioned less erratically?
Not so fast, said other members of the ruling clan. Their curved daggers are already drawn. For weeks now, rumors have been circulating about calls for a palace coup to remove King Salman and his two deputies — Ibn Nayef and Ibn Salman. The Times of London quoted an unnamed Saudi prince (unnamed for security reasons) as saying that 80 percent of the royal family supported the call of another prince for a palace coup against Salman along with his two anointed successors. “It is best for the country for King Salman to step down as well. We cannot take sick people in top leadership,” the grandson of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz told the British daily on September 30.
He applauded his cousin’s initiative and called for the punishment of Ibn Nayef and Ibn Salman. Both would “have to be punished and thrown out” said the second prince. The London Times report followed two earlier stories of another unnamed prince whose letters were reported by the Guardian newspaper in which he had called for revolt from within the royal ranks. This is heady stuff and unprecedented as far as Bani Saud are concerned.
Citing the king’s mental health and his young but ruthlessly ambitious son Muhammad bin Salman’s control over him, the rebellious prince wrote in one of his letters to the Guardian, “It is no secret that the most serious problem in his health is the mental side, which has made the king fully subject to the control of his son.” He then proposed something that would be considered absolute heresy in the opaque kingdom: a coup by the 13 surviving sons of Ibn Saud.
For the record, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud had 23 wives from whom he sired 45 sons and several daughters. Of the 45 sons, 36 survived to adulthood and 13 are still alive. During the day and also at night, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz raided trade and pilgrims’ caravans. At night he busied himself with producing children. How this thief and brigand became the “king” of the desert kingdom is a sordid tale in which the British played a major role. After the Second World War when British fortunes declined and America took over the mantle of world leadership, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud had no qualms becoming an American agent. His overriding concern was to remain in power.
Power now seems to be slipping from the hands of his progeny — children and grandchildren — hence the unease expressed by two discontented grandsons. They definitely have a point even if their proposed solution may not solve the problems of the long-suffering people in the Kingdom. “They have to isolate the powerless King Salman, the excessively arrogant, reckless Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef [and] the one who devastates the homeland, deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.”
The concerns expressed by the two grandsons of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz are not for the well-being of the people. They are worried about the family losing power. One of them wrote in his letter, “The public are also pushing this very hard [change of leadership], all kinds of people, tribal leaders.” He went on to explain about the tribal leaders’ concerns, “They say you have to do this or the country will go to disaster.” Naturally, the tribal leaders do not want to lose their privileges either.
The challenge facing all of them is: how to prevent the slide into abyss? Bani Saud is so deeply entrenched in Syria with its backing of the takfiri cannibals that withdrawal of support would bring the terrorists flooding into the Kingdom. They are already present in large numbers including in such sensitive areas as the security services. Further, the religious establishment that has spawned and nurtured this criminal mindset would also turn against the ruling clan creating more problems. Thus, backing out of Syria is not an option. Bani Saud has painted itself into a corner in the Levant.
Its other problem is in Yemen. What was billed as a week or a couple of weeks’ campaign has continued for more than seven months with no hope in sight for achieving its stated objectives. By killing a lot of innocent people in Yemen, the Saudis and Emiratis have dug their own graves. Yemenis are not the kind of people that easily forget their tormenters. There is bound to be blowback for the Najdi Bedouins’ crimes in Yemen.
According to the Financial Times of London, they have already withdrawn more than $70 billion from investment funds for their campaign of aggression against Yemen. This may sound like chicken feed for Bani Saud given their $700 billion plus reserves, in the context of the low oil prices, but this is significant. The Kingdom has already had a budget deficit running into more than $130 billion. This will continue to eat away into their reserves. What this means is that there is a dwindling amount of money available to buy people’s loyalties. The International Monetary Fund said in its report (October 22) that the regime would run out of funds in five years! Is it too far fetched to imagine members of the Bani Saud clan with outstretched hands begging for food in the streets of Makkah and Madinah?
There are more than 40,000 political prisoners in the Kingdom. Their only crime is that they demanded respect for people’s fundamental rights. The number of executions has increased alarmingly, a policy meant to terrorize people into submission. Neither seems to be working and now discontent within the ruling clan has also come out in the open.
The future of Bani Saud does not look very promising. It cannot be ruled out that one or more princes including the king might be bumped off and given an early send off to the other side. Should that happen, there is serious possibility of a civil/tribal war breaking out, resulting in the disintegration of the country into several fiefdoms along tribal lines. While the Kingdom’s breakup would not serve the larger interests of the Ummah, the removal of Bani Saud from power is becoming an urgent necessity. Perhaps they were lured into the Yemeni trap by the US and Israel to achieve such an eventuality as well as break-up of the Kingdom.