Le Blog d'Olivier Da Lage

The man who would be king (as soon as possible)

Posted in Moyen-Orient by odalage on 28 juin 2017

by Olivier Da Lage

At dawn, on June 21, King Salman of Saudi Arabia published a royal decree, that is likely to change dramatically the future of the kingdom, and of the entire West Asia for that matter. The king appointed his 31 year old son Mohammed (bin Salman) as crown prince, replacing his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef who had been holding the post for the past two years. The king quickly arranged the baya’a ceremony by which the key members of the royal family swear allegiance to the new crown prince. The first to pay tribute was no other than Mohammed bin Nayef himself, thus sending to the world the message of a smooth transition.

The decision itself didn’t come as a surprise as it had been expected for some time[1] but the timing showed that neither the king, nor his son wanted to lose any time in securing his accession to the throne. It is a remarkable achievement for the young prince who was little known outside the family less than three years ago. As the favourite and trusted son of the king, he had been his chief of staff all along: when Salman was governor of Riyadh, Defence minister, then crown prince, and, since January 2015, the king of Saudi Arabia. As such, he alone decided who could, and more importantly, who couldn’t have access to his father.

In a country ruled for decades by aging kings and princes, Mohammed bin Salman, then only 29, was soon bestowed with the job of Defence minister as well as the responsibility of overseeing the economy. In this capacity, he nearly single-handedly launched the war in Yemen against the Houthi rebels in March 2015 and announced a few months later the ambitious Vision 2030 designed to modernize Saudi economy with the aim of making it less dependent on oil and the public sector. In April 2015, he was made deputy crown prince. His youth and openness to entertainments (he allowed musical shows to take place and cinemas to open, in a country where both are frowned upon by the religious establishment) endeared him to young Saudis who account for the vast majority of Saudi subjects (half of the population is under 25).

While the energetic deputy crown prince was active on all fronts, it soon became clear that his cousin, the actual crown prince, was being systematically sidelined. With his removal, king Salman is the only remaining obstacle on his way to the throne. Considering how, within barely two years, Salman has done everything possible to ensure that his son becomes the kingdom’s strongman, it seems very likely that the king is considering abdicating in his favour very soon. It would silence those, among the royal family, who might dispute Mohammed bin Salman’s qualifications for the throne, after the death of the current king. It has never happened before, but it is exactly what took place in Qatar in June 2013, when Shaikh Hamad ceded the throne to his son Tamim, thereby preventing a challenge from other powerful princes.

If this happens, or if, after Salman’s death, his accession to the throne is confirmed by the Council of allegiance, which represents the 35 branches of the Saudi royal family, Mohammed bin Salman will be the youngest Saudi king in history[2]. It might very well be the beginning of a reign lasting 40 or 50 years while the previous kings have ruled for a decade or thereabouts. Given the ambitions already displayed by Mohammed bin Salman, it might indeed change significantly the face of the Middle East. MbS, as he is often called, has shown a very confrontational attitude vis-à-vis Iran. Iran’s support of the Houthis has been given as the justification of the war in Yemen, which has so far, not witnessed the victory Saudis had expected, but left instead an already poor country shattered, with more than 12,000 deaths, famine and an outbreak of cholera. He has also, in coordination with his mentor, the UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed, led the blockade of Qatar since 5 June[3] by several Arab countries. On 22nd June, this group has given a 10 day ultimatum to Doha to comply with 13 demands, ranging from withdrawing the Qatari ambassador from Tehran to shutting the Aljazeera satellite TV channel to normalize relations. In fact, for Qatar to accept the Saudi demands would have the effect of making its foreign policy subservient to Saudi Arabia, which it cannot accept. This is why Kuwait and Oman, who believe they will be the next targets on the Saudi list, refused to be part of the sanctions against Qatar. Kuwait, in fact, has embarked on a (so far ineffective) mediation which, surprisingly, has not been rejected outright by the Saudis.

Mohammed bin Salman seems to have been emboldened by Donald Trump’s apparent support for his actions against Qatar. But the Pentagon and the State Department, who view Qatar as an important asset in the region (10,000 US troops are stationed in the emirate and are key in the fight against the Islamic State) clearly differ. Taking for granted American support whatever he does might, in the long run, be a mistake on the part of Mohammed bin Salman who is yet to show that he has exit strategies for the multiple crises Saudi Arabia is caught up in.

[1] Family power politics in Riyadh http://www.gatewayhouse.in/riyadh-power-politics/

[2] The founder of the kingdom, Abdelaziz bin Abderrahman al-Saud (Ibn Saud) was in his fifties when he established the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

[3] Qatar, a Saudi-Iran battlefield? http://www.gatewayhouse.in/qatar-a-saudi-iran-battlefield/

Family power politics in Riyadh

Posted in Moyen-Orient by odalage on 5 mai 2017

Dynasty has its own reasons and the 40 decrees that King Salman issued last month were designed to hand more power to the Salman branch of the House of Saud. Is a promotion in the offing for his son, the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman? What does this bode for the country’s foreign policy? President Trump’s first foreign visit will be to Saudi Arabia later this month.

Read the article on Gateway House’s website

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Saudi prince: not quite a game changer?

Posted in Moyen-Orient by odalage on 31 janvier 2017

Prince Salman’s accession to the throne after the death of Saudi King Abdullah on 23 January 2015 has been a game changer, both domestically and in West Asian politics. Within days, he sidelined rivals within the House of Saud, and took on Iran with a confrontational policy. But two years later, the results of his new strategy disappoint.


By Olivier Da Lage

Read the full text on Gateway House’s website

Ramifications of Saudi Arabia’s mass execution

Posted in Inde, Moyen-Orient by odalage on 13 janvier 2016

By executing an influential Shia cleric among 47 other prisoners, Saudi Arabia has increased the possibility of prolonging conflict in West Asia. The country’s actions have stirred up its differences with Iran, thereby diminishing the possibility of finding political solutions to the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

By Olivier Da Lage

Read the full text on Gateway House’s website.

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Coalition of the unwilling

Posted in Moyen-Orient by odalage on 24 décembre 2015

On 14 December, Saudi Arabia announced the formation of an anti-terrorism coalition of 34 Islamic countries. But with key potential partners such as Algeria, Lebanon, and Pakistan refusing to join, the hastily-assembled group has put Saudi credibility in the spotlight instead of deflecting western criticism of the kingdom’s inaction against Sunni jihadism.

By Olivier Da Lage

Read the full text on Gateway House’s website.

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