Succession has been passed to the third generation of the Al Saud monarchy—opening the door to reform, but also instabilityby Charlie Askew / June 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia executed its 100th prisoner so far this year – putting it on course for a record number just six months into the year. As in any country, the executions are as much political statement as they are punishment, and although it is difficult to pin down a reason for the rise, the actions of a new King and a conservative judiciary to assert themselves are both partly to blame. The message is that Saudi Arabia will react strongly to any issue it deems a threat – from the crisis in Yemen to the recent suicide bombings in its eastern province.
The executions betray a truth about Saudi; they are in the midst of one of the greatest periods of internal and external crisis they have faced since the first Gulf War, or the Al Khobar bombings of 2004. In times like this, the careful stewardship of the King and the wider ruling family, the Al Saud, has come under strain but always emerged intact, guided by the pragmatism of successive leaders and the survival instinct of the family. That stewardship will prevail again. But perhaps the greatest threat to the family comes from within—a result of the administrative actions of the new King Salman.
Salman took over following the death of his half-brother, Abdullah, in January. Abdullah was already 81 when he took power; his successor is 79, the power shifting between the ageing second generation of Al Saud leaders. But at the end of April, King Salman decided to disinherit the Crown Prince and expected heir to the throne, his 69-year-old half-brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, to enshrine the long-awaited move to the third generation—the younger members of the family who, it is hoped by Saudi watchers, will begin liberalisation of the country—with the appointment of his nephew Muhammad bin Naif. The move to the third generation had to be made at some point, to resolve the vexed question of succession in the country, but it has nonetheless fired the starting gun over the internal politicking of the family, as different factions seek future access to power. That has the potential to trouble the family in a way that the crises on their border cannot.