Oct 31 2011

9 Saudi challenges

Saudi Prince Nayef has to contend with nine key challenges as he takes over as the Crown Prince of the Kingdom, from trouble on his eastern and southern borders, to Iran and the Saudi succession issues that are set to arise in the medium-term.
The Saudi press agency announced the widely-expected news that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has chosen Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Crown Prince and appointed him as Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior.

The death of Crown Prince Sultan comes during a time of great upheaval and stress in and around the country. With regional events in a state of flux, Saudi Arabia was looking to create a picture of stability, but the unfortunate passing away of the Crown Prince has put the spotlight on its long-term succession plans.

Still, Prince Nayef has been waiting in the wings for a long time and is perfectly capable of ensuring that the Kingdom continues its policies without missing a beat.

But at the back of everybody's mind, not least the Saudi Royalty itself, is the health of the octogenarian king who recently had a third operation for his back.

Religare notes that Saudis will march forward with their aggressive foreign policy. "Saudi will continue to be increasingly independent as they project their influence across the region politically and ideologically. This is likely to be particularly apparent in more frequent adjustments in oil production by Saudi and its GCC allies outside the confines of OPEC."

Challenges faced by the new Crown Prince
Prince Nayef began his political career as Deputy Governor, and later Governor, of Riyadh Province during the lifetime of his father, King Abdulaziz. Prince Nayef was appointed Deputy Minister of Interior in 1970, and then in 1974, he became Deputy Minister of Interior with the rank of Minister. In 1975, Prince Nayef was appointed Minister of State for Internal Affairs, and, later in the same year, he was named Minister of Interior, a position he will continue to serve. In 2009, King Abdullah appointed Prince Nayef Second Deputy Premier.

Here are the key challenges facing the new Crown Prince (in no particular order):

1 Al-Qaeda And Yemen
Finding a resolution in Yemen remains elusive for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state counterparts. Despite repeated attempts to persuade Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, the stubborn state leader has refused to call it a day.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda is exploiting the unrest in the country, although many critics argue their role in Yemen is exaggerated.

Regardless, the Saudis have been so worried about Yemen that even though they have resisted change elsewhere in the region, especially Bahrain, they are willing to find a peaceful way for Saleh to step down.

A peaceful resolution for Yemen would be seen as a great coup for the new Crown Prince.

2 Bahrain
While Saudi Arabia is looking for change in Yemen, it is looking to maintain the status quo in Bahrain. Leveraging its financial, diplomatic and military might in Manama, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that King Hamad does not face resistance from its citizens.

Success in Bahrain is crucial given that it would ensure a strong Gulf bloc and keep the inspirations of the restive Shiite population in Saudi Arabia's Eastern provinces also under check.

3 Iranian Threat
As Interior Ministry Iran was never far from Prince Nayef's mind. But new tensions in light of the Arab Spring and the revelation of a bizarre plot to assasinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by Iranian agents suggest an escalation of tension between the two hostile regional powerhouses.

Syria could be yet another venue for a proxy war with Iran, especially after Saudi King Abdullah recently admonished Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for brutalizing his own people.

Iran will continue to be foremost on the mind of the new Crown Prince.

4 Expanding the Gulf
While Saudi Arabia is looking to curb Iranian influence in the region, it is also looking to expand its own. Overtures to Morocco and Jordan to join the Gulf bloc is a great way to extend Saudi and GCC influence in the region.

While the economic impact on the Gulf is yet to be fully determined, even a loose political coalition would ensure the Saudis expanding their sphere of influence. There are also reports that Egypt could also join the economic bloc, which would make the economic bloc a force to be reckoned with.

5 Opec and oil markets
Saudi Arabia showed tremendous leadership by pumping out near-record oil as Libyan production dried up. The Kingdom once again emerged as the market stabiliser and kept oil prices shooting off excessively without flooding the market and hurting its domestic needs.

The country will need to continue stabilising markets and be seen as a responsible supplier that is ensuring that the global economic recovery is not hampered by excessively high oil prices.

The markets here are likely to make the Crown Prince's task easy, as forecasts show that as the global economy turns around, crude demand is set to rise exponentially. That means Saudi Arabia can continue to pump near capacity, benefit from high oil prices and retain its position as an active market stabiliser.

There's only one catch though: high oil prices also means an emboldened Iran.

6 U.S. Relations & Foreign Policy
Saudi-U.S. relations have survived many issues and it is likely that Prince Nayef, who famously said that the 9/11 could be the work of Zionists, will forge new a new era of co-operation with his American counterparts.

The Washington Institute noted recently: "Prince Nayef, who controls the kingdom's huge internal security apparatus, is notorious for speaking his mind. He most famously suggested that Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, was behind the September 11 attacks on the United States in which fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis. He later proposed that Americans visiting the kingdom should be fingerprinted like visitors to the United States."

They certainly both need each other. With U.S. forces moving out of Iraq, the Americans will no doubt want to bolster their presence in the friendly Gulf states to keep Iran in check.

7 Social Programme
The $130-billion social programme initiated by the King will need to be implemented. Its development could see vast changes in the make up of the country's economic structure and regulatory reform, such as the mortgage law. The New Crown Prince may have to be at odds with his own conservative base to open up the economy further for the private sector to flourish.

8 Domestic Reforms
The new Crown Prince is widely known as anti-reform although that could change if he gets into power.

"He has a strong reputation as an ultra-conservative -- close to religious and reactionary circles," Gulf specialist Olivier Da Lage told AFP. "He is hostile to Shiites and follows an iron fist policy against any opposition. He also has a tough stance towards Iran," he added. "But it is possible that once in power, he will show more openness."

9 Succession Plan
While the Saudi succession plan has been smooth to date, the Saudi succession line is less clear over the medium-term future.

After Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the most likely candidate for the throne is his brother Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Governor of Riyadh, and part of the Sudairi Seven, who is also 75 years old.

Sudairi Seven, of course, is the reference to a powerful clan of Saudi brothers that have wielded tremendous influence over the country especially after King Khalid placed them in strategic positions during his reign between 1975 to 1982.

It started with King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 1995. Other Sudairi members include the late Crown Prince Sultan, the current Crown Prince Nayef, Prince Salman, Prince Abdul-Rahman, Prince Ahmad and Prince Turki II bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.

Apart from the remaining members of the Sudairi Seven, here is a list of other candidates and influencers in the complex network of Saudi family ties and alliances:

Khalid Al-Faisal, (born 1940) Governor of Makkah Province

Saud Al-Faisal,(born 1941) Foreign Minister

Turki Al-Faisal, (born 1945) former Director of General Intelligence

Khalid bin Sultan, (born 1949) Deputy Defense Minister

Muhammad bin Fahd, (born 1951) Governor of Eastern Province

Mutaib bin Abdullah, (born 1953) Commander of National Guard/

Muhammad bin Nayef, (born 1959) Deputy Interior Minister

Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah, (born 1962) Deputy Foreign Minister

Bandar bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1923)

Musa'id bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1923)

Mishaal bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1926) Chairman of the Bay'ah Council

Mutaib bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1931) former Minister for Municipal & Rural Affairs

Talal bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1931)

Nawwaf bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1933)

Badr bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1933) former Deputy Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard

Hadhlul bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1940)

Sattam bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1941) Governor of Riyadh

Ahmed bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1941) Vice Minister of Interior, Sudairi Seven

Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, (born 1945) Director General of Saudi Intelligence.

© alifarabia.com 2011

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