Mohammad bin Salman from the beginning to the brink of the fall

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – Oct. 23, 2018, issue 9344, p. 21

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always had a great deal of weight in the Middle East and internationally because of its advantages, such as its oil deposits. Saudi Arabia is currently the second largest oil exporter in the world and the second largest country in the world in oil reserves. It is also the center of global Islam and one of the most influential countries in the Middle East and North Africa. For its sake, the West, led by the US, considered the stability of Saudi Arabia, the impact of its decisions and their military existence there as one of their main priorities. The events of the Second Gulf War in 1990 created a gateway to the proliferation of Washington bases in the Gulf in general. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, founded on the basis of a consensus between the religious leadership and the ruling Al-Saud family, has developed a complex system through which the ruler is chosen in such a way as to prevent a loss of balance. But one of the Saudi princes wanted something different.

A mysterious visit

In June 2016, then Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman visited the US for ten days during which he met with a series of US officials headed by then President Barack Obama. The stated reason for this visit was to increase economic and political co-operation between the two countries and to reduce the tension of the decision to allow the prosecution of Riyadh by those affected by the events of 11 September. But the most important and undeclared reason for this visit was the presentation of Mohammad bin Salman himself as successor instead of Prince Mohammad bin Nayef and then progress fast to be the youngest of the kings of the house of Saud. Mohammad bin Salman submitted this request to President Obama. However, his response was clear by rejecting such a move. Mohammad bin Nayef was a a credible figure for Washington for his role in fighting al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and his ability to make sound decisions when he was interior minister. This American rejection prompted Mohammad bin Salman to develop a new plan to achieve his goal. The recent US elections were the first step in this plan.

Bin Salman’s strong relationship with the United Arab Emirates, led by Mohammed bin Zayed, turned them into the headquarters of his plan. The plan was clear: support for the US candidate who would accept to allow him to assume power and Trump was the one representing that. Bin Salman and bin Zayed played a major role in connecting Trump with Moscow. They also supported his election campaign with tens of millions of dollars. Hillary Clinton was considered by them to be an integral part of Obama’s strategy and that she would not agree to a breach of balance in the Kingdom by supporting bin Salman in a coup against bin Nayef. Eventually, Trump was led to the White House and his first visit to Riyadh in May 2017 was a turning point for Mohammad bin Salman’s plan towards the throne of the King.

Floundering positions

In Trump’s first international tour, Saudi Arabia was the first stop. Trump had already prepared a file to appease Saudi Arabia by taking measures to stop Iranian influence in the region, in contrast to Obama’s policy that allowed Tehran to expand both in Syria and Yemen through the nuclear agreement. However, bin Salman’s request was given the green light for his coup against Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef, in return for hundreds of billions of dollars to support the US economy under the cover of defense contracts as a sign of gratitude. Only a few weeks after the visit to Trud in Riyadh Mohammad bin Salman took the post of Crown Prince despite the opposite voices within the family. However, bin Salman’s aggressive actions have silenced these voices, and over time the family reluctantly accepted this step.

Notwithstanding the strong start that bin Salman showed as defense minister with the declaration of war against Houthis in Yemen and his tough stance on the Syrian crisis against the Iranian influence in the country, naivety covers all of his next steps. Houthis, who bin Salman declared war on them, are until today after four consecutive years of war fueling the stability of Saudi Arabia with their ballistic missiles and their ongoing attacks on the southern border of the Kingdom. Besides, he turned the Saudi troops into the area as a protector of the influence of the United Arab Emirates. His policy turned to the satisfaction of the UAE trade vision in Yemen. In Syria, on the other hand, bin Salman completely cut off the support of the Syrian armed opposition to get closer to the Russians. He supported the Kurdish separatist militias in the east of Syria to satisfy Washington and completely forgot the Iranian influence in the region. Also, bin Salman’s policy in Iraq was frighteningly absurd. He supported the stream of Muqtada al-Sadr at the expense of current Nuri al-Maliki, knowing that al-Sadr is a tool of Iran in the same way as the former Iraqi prime minister. Confusion continues in bin Salman’s movements both in Egypt and Lebanon, while the siege of the state of Qatar, in my personal opinion, is the most insane and would be followed by military invasion in the country if there had been no US and Turkish intervention.

The stability of the Middle East region is closely linked to the stability of Saudi Arabia. But bin Salman’s successive steps and politics clearly pushed him towards the end of the road. The murder of Saudi fellow columnist and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, in my personal opinion, may be the hair that will break the camel’s back*. No matter how much Trump supports bin Salman, this support will not be enough over time. Information from the interior of the Kingdom clearly states that the voices opposed to bin Salman’s coup on bin Nayef have begun to rise again. This inner situation pressed the King to meet with the senior princes of the family to put new choices at the table. There is talk to place Prince Khaled bin Salman as Deputy Crown Prince and hand over to him some of the powers of Mohammad bin Salman as one of these options. The surety is that Mohammed bin Salman is currently on the verge of falling. It is also certain that Washington and the West and the international system in general will not allow the collapse of the Saudi regime at all costs. Those who allowed bin Salman to rush to the throne are able to hold back his dreams or finish them. Today the decision is in Riyadh, but tomorrow will be in Washington.


*Arabic proverb