A foolish king is bad news for a monarchy. A foolish king who is still young and won’t croak any time soon is a disaster. And an incompetent young king who also wields absolute power, well that’s just overkill.
It’s also the situation Saudi Arabia finds itself since the royal purge against rival parts of the ruling dynasty carried out by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the 32-year old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Since the founding the Saudi way of rule has been to give the entire humongous (and rapidly expanding) royal family some say in how the country is run. Well not anymore, bin Salman has just steamrolled the last vestiges of old-style, consensus-based system.
He just removed from government office, imprisoned, and stripped of their wealth 30 of his relatives, members of the royal family, but not of the clan which lines up behind his father and him.
Among the jailed are the minister of the National Guard (the last head of a “power ministry” not under Salman’s control), eleven princes, over a dozen former ministers, and the alleged sixth richest man in the world, Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal (though his wealth is now confiscated).
— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) November 5, 2017
The naming of bin Salman as the next in line for the throne, this June was already highly irregular under traditional Saudi system of succession. While technically more legitimate senior claimants for the throne had been sidelined before they had never been sidelined to set up a succession from father to son.
If the June maneuver was a palace coup to set up bin Salman as the Saudi ruler even after the death of his (seriously ill, 82-year-old) father, the weekend move was the post-coup purge to take all power, eliminate rivals and set up one-man absolutist rule.
Moon of Alabama speculates the purge was driven by desperation, having embarrassingly bogged down the crown into unwinnable war with in Yemen and standoff with Qatar, bin Salman struck at his rivals before they sharpened his knives against him.
On the other hand, Pepe Escobar of Asia Times speculates rival clans are not going to take this lying down. Rule by one clan is unprecedented in Saudi and not a stable state of affairs. Escobar’s sources fully expect a fightback.
I can’t say I can say much about that, but I know that in the international sphere bin Salman has a proven record of failure.
After coming to power in early 2015 he continued the losing Saudi policy of backing jihadists in Syria. He continued and escalated what proved to be a disastrous policy for the kingdom of overproducing oil to try and set back the competition. (Which now has Saudi hemorrhaging cash reserves and daydreaming about diversifying away from oil.)
To that he added a Saudi war on Yemen which the Saudis have been losing ever since, and an attempt to transform Qatar into a vassal state through blockade and threats which backfired spectacularly.
Basically, if there is going to be one-man rule in Saudi, bin Salman is probably the absolute worst candidate for the job – and yet he is the one who has the gig.
In June I pointed out that he is young enough that he could rule for another 50 years, but then wondered whether under him Saudi Arabia has another 50 years, or 15 for that matter. That question is all the more pertinent now that he has amassed total power.