Change of Guard in Saudi Arabia, Implications for West Asia & the World

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In a surprise reshuffle at the top of Saudi Arabia’s royal hierarchy, the country’s king has removed his nephew as crown prince in favor of his son, Mohammed bin Salman. Mohammed bin Salman will now be first in line to succeed his father King Salman as ruler of the Saudi Arabia. The 31-year-old has been appointed deputy Prime Minister and will continue in his role as defense minister, according to a royal decree cited by state media. Despite his youth, Mohammed bin Salman has long had a visible role in the government, and has spearheaded the kingdom’s attempts to wean itself off oil as part of an economic strategy announced last year.

Analysis:

  1. While the announcement did come as a surprise, this move was bound to be made. The King had handed his son so much power internally in recent years that it already gave an impression that he was being groomed for leadership.
  2. Saudi-U.S. relations: It did not gain much limelight under the Obama administration when US had a nuclear accord with Shia-ruled Iran and the Sunni-ruled kingdom of Saudi Arabia strongly opposed it. The ties that emerged between the two countries under Trump administration may have helped accelerate Mohammed bin Salman’s succession as crown prince. There has been a joint defence deal of $110 billion along with other agreements.
  3. Middle East: The Saudi political reshuffle has come amid the biggest crisis to hit the Middle East in decades i.e. Saudi-led diplomatic freeze of Qatar by key allies and neighbors based on the fact that it supports terrorism. The prince has taken a hard line with Qatar, Iran and Yemen as defence minister. US might get caught up in the region’s ever increasing political tensions.
  4. Saudi Arabia has assisted the Yemeni forces in fighting off Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. At present, Saudi stability is linked to Yemeni stability. Therefore, the kingdom needs to continue supporting Yemen. The conflict in Yemen is an Iran-Saudi proxy war and the new crown prince has been long involved here. This might take time to get resolved. Oman is out of all this conflict. However, these types of conflicts create problems for expatriates and these countries have a large population of expatriates residing there.
  5. 2030 Vision: It aims to modernize Saudi economy, make the country less oil dependent by investing in the private sector and redistributing the work force.
  6. Women: New laws to increase women’s rights including the right to vote and to run for office. There might also be laws for more women in the workforce which includes top job positions like head of the stock exchange.

India- Saudi Arabia:

On 5th June 2017, when Qatar issue broke out, it was said by India that it is an intra GCC affair which is not the case now. Many Indians reside in Saudi Arabia and remittances are huge from these countries. There is also close linkage in terms of energy, terrorism and security. India can be said to have largest stake in this part of the world and therefore, it has a proactive role to play. It has to secure its own people, counter terrorism and make sure that the geopolitical proximity to India remains intact without any major war in the region.

Conclusion:

Though family discipline has been in place so far but what is still unknown in the present scenario is how the extraordinary powers in political, military, intelligence, energy, economic areas wielded by one young prince will be utilized without any kind of consultation and consensus-building within the family. How diplomacy and stability is assured for this country is yet to be seen.

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