Without further ado, 31 out of 34 royal members of the Committee of Allegiance, a royal consortium established as a consultation forum, are reported to have “voted” Mohammed bin Salman into his new role.
Saudi News Agency immediately released a video showing young Mohammed thanking his cousin bin Nayef for a smooth departure without a fuss and endeared him with an aborted attempt to kiss his feet in gratitude.
The king also appointed Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, the deposed crown prince’s nephew and grandson of deceased Prince Nayef, who had been minister of interior until his death (1975-2012), as the new minister of interior, thus perpetuating Nayef’s old fiefdom over the most important ministry for domestic security.
The new appointment means a lot of things for the future of the kingdom.
First, rule by a continuous iron fist at home will be entrenched. Mohammed bin Salman will silence any dissident voices while allowing limited personal freedoms organised by his new entertainment commission in charge of keeping Saudis moderately entertained.
Women will also be symbols of a new Saudi consumer modernity and soon may be allowed to drive cars. In the future, Saudis will enjoy themselves up to a certain level without harassment by the religious police.
Mohammed bin Salman will continue to ignore a redundant, marginalised and discredited Wahhabi religious establishment. But with the dispersal of Saudis who had joined the Islamic State (IS) caliphate, and the possible return of those from Syria, he may expect a bumpy ride in the top seat.
When al-Qaeda was dispersed from Afghanistan after 2001, many Saudis who had joined its ranks returned and caused the worst terrorism crisis the country has seen. IS already claimed several attacks in Saudi Arabia since 2015.
Second, erratic economic policies that may not deliver the desired neoliberal economy – including weaning Saudi Arabia away from oil by 2020, shrinking the welfare state, privatisation and, most importantly, floating 5 percent of the Saudi oil company Aramco in international markets by September 2017 – will continue.
So one day, Mohammed bin Salman might announce that Saudis must tighten their belts, but another day he could reward them for their acquiescence by unfreezing public sector salaries and giving them extra holidays. A successful neoliberal paradise with less working days and low productivity may require miraculous intervention.
Third, Mohammed bin Salman will struggle to become a serious regional power on par with Turkey, Iran, and Israel, all of which currently flex their muscles in a bid to emerge as the dominant force dictating the outcomes of several conflicts in the Arab world.
Fourth, Mohammed bin Salman will continue courting US President Donald Trump, exchanging weapon contracts and investment promises for continuous support – at least in public. Like Mohammed bin Salman, Trump is also unpredictable and the two men may fall out over minor differences. However, they will keep the facade of agreement until they achieve their objectives both at home and abroad.
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