Forget Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, just a few of the countries in which Saudi Arabia is fighting a proxy war with Iran, its long-time enemy. The Saudi royal family now appears to be at war with itself. Regardless of who wins, the conflict could destabilize Saudi Arabia, which was already weakening anyway.
What’s happening in the country is the definition of palace intrigue. The king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, took the throne in January 2015 following the death of his half brother, Abdullah, a son of the nation’s founder who had ruled the country for two decades. It was a relatively straightforward succession. It’s now common knowledge that it took a behind-the-scenes power struggle for King Salman to crown his son, Mohammed bin Salman, a prince and name him his chosen successor. But on Nov. 4, the power struggle became brazenly public. That day, Salman and his son had more than a dozen princes and former high-level officials arrested, including a world-famous billionaire. The reason for their detention is simple: Salman is trying to remove obstacles that could prevent Mohammed bin Salman from succeeding him.
Arresting these individuals accomplishes two things. First, it guarantees their capitulation to Mohammed bin Salman. Second, it gives the Salman faction more mileage out of the anti-corruption drive. Between that and their calls for a more moderate version of Islam, the king and his son are moving away from the traditional sources of support (clerics and tribal establishments) and toward new ones: popular appeal among the country’s youth, which makes up about two-thirds of the population. The old guard is an obstacle for the reforms needed to move the kingdom beyond its current impasse – put simply: depending almost solely on oil revenue – and thus a threat for the leadership. They are using populism to inoculate themselves from the potential consequences of their power grab.
In the process, though, they are inadvertently laying the foundations for the next crisis. Relying on popular support means they will be forced to enact more reforms than they actually want to – or are even capable of. Despots who try to be populists usually end up being neither and, in their failure, lose power.
Source Credit: Business Insider
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