SUDAIRI ASABIYYA MIGHT JUST HAVE PRODUCED THE MOST EFFECTIVE MAN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

ISLAM HERE Report: HM Mohammad ibn Salman Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Amidst the unfolding crisis in the world, especially with regard to The Muslims, it is important not to miss the very profound change that took place in the Saudi Kingdom on the death of the late King Abdallah.

CLAN ASABIYYA

Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud Ibn Saud 1910

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Abdal-Aziz Ibn Saud who united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family. Saudi Arabia has since been an absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamic lines. As part of this process of expansion, Abdal-Aziz married women from powerful Nejdi and other Arabian families to cement his control over all parts of his new domain. It is believed he married as many as 22 women as a result. One of these marriages was to Hussa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi, a member of the Al Sudairis, a powerful clan in Nejd, where the Wahhabi ideology emerged nearly 300 years ago. Hussa Al Sudairi, was from a very influential family, and also shared the same clan identity as Abdal-Aziz’s own mother. Hussa was the most favourite of all the wives in that she had produced the most amount of sons. The Sudairi Seven as they became known; namely: Fahd; Sultan; Abdul Rahman; Nayef; Turki; Salman & Ahmad.

In addition to being the mother of seven sons, Hassa bint Ahmed had personal characteristics that made her the most valued spouse of King Abdulaziz. Firstly, she was very beautiful and had charm and a strong personality. She was also influential, and attempted to instill a sense of group feeling among her sons. She raised all of her children in a political atmosphere and urged them to hang together. In addition, she had effects on some decisions of King Abdulaziz. For instance, she urged him to make Prince Fahd a member of his advisory board, and Prince Fahd became a member of the board. Hassa bint Ahmed used to organize daily dinner gatherings at her home for her sons and their families. She supported the idea of unity and Asabiyya through these dinner gatherings. After her death her daughters are said to have continued her tradition of the weekly dinner gatherings. She was a demanding person in that she wanted to be visited daily by her sons when they were in Riyadh. She was also known for emphasizing discipline and a driving work ethic in her sons. With an estimated 37 sons. The “Sudairi Seven” were the largest bloc of full brothers and as a consequence, were able to wield a degree of coordinated influence and power.

The influence of the Sudairi Seven, which can be called asabiyya (group spirit) following the khaldunian terminology, grew constantly after the accession of its leader, Prince Fahd, to crown prince in 1975 and then king in 1982. They represented one out of five of King Abdulaziz’s sons. However, they gained influence and power not solely because of their number. Unlike many of King Abdulaziz’s other sons who dealt more with business activities, the Sudairi Seven tended to be interested in politics.

The Sudairi Seven’s rise to power can be traced back to the accession of King Faisal and his earlier struggle with King Saud. Although not a Sudairi himself, Prince Faisal, in his struggle to overthrow Saud, relied heavily upon the seven Sudairi brothers. In 1962, as prime minister and heir apparent, Prince Faisal appointed Prince Fahd as Interior Minister, Prince Sultan as Defence Minister, and Prince Salman as governor of Riyadh. All were key posts. Following Prince Faisal’s accession to the throne after King Saud’s deposition in 1964, the King Faisal continued to favour the Sudairi Seven as his allies.

PRINCE MOHAMMED IBN SALMAN

Crown Prince Mohammad ibn Salman

With the death of Abdallah, the throne passed for the last time in the line of brotherhood, the sons of Abdul-Aziz. It was the end of an epoch and the beginning of a new one. With the death of the old King, the new King immediately began to consolidate power on behalf of the clan. His son became both minister of defence and secretary general of the Court, combining two of the most powerful offices in the government, and his full nephew Mohammed bin Nayef bypassed hundreds of senior princes to become the first of the third generation to be officially placed in the line of succession. His son is Deputy crown prince and second in line to the throne. When Mohammed bin Salman was just 12 he began sitting in on meetings led by his father Salman, the then governor of Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Province. Some 17 years later, at 29 and already the world’s youngest defence minister, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is dangerously jousting with its regional foe Iran with a war in the Yemen, ambitious to become the Middle East’s most powerful leader.

Prince Mohammed was still in his early teens when he began trading in shares and property. And when he ran into a scrape or two, his father was able to take care of things. Unlike his older half-brothers, Prince Mohammed, did not go abroad to university, choosing to remain in Riyadh where he attended King Saud University, graduating in law. Associates considered him an earnest young man who neither smoked nor drank and had no interest in partying. In 2011, his father became deputy Crown Prince and secured the prized Ministry of Defence, with its vast budget and lucrative weapons contracts. Prince Mohammed, as a private adviser, ran the royal court with a decisive hand after his father was named Crown Prince in 2012. Every step of the way, Prince Mohammed has been with his father , who took his favoured son with him as he rose in the hierarchy of the House of Saud.

pic by: Luca Locatelli for Bloomberg Businessweek

Within the Saudi religious and business elite it was well understood that if you wanted to see the father you had to go through the son. Critics claim he has amassed a vast fortune, but it is power, not money, that drives the prince. When Salman ascended the Saudi throne in January 2015, he was already ailing and relying heavily on his son. Aged 79, the King is reported to be suffering from dementia and able to concentrate for only a few hours in a day. As his father’s gatekeeper, Prince Mohammed is the real power in the kingdom. That power was dramatically increased in the first few months of Salman’s rule. Prince Mohammed was appointed Defence Minister; put in charge of Aramco, the national energy company; made the head of a powerful new body, the Council for Economic and Development Affairs with oversight over every ministry; and put in charge of the kingdom’s public investment fund. He was named deputy Crown Prince but ensured ascendancy over his rival Mohammed bin Nayef, the Crown Prince and Interior Minister, by absorbing the latter’s royal court into that of the King’s.

Impatient with bureaucracy, Prince Mohammed has been quick to make his mark by demanding that ministries define and deliver key performance indicators on a monthly basis, unheard of in a sclerotic economic system defined by patronage, crony capitalism and corruption. His sudden early morning visits to ministries demanding to see the books is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend, startling sleepy Riyadh into action and capturing the admiration of young Saudis as a fellow youth. “He is very popular with the youth. He works hard, he has a plan for economic reform and he is open to them. He understands them,” enthused one businessman. That counts, because 70 per cent of the Saudi population is under 30 and youth unemployment is running high, with some estimates putting it at between 20 and 25 per cent.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy

By 1976, Saudi Arabia had become the largest oil producer in the world. Khalid’s reign saw economic and social development progress at an extremely rapid rate, transforming the infrastructure and educational system of the country; in foreign policy, close ties with the US were developed.

In 1979, two events occurred which greatly concerned the government, and had a long-term influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy.

The first was the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It was feared that the country’s Shi’ite minority in the Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. There were several anti government uprisings in the region such as the 1979 Qatif Uprising.

  

The second event was the Grand Mosque Seizure in Mecca by Islamist extremists. The militants involved were in part angered by what they considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi government. The government regained control of the mosque after 10 days and those captured were executed.

Saudi soldiers Mecca, 1979

Smoke rising from the Grand Mosque
Mecca 1979

Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much stricter observance of traditional religious and social norms in the country (for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulama a greater role in government. The Prince is seeing things through new eyes, but has found himself ready to take on the countries religious and geopolitical struggles full on. Backed by a new foreign secretary, speaking perfect English, and thinking with a quite new ideology, the following things happened:

•The foreign secretary announced he was ready to put soldiers on the ground to fight what we would call the khawarij. ISIS

•The ‘prayer police’, the terror of the malls, had their right to arrest removed.

•There then followed the announcement that the Saudis were going to ‘diversify’ their economy.

The same zeal with which he is pursuing economic reforms has also led Saudi Arabia into a war in neighbouring Yemen. Last March, he launched an aerial campaign against rebel Houthi forces that had run the Saudi-installed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi out of the country. Decades of Saudi caution were thrown to the wind as Prince Mohammed presided over Operation Decisive Storm. The young, ambitious son of an aged king leading a war against a rebellion in a troubled southern neighbour. That the rebellion was supported by Iran made the adventure even more attractive. The Saudi military was bristling with new weapons – billions of dollars’ worth. Prince Mohammed had a powerful older rival in the Interior Minister and wanted to prove his mettle both to his rival and his own supporters. The plan was to win a quick, decisive victory to confirm his stature as a military leader, placing him in the same league as his grandfather Ibn Saud, the great warrior king and founder of modern Saudi Arabia. But it was not to be.

Thus far Operation Decisive Storm has dragged on for close to a year, causing infinite misery to the people of Yemen. In intense aerial bombardments, much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed while the Houthis remain defiantly in control of the capital Sanaa and most of the north. In the south, AQAP has had an open field. Undeterred, Prince Mohammed has vowed to carry on, determined to bomb the Houthis to the negotiating table. “He is quite belligerent,” says Jason Tuvey, a Middle East economist at Capital Economics. But Tuvey, like many other analysts, has been impressed by Prince Mohammed’s grasp of the often maddeningly complex problems that bedevil the kingdom’s economy. “On the economic front he has done very well. He has shifted policy and he should be commended for that,” Tuvey says. His impetuous nature emerged again over the growing struggle with Iran for regional hegemony. When Prince Mohammed announced the formation of a council of 34 Muslim nations in mid- December to combat terrorism, he clearly had Iran in mind.

The Iranians have strongly backed the beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both directly and through Hezbollah, a militia trained and armed over the years by Iran. The Saudis are determined to see Assad defeated before any Syrian peace talks commence. Now, with the Saudis executing the senior Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a tit-for-tat battle is escalating. The Iranians allowed the sacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the Saudis together with other Gulf Cooperation council (GCC) states withdrew their ambassadors in retaliation. In a widely circulated letter last summer, enemies within the ruling family decried the arrogance of the young prince, even going so far as to call for his ousting along with his father and Mohammed bin Nayef. But those calls have led nowhere and The prince continues to ride a crest of popular support in Saudi Arabia. The question remains, though, how far his willing to go in the conflict with Iran. It is not outside the realm of possibility that this brilliant, brash young man casting himself in his grandfather’s mould as a Sunni warrior may be weighing up the options, may be thinking of a military strike against Shia Iran – a frightening thought in a region already riven by war. What we have to realise is that this is a new order in Arabia. It must also be appreciated that we depend on this regime for the perfect and the impeccable organising of the Hajj. The Crown Prince’s youthful disposition has familiarised himself among the youth of the Kingdom connecting him to its future.

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz inspecting Saudi army units in the Southern Region. (File photo: SPA)