Riyadh's spring clean

05 May 2015

King Salman has made it clear he is willing to depart from the policies of his predecessors and inject new life into the kingdom’s corridors of power

The latest shake-up by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is a definite sign that his predecessor’s policies, people and ideas have been completely usurped and Riyadh’s corridors of power have had a thorough spring clean.

Previous Saudi monarchs have traditionally had to deal with the accusation that change in the kingdom is always slow. The glacial pace of progress means many of the old guard sit in the same ministries doing the same job for many decades.

With King Salman, however, there is a definite sense that this era is over, with the monarch willing to replace those seen to be underperforming, even if they are from the House of Saud. Some royals are more equal than others of course, and this is evident by the meteoric rise of the king’s son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Even before he was announced as the new deputy crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman moved quickly and decisively to establish an enviable power base. His role as defence minister has given him enormous exposure on television as the Saudi-led coalition battle Houthi rebels in Yemen, and his chairmanship of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs gives him domestic fiscal clout.

Another factor weighing heavily in the prince’s favour is that he has the ear of Saudi Arabia’s youth. He has worked with youth organisations for several years and with two-thirds of the kingdom’s population aged under 30, this puts him in a very strong position for the future.

Where this leaves Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is hard to surmise. On the one hand, he is the politically savvy, vastly experienced scourge of domestic terrorists, with indispensable knowledge of the kingdom’s security services and strong links to all of Riyadh’s allies. On the other, the 55-year-old statesman is seen as being too young to be part of the old guard, but too old to relate to the young.

The new generation is now firmly rooted inside the power base, but it is still likely there will be more upheaval over the next few years as more of the late King Abdulaziz’s sons age and are replaced.

After the first few months of King Salman’s rule, there is a feeling in Riyadh that if this transition is not handled properly then what was previous a glacier could soon turn into a tsunami.

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