The Crown Prince, to achieve his end, will remove anything and anyone standing in his way to ascend to the throne
The recent crackdown on royalty is an unprecedented occurrence in the deceptively serene history of the House of Saud. Founded in 1744 by Emir Muhammad bin Saud, and reinstated as recently as in 1932, the House of Saud may not be quite as ancient as its counterparts in Britain or Spain, but it most certainly holds more authority in the contemporary world than both of them – and more – combined.
With its largely smooth-sailing recent history, the sudden detention of 11 princes and four ministers, among others, a few days ago has struck the global community as a major shock. The reason behind the mass detention is given to be their involvement in corrupt practices, with the recently crowned Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, acting as judge, jury, and executioner.
Granted the designation as recently as on June 21 earlier this year – replacing his cousin, his father’s nephew, Muhammad bin Nayef – MBS, as the Crown Prince is colloquially called, was once quite fittingly termed by The Economist as “Saudi Arabia’s prickly prince”. And, to be fair, his prickliness is not very unpredictable, for his selection as the crown prince crossed a wee line in Saudi tradition.
Before turning to the more “democratic” method of electing the crown prince with the consultation of the Allegiance Council, Saudi Arabia followed the principle of agnatic seniority for nearly seven decades, after Emir Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud expressed the desire that his son Faisal succeed his brother and crown prince Saud to the throne. However, the rule was never followed to the letter as according to Chapter 2 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia “The King chooses the Heir Apparent”, handing him the final authority. Later, Saud and Faisal’s brother, Abdulllah – who died in 2015 – did away with the rule of agnatic seniority, altogether, ruling, instead, that the crown prince be elected by the Allegiance Council, a body composed entirely of members of the House of Saud.
The creation of the Allegiance Council changed little, as it was largely believed to act as the King’s rubberstamp when the issue of succession arose in 2012 upon the death of Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, and before. However, King Salman’s shuffling of the line of succession, first replacing his brother Prince Muqrin with his nephew Muhammad bin Nayef on April 29 2015 as the Crown Prince, and later replacing the latter with his own son, has effectively thrown both agnatic seniority and the Allegiance Council out of the window. If it wasn’t so already, it is now largely evident that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Chapter 2 and the King’s word reigns supreme over all attempted democracy. And the King’s eyes now seem increasingly to be set upon introducing agnatic primogeniture to his Kingdom.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is now set to benefit the most from this latest turn of events. With an aged father, it would likely not be too long before the thirty-two-year-old would find himself seated on the throne – but the question is, does he have the maturity and poise to lead a nation too accustomed to the stale stability that comes with an elderly monarch? Given his recent ventures, the answer, at the moment, seems to be in the negative.
Although a progressive who favours moderate Islam and shuns extremism – a quality that staunchly traditionalist and regressive Saudi Arabia could certainly benefit excessively from – MBS has also been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Yemeni civilians as a result of his 2015 Operation Decisive Storm. His hastiness and disregard for human life are qualities that do not pair too well with the broadmindedness that he claims to possess; instead, they paint the picture of a young, radical prince, who would stop at nothing to achieve his end. Hence, the “anti-corruption purge”: a plan devised to rid the Crown Prince of his opponents, something he has already indulged in quite frequently since being named the Heir Apparent, only some four-and-a-half months ago.