The winds of change in Saudi Arabia
Material posted: Publication date: 15-04-2014

All, shifting its focus towards Asia, the US is gradually moving away from close relations with Saudi Arabia and the GCC in General. Riyadh is doing everything possible to maintain its regional importance, primarily to neutralise the growing influence of the powerful neighbor across the Persian Gulf – Iran, as well as to keep within its orbit an overly ambitious Qatar. Ignored his American political, military and economic partner of the Kingdom, which is headed by a sick and aging monarch Abdullah, faced with a growing problem of constructing a coherent foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia is afraid of lose all interest in the Arabian Peninsula, rich in oil and gas (it contains up to 60 % of the world's hydrocarbon reserves). However, in the last period the Americans are making a big strategic bet in Asia, to prevent the dominant role of China. Despite the objections of Saudi Arabia, Washington signed an agreement with Iran on its nuclear energy program, moving away from active involvement in the Syrian conflict, where Saudi Arabia supports the rebels, and even actively gets involved in a sharp conflict with Russia over the Ukrainian crisis. So all of these vectors of Washington's foreign policy indicate a loss of US interest in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Kingdom, which is a powerful financial power, is experiencing great internal political difficulties because of the current system of succession of power in Saudi Arabia, which provides for the transfer of power from brother to brother. And this has led to a considerable aging of the contenders for the throne. Today king Abdullah (90 years old) should be replaced by the aging crown Prince Salman, who is 79 years old and he also suffers from numerous health problems. So on 1 April, three days after the visit to Riyadh by President Barack Obama, the king appointed "pet" his brothers: Prince Mukrin, who is 69 years old, a kind of second successor (i.e., a kind of "Vice" crown Prince). And not to look weakened government and maintain its influence in the region, Saudi Arabia continues an active policy towards Egypt and Syria, trying to maintain an active engagement with Pakistan.

Here I would like to note that us President Barack Obama inherited two conflict in the region (approx. — Iraq and Afghanistan), and now he is trying every way to get out of them. He obviously intends in the first place consistently to restore the military, financial and moral forces of the United States. And because of this he does not want to enter into new conflicts in the Islamic world, where one can get lost for long in military and political terms. Besides, the US came almost to the level of self-sufficiency in providing of economy of hydrocarbons, and, quite probably, will soon be exporting shale gas and oil (from the second half of 2014 according to OPEC). Because of this, they will no longer be in a state of energy dependence on the middle East, and even enter into the competition with the oil producers of the Persian Gulf.

Therefore, today, Arabia has much less importance for the American administration, which is trying to rid of the burdensome military and financial obligations to be able to restore and increase your own strength. However, the Americans cannot completely be excluded from participation in the support of the ruling regime of Saudi Arabia, fearing that the USA will take other global and regional players.

It means the KSA is trying to rebuild its foreign policy. With the coming to power of king Abdullah in 2005, Saudi Arabia began to pursue an active policy in Asia, where the king made his first visits. And crown Prince Salman undertook, in February, Asian tour, which included China, India, Pakistan and Japan. The rulers of Saudi Arabia realize that America moves to the side, and the Europeans are too weak and soft to replace Washington as the main strategic partner. In regional terms, Saudi Arabia is experiencing the loss of its former influence. Even dwarf the Emirate of Qatar, with the help of "Muslim Brothers" and Turkey was able to ride the wave of "Arab spring" 2010 to 2013, pushing Riyadh to side. This was the reason behind the harsh reaction to the actions of Doha from KSA, UAE and Bahrain, 5 March withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. Two days later, Saudi Arabia announced the Association "Muslim brotherhood" a terrorist organization. Thus Doha was shown her place, taking into account the small size of the territory and scanty population of the Emirate.

Still, the most significant event in the Kingdom was the appointment of a new successor, half-brother of the king Prince Mukrin that is intended to change the former system of succession of power in Saudi Arabia. Erosion of power between the various symbolic figures of the Royal family weakens the foundations of the regime. Macrina and the appointment of a Deputy crown Prince indicates the intention to strengthen the stability of the regime. He's the last of the brothers – the sons of the king who founded Saudi Arabia. Therefore, there will be no more transfer of the throne from brother to brother, since Muqrin is the last of them. And we cannot ignore the fact that he would appoint the crown Prince the son of king Abdullah.

For a long time different sources about the deteriorating health of the king of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, which does not allow him to lead the country. But so far there has been no clear signs confirming this information. However, a number of important developments in the state that occurred simultaneously with the recent visit of the US President, as a coat of credibility to these assumptions. In Riyadh since early April talked about the possibility of abdication of the Saudi monarch and Qatari repetition of the scenario of change of political leadership. According to several sources, Prince Mukrin appointment of Deputy heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia is part of a reshuffle of the power structure of the Kingdom, the details of which will be described later. According to Iranian TV channel Al Alam, the leading broadcast in Arabic, 29 March the British Arabic-language newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, citing informed sources wrote: "King Abdullah has learned the lesson of the change of power in Qatar, but still have not identified the transmission of the crown and the throne to his brother Salman. When this happens, Muqrin will take the place of the heir, and then he will become a king".

Some members of the circles close to the Supreme authority of the Kingdom argue that given the poor state of his health, Salman, apparently, refuse to take authority. The same sources report that one of the purposes of the appointment of Prince Mukrin Deputy heir to the throne is preparing for the transfer of Royal power to the third son of king Abdullah — Prince Mutaib. In this regard it is stated that the current Saudi monarch addressed the Advisory Council with the request to accept the appointment Macrina successor, mutaib and the second Deputy Prime Minister in the event of coming to power of Prince Salman.

This measure means that in the future Mutaib gets all the chances of coming to power. Trust information, Muqrin, who led 2005 – 2012 special services of Saudi Arabia, very close to king Abdullah and enjoys his confidence. The United States seeks to prevent a political change in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporting country of oil, because any negative transformation in the Kingdom will negatively affect the situation in the energy sector.

This event with the new "heir" is derived, as mentioned above, almost immediately after the departure from Riyadh of President Obama. In Saudi Arabia didn't believe his promises to stop Iran in implementing projects to create nuclear weapons. And it is the KSA financed Pakistan's nuclear program and maintains good relations with Islamabad. It is possible that in these conditions, Saudi Arabia can get a nuclear bomb made by Pakistan. And then the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region will not stop on Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Example e Riyadh may well be followed by other countries, such as Egypt and Turkey.

Of course, the cooling in relations with Obama does not mean a break with the United States. The American President has two more years in the White house, to breathe new momentum in relations with Riyadh. And the West remains the most significant partner of the Kingdom. In addition, strongly shared interest between Israel and Saudi Arabia on many regional issues and Iran's nuclear program. But one thing is clear – in the Arabian Peninsula there are huge changes coming that may affect the formation of a new balance of power in the middle East.

Petr Lvov


Source: New Eastern Outlook

Tags: assessment , geopolitics , Near East