By Javad Heirannia

Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion is end of harmony within al-Saud tribe: expert

June 24, 2017

TEHRAN - Hossein Askari, an expert on Saudi Arabia who teaches international business at George Washington University, says the promotion of Prince Mohammed bin Salman by his father King Salman to the rank of crown prince marks the end of “harmony within the al-Saud tribe”.

Prince Mohammed replaced his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef, who formerly had been ahead of him in succession to the throne. The shakeup happened on Wednesday.

 “I believe that this is the beginning and the end of any semblance of harmony within the Al-Saud tribe,” Askari tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the reasons behind the Saudi King's decision to depose the sitting crown prince and replace him with his son Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz?

A: Prince Mohammad has a special place in Salman’s heart and mind. Simply said, he is his favorite son and the apple of his eye. But I believe King Salman is approaching senility and is not in full command of what he is doing. He may love Prince Mohammad so but he should not let this love dictate national policies. I also believe that Prince Mohammad is using his father who no longer appreciates the ramifications of this decision.”

“Trump hates Obama so much that he wants to undo anything and everything that Obama has done. So why not destroy Obama’s steps to improve U.S.-Iranian relations!”

Q: The replacement was made through a constitutional change. What might be the reaction of the supporters of Mohammed bin Naif?

A: “No, no, there is no constitutional change. It was by Royal Decree. King Salman decided so. Moreover, I am almost certain that he did not consult, or get, the concurrence of the 150-200 senior princes.”

Q: Shall we think of the reshuffle as a soft coup d’état, which has the support of the U.S. and the UAE?

A: I think it has the full support of Trump and Jared Kushner as Prince Mohammad has been dealing with them and telling them about business possibilities. Mohammad bin Naif has been removed from much of this and he is nowhere near as flamboyant as Mohammad bin Salman. He had no chance. He was sidelined from the start. But Salman moved cautiously. He made his son the Deputy Crown Prince with an eye to making him Crown Prince down the line.

Professor Hossein Askari says the reshuffle is somehow related to Donald Trump's recent trip to Riyadh.

Q: What might be the influence of such a major reshuffle in Saudi foreign policy especially towards the region?

A: More important than Saudi foreign policy, I believe that this is the beginning and the end of any semblance of harmony within the Al-Saud tribe. While Al-Saud princes may have remained silent for the last two and a half years, this silence will be transformed to action before, but undoubtedly upon, King Salman’s death. It was one thing to have Prince Mohammad elevated to such power two years ago as Deputy Crown Prince because a new king could have stripped him of all powers. But now that he has been elevated to Crown Prince, the issue has taken on more urgency for the other 10,000 or so princes. This is made all the more dire as the young Crown Prince could break up the GCC, entangle Saudi Arabia in an armed conflict with Iran and lose U.S. backing when Trump gets cold feet or is out of office. In that eventuality, the Al-Sauds could be driven out of power and lose their position and their direct access to the national treasury, the thing that matters most to all princes given their over-the-top lifestyle.

As to foreign policy, Mohammad bin Salman will be much more muscular than his predecessors. He will confront the Qataris more forcefully to tone down Al-Jazeera, end support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and distance themselves from Iran. Mohammad bin Salman is a young man who ‘feels his oats’ and who thinks he has never-ending ‘wind in his sails’. He wants to re-establish absolute Saudi supremacy in the GCC and in the Arab World. He believes that he has U.S. and Israeli backing to confront Iran in Yemen and elsewhere and will get U.S. airpower support in case of a direct-armed conflict with Iran. I think that he is drunk on power.

“Iran should coordinate its policies with Turkey when it comes to Qatar. In this way they can better deter Saudi and U.S. aggression.”

Iran has to stand firm. Be prepared and take him on if necessary. Iran should coordinate its policies with Turkey when it comes to Qatar. In this way they can better deter Saudi and U.S. aggression.

Q: Is the reshuffle somehow related to Trump's recent trip to Riyadh?

A: Yes. I think that Trump was hosted lavishly as never before. He saw unimaginable opulence and wealth. He wants to do business with the Saudis and expand his business interests in the UAE. He listened to what they wanted from him. And he has given his off-the-cuff and loose sort of commitment. And he has left it up to Kushner to follow up on it.

Moreover, Trump hates Obama so much that he wants to undo anything and everything that Obama has done. So why not destroy Obama’s steps to improve U.S.-Iranian relations!

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