Alwaght- Amid reports that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef’s health is deteriorating, his deputy and US ally Mohammad bin Salman is stepping up in what appears to be a bid to rise up in status in the Saudi monarchy.
If bin Nayef has not so far felt that his cousin may be preparing to replace him, now is the time to be concerned as the latter has not missed a chance to prove himself worthy of the position. Observers ascertain that Mohammad bin Salman is the main competitor in the Saudi political scene and they have noted that the aspiring prince has been intensifying efforts to secure a base of trust and support as well as an image of a palpable leader in domestic and foreign policies.
These are not mere speculations. In fact, there is a report from the Middle East Eye that cites two anonymous sources saying he is plotting to take over as the country’s new king by the end of 2016.
Since he is only second in line to the throne, there is an obstacle to surpass: Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef.
Domestically, Mohammad bin Salman has been keen to call the important shots, to gain leverage within the Saudi kingdom. He wants to emerge by the end of the year as a person who made a difference and an indispensable politician at the same time, to complete his vision of becoming the next Saudi king.
When Mohammad bin Salman announced the “Vision 2030” reforms earlier this year, he became talk of the town, or for that matter, the world. Everyone raised questions, especially after Saudi’s recent financial crisis. Who could change the infrastructure of the Saudi economy? Is this plan feasible, realistic, or even near-fetched?
It may not be so. However, it has had the effect that he planned to produce. He sparked hope that one day the Saudi regime could shake off its addiction to oil and the country’s public sector could transform into one that promotes the private sector.
Thus this plan to privatize the Saudi public sector by 2030 serves as a boost to the deputy crown prince.
Isolating Mohamad bin Nayef cannot be achieved without holding a tight grip on the economy. His undeclared competitor has made drastic moves to enforce radical economic reforms beginning with fiscal retrenchment. The slashing cuts come with the guarantee of a balanced budget within five years.
The designated heir is also in charge of internal security so for Mohammad bin Salman to meet with officials from Congress and US security and intelligence personnel seems dubious. Many have pointed out that these meetings are aimed at marginalizing bin Nayef.
On the media level, bin Nayef has been largely absent, probably due to his health. On the other hand, bin Salman has been popping up on the screen quite often and making headlines in local and international news outlets. He has been dedicated to media exposure, giving interviews here and there, especially in the Western media. This commitment to the media clearly is part of seeking world recognition and becoming the face of the kingdom.
Mohammad bin Salman is dreaming big. Not only have his endeavors tackled Saudi’s domestic issues, but they have also travelled abroad.
He has been going back and forth from Saudi Arabia to the West in a bid to garner support and propose himself as the next Western puppet in the Arab World, or as he would say it, the next Saudi king.
In June, Mohammad visited the US for the third time in which he led the delegation and met with high-ranking officials including US Secretary of State John Kerry. He discussed joint military, economic, and security issues.
During the same trip, he went to Silicon Valley, America’s “technological fortress” where he met with technology and business companies. He even met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He is also expected to secure and sign very important agreements against the backdrop of these meetings. Importing technology into Saudi Arabia-- where for the lack of innovation-- all technologies are brought in, is a step toward appeasing the public but more so to say that Riyadh welcomes large investments.
Moreover, attempts to rebuild and restore relation with the Israeli regime have been persistent and it is no coincidence that news of secret meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials surfaced in the past year.
According to the MEE report, the UAE has advised bin Salman to nurture ties with Tel Aviv to please Washington. One example of how this piece of advice suits Saudi interests is last year’s group work that the two sides were extremely cooperative in, the bid to sabotage the Iranian nuclear deal.
Speaking of Iran, the deputy crown prince has exerted efforts to chip away at Iranian-Arab relations. In January several Arab states severed ties with the Islamic Republic after Riyadh called for a joint stance against Tehran following the execution of Prominent Shia Cleric Sheikh Nimr Nimr and a series of measures taken afterward. This among other such events.
It seems that bin Salman’s influence is exceeding expectations and he is looking to reshape Saudi Arabia’s future. Yet, what has baffled observers is Bin Nayef’s seemingly unsuspecting mind which leads to the following questions. Will the experienced and well-known Mohammad bin Nayef allow the upstart bin Salman to take the reins? Were it not for his medical condition, would he have let his deputy get this far? And most importantly, in case of the king’s death, can Mohammad bin Salman keep up as a major player?