An Emirati Rebellion Against Saudi Royal Orders?

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United Arab Emirates Prime Minister and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attends a ceremony with dignitaries and leaders from around the world offering their condolences to new King Salman on January 24, 2015 at the Diwan royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a day after the death of King Abdullah. AFP/Yoan Valat

By: Duaa Sweidan

Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Emirate contingent at the funeral of the late Saudi King Abdullah was small, considering the strategic relationship between the two countries. Strange inconsistencies at the Saudi royal funeral showed that Mohammed bin Zayed, the “actual governor of the emirates,” is displeased with the Sudairi coup against Abdullah’s inner circle — to whom he is close — and hinted at the “hidden” dispute between him and the new deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Khalifa bin Zayed, his deputy Mohammed bin Rashid, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed were the most notable absentees from the funeral of Saudi King Abdullah. Only the rulers of Sharjah, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah attended the funeral, along with the Emir of Kuwait, the Emir of Qatar, and the King of Bahrain. According to multiple converging accounts, Mohammed bin Zayed, the actual ruler of the UAE, is said to be behind this low-level representation.

According to information made available to Al-Akhbar, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi insisted that Dubai Crown Prince Mohammed bin Rashid not attend King Abdullah’s funeral, and that the UAE representation be limited to three dignitaries from the seven emirates.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, a Saudi source attributed this curtailment to the Abu Dhabi crown prince’s displeasure with the developments that took place in Saudi Arabia on the morning of King Abdullah’s burial. The first batch of royal orders were contrary to bin Zayed’s wishes, who received a painful blow with the appointment of Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince, the expulsion of Khalid al-Tuwaijri from the Royal Court, and the exclusion of Mut’ab bin Abdullah from the first three positions, according to the source.

The Emirati resentment over the Sudairi wing’s domination of the Saudi scene is linked to a number of political and personal factors. Mohammed bin Zayed is a friend and ally of the minister of the Saudi National Guard, Mutaib bin Abdullah, and is also a close friend and ally of Bandar bin Sultan, former secretary of the National Security Council. Through these two figures, who were close to the former king, the Abu Dhabi crown prince had a say in Riyadh’s positions and decisions.

According to Gulf sources, bin Zayed gave Bandar bin Sultan — when the latter was Saudi intelligence chief — at least 1.25 billion riyals (approximately $333,333,333). Bin Zayed had also gifted Mut’ab bin Abdullah a luxurious palace on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. The most influential UAE ruler was establishing close ties with the minister of the Saudi National Guard because the latter was the likely inheritor of the king’s throne. Then the silent Sudairi coup shattered his dreams.

In addition, the Wikileaks documents proved the hostility between Mohammed bin Zayed and the new deputy crown prince.

According to the documents leaked in March 2014, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi deliberately derided the father of Mohammed bin Nayef, Nayef bin Abdulaziz — then minister of the interior — during a conversation with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Wikileaks documents also revealed that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi told Haass that when he sees Nayef, he becomes more convinced that “Darwin was right,” implying that Nayef was ape-like in character.

The Emirati officials absence from the former king’s funeral is not the only sign of differences between the two sides. The Erem news agency’s coverage of the Saudi royal orders after Abdullah’s death is further evidence of these differences. The agency, run by the Office of the Head of State, questioned the validity of the appointment of Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince. Erem news agency reports said that Salman did not consult with the Allegiance Commission in this regard, and that the selection of Mohammed bin Nayef from among many prominent grandchildren captured the attention of observers.

Commenting on the coverage by Erem news agency, British writer David Hearst says that the agency’s statements are not arbitrary. The writer adds that as soon as the news about King Abdullah’s illness broke, the trio Khaled al-Tuwaijri, Mohammed Bin Zayed, and Bandar bin Sultan launched a media campaign to discredit Salman’s mandate. The aim of the campaign launched by the three conservative figures was to ensure that the position of Deputy Crown Prince goes to Prince Mut’ab, according to Hearst.

The British writer cites an investigation conducted by the website “Asrar Arabiya,” which shows that Egyptian television presenter Yusuf al-Husseini deliberately incited against King Salman and his son Mohammed at the behest of the Saudi Royal Court, and through the mediation of Abbas Kamel, director of the Office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. If the Emirati officials’ absence from King Abdullah’s funeral is linked to the above-mentioned factors, then al-Sisi’s non-attendance – despite his absence from the Davos Economic Forum – may fall in the same context. According to observers, it is unlikely that the bad weather prevented the Egyptian president from visiting Riyadh. The observers said that these excuses are unreasonable, and were given after it was confirmed that the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi would not attend the funeral.

In any case, it is too early to tell how things will play out between the main power centers and decision-making in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Cairo. What’s certain is that a chapter of prosperity has ended with the death of Abdullah, and the Saudi policy toward its closest members of the Gulf Cooperation Council will change, as well as toward the regime on which the kingdom spent billions of dollars to reinforce its foundations. If these changes do not affect overall strategies, they will certainly affect day-to-day tactics.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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