Saudi Succession: The Battle to Be King
By: Yazan al-Saadi
Published Tuesday, October 16, 2012
For nearly a year, an anonymous Twitter account known as @mujtahidd has been exposing startling information regarding the internal workings and private scandals of the Saudi Arabian ruling family.
Playfully described as the Saudi Arabian WikiLeaks, @mujtahidd’s often sarcastic Arabic tweets have become a relentless thorn for authorities who have been unable to silence him so far.
Many have theorized that he may be a disgruntled royal family member or at least enjoys close ties to the family due to the well-informed nature of his tweets. Each disclosure by @mujtahidd, presented in the form of a long monologue, has added to the brewing discontent within Saudi society, and his popularity continues to grow unabated. Today, he has nearly 700,000 followers – and counting.
In his latest revelation on October 13, the Twitter activist outlined the thought processes and various plans developed by senior royal family members for succession after King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud.
The question of succession has exceedingly become a sensitive issue, closely watched by many within and outside the country due to the significant importance Saudi Arabia holds for regional and international economic and political interests. The appointment of Salman bin Abdul-Aziz as crown prince in June did not quell anxieties, since both he and King Abdullah are very old and have suffered substantial health complications. Thus, the question of who will succeed them is constantly pondered over by Saudi citizens and international observers, as it signifies what the future holds for the state.
In this context, @mujtahidd has jumped into the fray by divulging information regarding who is most likely to take the throne in the near future.
@mujtahidd began his October 13 exposition by noting a number of factors that will come into play in what he sees as a battle for succession. According to him, the current King, Abdullah, has reached the alarming age of 94 Hijri years (91 years old) and suffers from several major diseases. Moreover, a recent health evaluation conducted during Ramadan showed that Abdullah could experience a massive and fatal heart attack at any given moment. This predicament has significantly preoccupied the king – he is surrounded by medical staff around the clock and has equipped intensive care units wherever he is to deal with any eventuality.
In addition, the Allegiance Council is in a state of crisis, beginning with the death of Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud in October 2011 and continuing after the appointment of Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud as the latest crown prince this past June.
Traditionally succession is passed along to the sons of the first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, based on seniority. But as the decades passed, a large number of sons waiting-in-line have become discounted for health, age, political, or other reasons. In response to this developing issues, the Allegiance Council was formed in 2006 in an attempt to put a ‘democratic face’ on succession and to smooth over growing internal disputes. Yet since its inception, it was quickly marginalized in the decision making process. Salman’s appointment, in particular, exemplified the Council’s weakness; Salman has Alzheimer’s and in principle the Council should have disqualified him because of that, but family politics took precedent over procedure.
According to @mujtahidd, there are no alternative mechanisms to settle disputes within the al-Saud family other than the ineffectual Allegiance Council. He further explained that royal family do not conduct regular meetings to discuss and jointly settle internal concerns, let alone affairs of the country. This subsequently has ensured a major power vacuum and augmented fractures within the family.
@mujtahidd then proceeded to examine who of Abdul-Aziz’s surviving sons are next in line: Talal, the interior minister Ahmed, former head of the Saudi Intelligence Agency Muqrin, and maybe Turki II, the governor of the Riyadh Province Sattam, and former governor of the Tabuk Province Mamdouh. The rest are either sick or not even under consideration.
In regards to Talal, @mujtahidd claimed that Talal had ostracized himself from most of the family with a series of blunders, especially in regards to his stance for a popular reform of the system – a call not shared by the majority of the family.
Muqrin, on the other hand, is “dealing with an inferiority complex due to his darker skin” and is subservient to his brothers. Furthermore, he is afflicted by what Americans call the two W’s, according to @mujtahidd.
As for Turki, Sattam, and Mamdouh, @mujtahidd wrote that if offered, each of them would not reject the position of Crown Prince, yet they are not the types to actively seek the seat.
As a result, the next in line would be Abdul-Aziz’s grandchildren.
The Next Generation of al-Saud
Here, @mujtahidd noted that according to family tradition, the grandchildren are not automatically entitled to the ruling position, and they are expected not to think or speak of the crown.
“[Therefore] they have no choice but to gain it [the crown] by deception or armed force,” he wrote on his account.
According to @mujtahidd, the grandchildren who are currently aspiring for the position and may even consider using force to gain it are: deputy defense minister Khalid bin Sultan, deputy interior minister Mohammad bin Nayef, and commander of the Saudi National Guard Mutaib bin Abdullah, because each of them are in control of a military or security sector.
Meanwhile, grandchildren who may use “deception” to place themselves in a position of power are: governor of the Mecca Province Khalid bin Faisal, governor of the Eastern Province Mohammad bin Fahd, business tycoon al-Waleed bin Talal, and former minister of state Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd.
In regards to Khalid bin Faisal, @mujtahidd asserted that Khalid has been in contact with the Americans to convince them that he could bring change “along an American path” and has coveted close ties with the al-Tuwaijri, a clan closely aligned with King Abdullah, and with senior Westernized Saudis.
For his part, Mohammad bin Fahd had built secret ties with Shia groups and promised them that if they supported his aspirations in any future conflict, he will provide them with financial benefits.
Al-Waleed bin Talal has been desperately trying to convince the West that he is the most capable candidate for them, while domestically he has been using his money buy off support from various tribal groups and family members.
The final grandson in this game of thrones not backed with arms is Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd. He, @mujtahidd claimed, suffered a great loss after his expulsion from the cabinet in June 2011, but may be able to turn the balance back in his favor due to his immense wealth.
At this point, @mujtahidd paused to emphasize: “In truth, the Sauds consider that the matter will only be resolved by family members or by the Americans. Popular will is secondary and should not be included in the calculations of the conflict.”
After highlighting these issues, the Twitter insider moved on to speculate over what the future can hold in this upcoming struggle.
The best-case scenario, he suggested, was that current Crown Prince Salman dies before King Abdullah and a new crown prince who is in good health, mentally sound, and deserves to do the work is selected. Another scenario, he pointed to, with the caveat that it is “impossible,” is that King Abdullah immediately replace Salman as crown prince.
However, @mujtahidd argued, what is more likely is that King Abdullah will die before Salman, resulting in a country being led by an individual who is practically unaware of his surroundings or is at least unable to command.
@mutahidd then mused whether Salman’s sons would be able to maintain control and ensure the allegiance of other members of the family during Salman’s rule. He predicted that loyalty will initially be expressed in order to maintain the rank-and-file buttressed by silence from the rest of the world. But after the honeymoon period, confrontations are to be expected, he wrote, because the senior members of the family would never accept Salman’s sons controlling matters from behind the curtains.
Without a collective decision-making process or the absence of a neutral influential party, a solution is impossible. Therefore the important question, @mujtahidd stressed, “is not what the shape of the conflict is but who is eligible and who is preparing for the battle from now?”
To this proposed question, @mujtahidd asserted that the only powerful contenders to the throne are those who have control of an armed force, such as Mutaib bin Abdullah, Khalid bin Sultan, and Mohammad bin Nayef.
The Three Armed Princes
@mujtahidd claimed that Khalid bin Sultan had been outspoken about his aspirations to the throne since he was appointed minister of defense, after his father was anointed crown prince. Even after the death of his father, Khalid continued to vocalize his ambitions and successfully persuaded King Abdullah to allow him to keep his position in the ministry. Through the ministry, Khalid was able to build his influence and garner troops that may be unleashed should he seek to conduct a coup.
Yet @mujtahidd discounted Khalid’s chances, noting that those who know Khalid know that he is suffering from grandiosity and he is more likely to be thinking beyond his actual means.
The Twitter insider added that Khalid is weaker than his competitors as an individual, and is weaker in terms of his control over the army and the amount of loyalty he has nurtured. This weakness stems from the fact that Khalid and his uncles have pocketed a large amount of funds allocated for the military, which resulted in it being ill-equipped and ill-trained for such a brazen endeavor.
Next up is Mutaib bin Abdullah. @mujtahidd noted that Mutaib may be smarter than Khalid and can easily exploit the latter as a liaison officer with the Americans. Also, Mutaib had devised a more thorough plan with the al-Tuwaijri clan to garner support. @mujtahidd claimed that the plan, which had immense support from the Americans, was to basically adopt a constitutional monarchy under Mutaib, with Khalid al-Tuwaijri, currently the president of the Royal Court and private secretary to King Abdullah, placed as prime minister. Al-Tuwaijri is key to the plan because he has many allies within the numerous ministries.
Moreover, the National Guard under Mutaib’s leadership is crucial to the implementation of the plan because of its ability to conduct urban warfare and its personnel, which are already guarding vital sites such as state radio and television, and other sensitive spots.
But @mujtahidd considers the third contender, Mohammad bin Nayef, the best bet for six simple reasons.
First, Mohammad has his hands in all the security sectors that can be called upon in case of a conflict. Secondly, the internal security forces under Mohammad’s administration are bolstered by the fact that they are capable and allowed to be anywhere under the pretext of protecting security, including conducting manhunts, raids, searches, and arrests. Thirdly, the security forces have a larger presence than the National Guard and army and are better trained and organized. Fourthly, if the security services are spread out across the cities, their presence would not be regarded as abnormal or cause any panic compared to the army and National Guard. Fifthly, Mohammad bin Nayef is considered to be more serious than the other two contenders, and is more active in terms of preparing for the future. Finally, @mujtahidd claims that Mohammad had won over much of the royal family because of his effective suppression of the opposition and is considered by many within the family as a “strongman” – which, in the family’s logic, is necessary to maintain absolute control over the country and its destiny despite the bloody repression.
Added to this, @mujtahidd notes that Mohammad bin Nayef has a more direct connection to the Americans than Mutaib, due to his conduct and successes in the “war on terrorism.”
The “war on terrorism” has allowed Mohammad bin Nayef the ability to distribute his forces everywhere to ensure command and control and to be able to maintain a close ear to the ground. The campaign has also taught Mohammad how to gain official authorization and consent from all factions within the ruling family to mobilize his forces and commit arrests whenever he likes.
@mujtahidd opines that all Mohammad bin Nayef would need is a few bombs exploding across the country, accompanied by ready-made propaganda to hype up the impact of the bombings, to make his move. The twitter activist explained that even though previous bombings in the country were not made under the direction of the interior ministry, some were made with their awareness and were not stopped because it allowed Mohammad’s influence to grow within the family.
@mujtahidd concluded his long account by explaining that he was motivated to report these issues in light of a lack of popular activity for change at the moment. But, he added, popular action is inevitable and will surprise the al-Saud, and ultimately overcome any of the contenders’ ambitions.