Young Saudi Royal Rise as kingdom Tries to Assert Regional Leadership: WSJ

Young Saudi Royal Rise as kingdom Tries to Assert Regional Leadership: WSJ
Thu Apr 30, 2015 14:54:27

The Saudi monarchy’s overhaul of its aging leadership moves a younger generation of royals into position to reinvigorate the country at a time when it is trying to assert political and military leadership in the Middle East and reshape ties with the West, wall street journal reports.

In a kingdom where elderly and infirm monarchs made all major decisions for decades, the empowerment of younger members of the House of Saud is a significant departure.

It has already translated into a surprisingly activist foreign policy that has asserted Saudi leadership of a Sunni Muslim bloc confronting mainly Shiite Iran, Wall Street Journal believes.

King Salman

 

The latest shake-up, announced in a royal decree on Wednesday, showed the new monarch was throwing his weight behind a more aggressive foreign policy that has deepened Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Syria’s war and brought together a coalition of Sunni Arab states now carrying out airstrikes against Yemen.

And it comes as oil-rich Saudi Arabia faces economic challenges at home brought on by the sharp fall in the price of crude.

As part of a broad cabinet reshuffle, the king replaced his younger half-brother, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, as crown prince. King appointed his nephew, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who now becomes his new heir apparent.

"Some analysts see in King Salman’s appointments an attempt to replace the U.S. as the pre-eminent military force in the region, as the Obama administration focuses on Asia and a rising China."

It is the most significant repositioning of power among the royal family since King Salman assumed the throne in January.

Saud al-Faisal

Gone from King Salman’s cabinet are a number of longstanding senior officials who were loyal to the former King Abdullah. The most senior was Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had served as the country’s foreign minister for 40 years.

Now 75 years old, Al-Faisal has received medical treatment abroad and King Salman’s decree cited “health conditions” as the reason for his retirement.

The new crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, is the first of his generation to be thrust into the highest echelons of government. At 55, he has become known as a hardline counter-terror czar and survived several assassination attempts – including one by al-Qaeda in 2009, INDEPENDENT reports.

Some analysts see in King Salman’s appointments an attempt to replace the U.S. as the pre-eminent military force in the region, as the Obama administration focuses on Asia and a rising China.

In recent months, the kingdom hasn’t been shy about using its wealth and military hardware to support friends and weaken foes.

"The most senior woman in government, Nora al-Fayez, was sacked from her post as deputy education minister for ..."

King Salman has made support for Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad a priority. He met in the Saudi capital of Riyadh last month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said they agreed to boost support for the Syrian opposition.

During King Abdullah, we did not have a foreign policy, and just watched events unfold in front of our eyes in Yemen,” said prominent Saudi sociologist and commentator Khalid al Dakhil. The new administration in Riyadh “is making the right choices” and has the will to follow through, he said.

Bin Nayef will continue to act as interior minister but will also play the role of deputy prime minister as crown prince. His age means he is likely to be a hugely important role for decades to come in Saudi Arabia, and makes him the most likely to be the next king.

King Salman also sidelined Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. In his place, he tapped U.S. Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. Mr. Jubeir has become the kingdom’s public face in Washington, explaining the decision to begin airstrikes in Yemen.

The changes elevate at least two key officials with close ties to U.S. officials, and were welcomed by the Obama administration, which singled out new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in particular as a long-standing ally.

The most senior woman in government, Nora al-Fayez, was sacked from her post as deputy education minister for girls, the decree said. Shunned by ultraconservatives, she was strongly pushing to try to get physical education on the curriculum for girls in Saudi public schools.


Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is overseeing the Saudi air strikes in Yemen, will remain defence minister as he takes on the title of deputy crown prince. He also heads a massive council that oversees all economic and development issues.

Royal bonuses at times of political change or tension have a long history in Saudi Arabia. To mark his accession in January, King Salman ordered the payment of two months' extra salary and pensions to government employees and retirees. Lavish social welfare spending was announced during the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the region in 2011.

And though King Salman decreed a promotion for his son on Wednesday, the prince is under growing pressure to produce results in the fractious Yemen crisis.

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