By Khushboo Chattree
The 31-year-old son of the King of Saudi Arabia and former deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was appointed the new crown prince by the royal decree on Wednesday. The move, although sudden, does not come as a surprise. Many see it as the culmination of efforts made by King Salman to revolutionise leadership and transform the obsolete institutions of the country.
Turning the tide
Mohammed bin Salman, who many believe is the King’s favourite son, was entrusted with immense power in the capacity of the defence minister and key strategist for policies on oil and the Saudi economy; the responsibilities he holds even today, despite his succession. Over the course of two years, he gained immense popularity amongst the masses as a reform-minded leader. Meanwhile, the powers of 57-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef, former crown prince and interior minister, slowly faded away as his responsibilities were brought under the ambit of the royal court.
This announcement ends all speculation over future leadership in the kingdom and puts Mohammed bin Salman first in line for the throne. The succession appears to be extremely significant as he will be the youngest heir to the throne in a country that has been historically ruled by elderly leaders, aged between 70 to 80.
The youth’s new hope
The ambitious young leader is known for his dynamism and is extremely popular amongst the youth in Saudi Arabia. He has spoken extensively about gradually phasing out the country’s dependence on oil and putting more thrust on the private sector in order to combat the massive unemployment among the youth that currently plagues the country. He also plans to privatise 5% of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, to do away with the economy’s reliance on energy.
However, his aspirations aren’t limited to reforms at home, which is where the problem begins. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign in Yemen to fight the Houthis. They are a rebel group that ousted the Yemeni Government and the Kingdom believes that they are backed by Iran. Iran and Saudi are predominantly Shiite and Sunni Muslim, respectively. The two are in a constant contest for power in the Arab region. The ongoing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen has, however, reached a stalemate after realising the extent of civilian casualties.
Mohammed bin Salman, unlike his predecessors, has been active on the diplomatic front with global powers like the Unites States and Russia. He is a vocal supporter of the Trump administration and seeks to coordinate with Russia on oil policies. He is also considered to be the guiding force behind the blockades imposed on Qatar, on the account of the country supporting Iran. This has heightened instability in the region and will likely cause further polarisation.
Saudi Arabia’s stock market surged by more than 5% on the day of the big announcement. With 70% of the population under the age of 30, optimism among the kingdom’s youth is palpable. People are looking forward to greater individual freedom and platforms for dissent. They expect major educational and social reforms, including reduced restrictions on women in public spaces. However, bringing about modernity in a conservative society like Saudi is not going to be easy for the new crown prince. Striking a balance between meeting the expectations of the youth and mustering support from the conservative clergy will be a tough task.
Moreover, the royal family’s third generation has far more experienced princes, who had the potential to take the baton. Analysts believe that the swift succession of Mohammed bin Salman could have caused friction within the family. He now faces the responsibility of building consensus on key issues to prevent internal rifts. Outside home, his rather belligerent approach towards foreign policy makes the political and economic conditions in the Arab region unpredictable, raising concerns across the world.
With oil prices currently running low and expectations on the rise, the crown prince has a lot on his plate in the times to come.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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