Political analyst Mohammad Mahdi Mazaheri has, in a Farsi interview with Fars News Agency, talked about the latest developments in Saudi Arabia’s political landscape. The full text of the interview follows:
Two years ago, the Saudi King removed then Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from his position and designated Mohammed bin Nayef as the new heir to the throne before introducing his youngest son Mohammad bin Salman, who had just become the defence minister, as the deputy crown prince.
At that time, it dawned on everyone that Riyadh was going for new policies both in the domestic and international arenas. A country which had been used to having aging kings now had an heir to the throne who was just more than 50 years old and whose deputy was only 30 years of age. At that time, few people would have thought that Saudi Arabia wanted to push the trend of developments to a point where his young son would become the crown prince and finally the king. But it seems that the authoritarian dynasty in Saudi Arabia is likely to do anything.
In recent days, a person just 31 years old was designated as crown prince. However, he has led a major part of Saudi Arabia’s local and foreign policies as defence minister and head of the economy and development council over the past two years. On the home front, the young crown prince has been tasked with carrying out economic reforms, such as reducing Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil revenues and privatizing the economy, in order to modernize the country. Only a crown prince like Mohammad bin Salman can devise and implement contentious plans in the social arena such as further opening up the social climate and giving more rights and freedoms to women and the youth.
But on the international front, he was the mastermind behind the Saudi aggression on Yemen. Also by taking a swipe at the Mahdavism ideology [reappearance of Imam Mahdi] in Iran, which is a Shiite-majority country, he believes Tehran and Riyadh have nothing in common, and that the Al Saud regime should not wait for Saudi Arabia to turn into a battlefield; rather, he believes Riyadh should try to spread war into Iran. He has tried to enhance his country’s relations with the US and push Trump away from his anti-Saudi position and accusing Riyadh of supporting terrorism toward friendship and alliance with Riyadh.
Mohammad bin Salman is a West-leaning, adventurous and hard-line young man who is too indiscreet to be a political leader. In the chaotic Middle East, this reality would amount to instability and warmongering. Saudi Arabia’s new heir to the throne is nursing the idea of turning his country into the number-one power in the region, seeking to realize the idea through subjugating Arab states and threatening other regional powers. This comes as countries such as Iran and Turkey have proved that they will not succumb to Riyadh’s authoritarianism. The Qatar crisis is a case in point. Only a few countries have got on board with Saudi Arabia in boycotting Qatar, which shows even Arab states are giving up their previous approaches and are no longer ready to capitulate to Saudi policies.
He has no understanding of soft power and the necessity of bringing legitimacy and popularity upon his country. He only thinks of gaining superiority through hard power and purchasing more weapons. This, for a country which is unable to ensure security at home, would result in the purchase of more weapons in the years ahead, the promotion of an arms race in the region and search for new locations to use these munitions. On the other hand, it can be predicted that arms-exporting countries, especially the US and Britain, due to the profit they make by selling weapons and interfering in the Persian Gulf’s security system, will continue to pursue their double standards: Ostensibly condemning terrorism on the one hand, and practically backing state sponsors of terrorism on the other.
Of course, there are some deterrent factors which might, in the long run, somehow moderate the policies of Saudi Arabia’s current crown prince and future king. On the home front, the unorthodox designation of Mohammad bin Salman as heir to the throne, his plans to make economic and social reforms in the country’s traditional atmosphere and the grave consequences of his current warmongering in the region, may trigger protests inside the country and harness this unruly prince.
Certain objections made to the designation of bin Salman as heir to the throne, some of which were not mirrored due to the restricted media climate in the country, indicate that if bin Salman becomes king, he will face challenges by rivals seeking power. By breaking with the traditions of the ruling system in Saudi Arabia based on which the elder child is picked as crown prince, he has sidelined many older cousins. Bin Salman is not even the eldest child of the current king. Such an approach in Saudi Arabia’s traditional political system will touch off tension. So, if his designation as crown prince is not reversed and he becomes king, most probably we will witness the king’s widespread illegitimacy, domestic protests and instability inside the country, a trend which would keep Saudi authorities busy with domestic issues and keep them from further regional interference.
On the international front, a drop in oil prices and rise in the costs of Saudi Arabia’s warmongering can deal a major blow to Riyadh’s hostile policies and keep its regional ambitions at bay. Therefore, although we will probably see Saudi Arabia’s regional policies moderated in the long run, the country will continue to pursue its hostile and aggressive approach in the short and medium terms.