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Saudi royal calls for regime change in Riyadh

Saudi royal calls for regime change in Riyadh thumbnail

Plea by grandson of state’s founder comes as falling oil prices, war in Yemen and loss of faith in authority buffet leadership of King Salman

A senior Saudi prince has launched an unprecedented call for change in the country’s leadership, as it faces its biggest challenge in years in the form of war, plummeting oil prices and criticism of its management of Mecca, scene of last week’s hajj tragedy.

The prince, one of the grandsons of the state’s founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, has told the Guardian that there is disquiet among the royal family – and among the wider public – at the leadership of King Salman, who acceded the throne in January.

The prince, who is not named for security reasons, wrote two letters earlier this month calling for the king to be removed.

“The king is not in a stable condition and in reality the son of the king [Mohammed bin Salman] is ruling the kingdom,” the prince said. “So four or possibly five of my uncles will meet soon to discuss the letters. They are making a plan with a lot of nephews and that will open the door. A lot of the second generation is very anxious.”

“The public are also pushing this very hard, all kinds of people, tribal leaders,” the prince added. “They say you have to do this or the country will go to disaster.”

A clutch of factors are buffeting King Salman, his crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, and the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

A double tragedy in Mecca – the collapse of a crane that killed more than 100, followed by a stampede last week that killed 700 – has raised questions not just about social issues, but also about royal stewardship of the holiest site in Islam.

As usual, the Saudi authorities have consistently shrugged off any suggestion that a senior member of the government may be responsible for anything that has gone wrong.

Local people, however, have made clear on social media and elsewhere that they no longer believe such claims.

“The people inside [the kingdom] know what’s going on but they can’t say. The problem is the corruption in using the resources of the country for building things in the right form,” said an activist who lives in Mecca but did not want to be named for fear of repercussions.

“Unfortunately the government points the finger against the lower levels, saying for example: ‘Where are the ambulances? Where are the healthcare workers?’ They try to escape the real reason of such disaster,” he added.

Pilgrims circle counterclockwise Islam’s holiest shrine, the Kaaba, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca
Pilgrims circle the Kaaba shrine in Mecca where more than 700 died during a stampede at the annual hajj pilgrimage. Photograph: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi religious and political legitimacy is predicated on their claim that they manage the holy sites properly and make them safely accessible for all Muslims. Since there are no monarchies in Islam and Saudi Arabia itself is not mentioned in the Qur’an, legitimacy is a fundamental issue for the Saudis and the Hajj disasters have been extremely damaging.

But just as urgent is oil, the price of which has dropped more than 50% in the past year. On Monday, the Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia has withdrawn as much as $70bn (£46bn) from overseas investment funds to shore up its fiscal position in the face of tumbling oil prices

According to Alastair Newton, director of Alavan Business Advisory, Saudi Arabia’s published budget this year was based on oil trading at about $90 a barrel. But because of costly ad hoc items such as royal largesse after King Salman’s succession, the war in Yemen, and domestic security against the Isis threat, the fiscal position is only in balance at about $110.

With oil now trading below $50, fiscal weakness is starting to tell. The Saudi benchmark Tadawul All Share index has fallen by more than 30% in the past 12 months.

“They have enough reserves to sustain this situation for at least one year although it is very costly for them,” said Khairallah Khairallah, a former managing editor of the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper.

The International Monetary Fund is already predicting Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit to exceed $107bn this year. Yet the budget announced for next year has marginally increased.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

“The king is in charge of oil policy in the kingdom together with his son Mohammed bin Salman. Mohammed bin Salman is also responsible for [state oil firm] Aramco. The crown prince [Mohammed bin Nayef] is mainly focused on security. These are the main players in Saudi Arabia. They divide the responsibility,” said Khairallah Khairallah.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a new arrival to the Saudi senior leadership team but has already become one of the most controversial.

Although still very young by Saudi standards – officially 35 but rumoured to be much younger – he holds a multitude of posts including minister of defence and chair of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, which is the country’s main economic policymaking committee.

This makes him responsible for many of Saudi Arabia’s problems, above all the war in neighbouring Yemen, where rebel Houthis have come under attack from Saudi aircraft and ground forces.

Many Saudis are sickened by the sight of the Arab world’s richest country pummelling its poorest, and as the cost in lives and treasure grows, criticism is mounting that Prince Mohammed bin Salman– whose unofficial nickname is “Reckless” – rushed in without a proper military strategy or an exit plan.

Plume of smoke above city of Sana’a
Smoke billows upward after airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Houthi rebels in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

“This is a war against the Yemeni nation and against Yemen becoming independent,” said Sgt Maj Dakheel bin Naser Al Qahtani, a former head of air force operations at King Abdulaziz airbase, Dhahran, who defected from the Saudi armed forces last year.

“It has no legitimate political foundation and it is not what the people want,” he said. “Ninety per cent of people in Saudi Arabia don’t want this to happen, exactly the opposite of what the media shows.

“It has come about due to the absence of a national citizens’ establishment in Saudi Arabia and because Al Saud have put their own interests ahead of the national interest.”

The letters in Arabic calling for the overthrow of the king have been read more than 2m times. The letters call on the 13 surviving sons of Ibn Saud – specifically the princes Talal, Turki and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz – to unite and remove the leadership in a palace coup, before choosing a new government from within the royal family.

Mohammed bin Nayef
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

“Allow the oldest and most capable to take over the affairs of the state, let the new king and crown prince take allegiance from all, and cancel the strange, new rank of second deputy premier,” states the first letter.

“We are calling for the sons of Ibn Saud from the oldest Bandar, to the youngest, Muqrin, to make an urgent meeting with the senior family members to investigate the situation and find out what can be done to save the country, to make changes in the important ranks, to bring in expertise from the ruling family whatever generation they are from.”

The letters are unlike anything that has happened since King Faisal deposed King Saud in a palace coup in 1964.

The prince behind the letters claims to have received widespread support from both within the royal family and society at large. But only one other senior royal has so far publicly endorsed the letter, which may be unsurprising given the Saudis’ brutal history of punishing political opponents.

Like many modern Arab countries Saudi Arabia is a 20th-century construction. Since 1932, when Saudi Arabia was founded, the royal family has kept the country together masterfully. But as the economic and political situation in and around Saudi Arabia deteriorates, and royal family infighting intensifies, the possibility of a profound change is growing more likely.

The Guardian

21 Comments on "Saudi royal calls for regime change in Riyadh"

  1. makati1 on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 8:50 pm 

    The KSA is going down. Thirteen sons. Seven thousand princes. ALL living off of the oil teat and wanting more. What a family! Can you imagine the infighting to come? LMAO

  2. BC on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:30 pm 

    Mak, right, the textbook case of the hierarchical effects of LTG and per-capita competition for the distribution of the gains from a finite resource.

    The collapse of the KSA is a mathematical certainty, which implies that the Anglo-American imperial military and “The State of Israel” will have to occupy the KSA to prevent China, Iran, and Russia from doing the same.

  3. Pennsyguy on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:33 pm 

    I’m afraid you’re right Mak. No one will be laughing if/when KSA becomes unstable. I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. did a military intervention to keep the oil flowing. We all know hos those turn out.

  4. apneaman on Mon, 28th Sep 2015 9:45 pm 

    BC, and to prevent this type of thing becoming widespread.

  5. MrNoItAll on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 1:15 am 

    Things will not end well for KSA. But then again, neither will things end well for the rest of us. When KSA goes down, we all go down because without that steady flow of oil coming from KSA, the world economy will simply grind to a halt. A black swan circling high above is one where Saudi Arabia gets hit with any number of real threats, any one of which could shut that oil flow down and prematurely launch us into a total collapse scenario. Of course the U.S. Military is prepared for this, trains for this in secret cooperation with major oil concerns to take over where KSA leaves off. Like everything else these days, it isn’t a matter of IF, just a matter of WHEN.

  6. Davy on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 5:49 am 

    MR, it is not only the US that has eyes on this area so does China. I imagine a cooperative effort to maintain the oil flow at some point by the major powers. It is a mutual survival thing. Just as I see the US caving to Putin’s ISIL fight because after all is said and done the US is pragmatic. Putin is showing leadership and a plan that can work but only through an alliance.

    Here is China’s toe hold in the region:

  7. bb on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 7:59 am 

    Soon they will need all oil for domestic consumption. At that moment democracy and human rights will be finally installed there by USA. 🙂

  8. Kenz300 on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 9:53 am 

    The sooner the world transitions away from fossil fuels the better.

    Domestic consumption in the KSA has been spurred on by subsidies……. that has encouraged wasteful consumption……

  9. makati1 on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 10:43 am 

    bb, you are joking right? When they have no oil to sell, the KSA will fold. They have 7,000+ royal princes to support in the lifestyle of their choice and millions of citizens that need government support to survive. Not to mention the millions of foreign workers that actually make everything work there.

    Democracy and human rights?
    Who has those today? Short answer: NO ONE. Not even the ‘exceptional’ country. You have only the amount of ‘rights’ that you can buy. No money. No rights. That’s the American way.

  10. bb on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 12:13 pm 

    makati1: Of course I was joking. But it is quite possible that Americans will one day try to take remaining oil under “spreading the democracy” pretext. Former friends will be suddenly terrorists as happened with Hussein. When not enough will be left for export, they hardly leave that oil to citizens of KSA.

  11. Keith_McClary on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 7:55 pm 

    Is anyone keeping stats on the total number of Saudi-owned mansions around the world?

  12. makati1 on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 8:29 pm 

    bb, Russia and China are already in that door and I doubt that the US is going to try to take it away from them, do you? The Saudis are turning East. Or so it seems. I guess we will have to wait and see. But the KSA doesn’t have that much low cost, recoverable, petroleum left. That is why the US has it’s eye on Iran and Russia.

  13. makati1 on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 8:35 pm 

    Interesting, if true.

    “The Motiva oil refinery, located in Port Arthur, Texas, is controlled by Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in Saudi Arabia and in the world….”

    “…Motiva “guarantees the Saudis an important but subtle footprint in the United States, and they want to have some negotiating strength when geopolitical issues in the Middle East and elsewhere arise.”

  14. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 8:35 pm 

    KSA is quite possibly the only country more retarded than USA.

  15. apneaman on Tue, 29th Sep 2015 9:26 pm 

    Anonymous Attacks Saudi Government over Crucifixion of Protester

    38 Dead After Saudi Arabia, Head of UN Human Rights Panel, Bombs Wedding in Yemen

    Free Speech Gets the Death Penalty

  16. Davy on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 6:23 am 

    What could be more reTarded than this statement by dog paw “That is why the US has its eye on Iran and Russia.” OK, I can agree the US wants to open the door to Iran’s oil but not by conquest. The military is smart enough to realize you can’t take over Iran and expect to get its oil. How stupid is it to think the US want to take over Russia and its oil. Russia is a country that is not going to be taken over except by a billion Chinese moving north when the collapse sets in. This is not the board game “Risk”.

    This is the same failed massage that preached China and Russia were going to build an alliance to crush the US. Where is that? There was the message of the Brics taking over the global financial system and decoupling from the west. Look at that prediction. Brics are sick is all I see.

    A more realistic message is we are all in decline and realizing this Russia, China and the US included. Russia and the US will come together somewhat in mutual self-preservation. China has an imploding economy to deal with. Putin is very intelligent and pragmatic. The US will realize Putin is here to stay and there is no isolating Russia. This will especially become apparent when the Saudi-America energy independence idea evaporates and energy insecurity develops in the US again.

    The lowering of tensions with Iran is a smart move on the US part. The powers to be must know you can’t win a war with Iran and have a status quo middle east. You will have a destroyed middle east with little oil flowing and a destroyed world economy.

    I am not going to discount the possibility of WWIII from a wrong move by the major powers in this game of chicken. They are all flexing their muscles especially the US and Russia. We know there is an element in the US leadership bent on world domination but there are also others that are pragmatic and rational. As the idea of world domination fails from assault on multiple fronts from military to economic cooler rational minds will prevail, maybe.

  17. Davy on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 7:07 am 

    The Start Of China’s Unrest? Southern China City Rocked By “Massive” Bomb Explosions, At Least 6 Dead

    Over the weekend when we reported that one of China’s largest coal miners had laid off 100,000, or 40% of its workforce, we noted that China’s hard-landing is starting to hit where it really hurt: employment, or rather the lack thereof, and the one logical consequence: “now, many migrant workers struggle to find their footing in a downshifting economy. As factories run out of money and construction projects turn idle across China, there has been a rise in the last thing Beijing wants to see: unrest.”

    Moments ago we may have witnessed the first direct, and deadly, manifestation of this unrest when as Xinhua reported, a series of “massive” explosions rocked the southern Chinese city of Liuzhou on Wednesday, killing at least three people and injuring more than a dozen, state media reported.

  18. Kenz300 on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 10:49 am 

    Every country needs o develop a plan to be less dependent on fossil fuels.

    KSA needs to diversify its economy away from oil before it is too late.

    Solar Surges in the Middle East and North Africa – Renewable Energy World

  19. zoidberg on Wed, 30th Sep 2015 2:13 pm 

    Earth shaking indeed. Yemen will be win the war. When they failed to take sanaa and started losing big time reserves thanks to the war and the dollar peg is when this started swirling. I don’t envy their situation.

  20. Kenz300 on Thu, 1st Oct 2015 10:08 am 

    Seems like there is some similarity to a family business succession…….

    Grand father starts a business…..
    Son builds the business up and sees it grow…
    The spoiled grandson destroys the business……..

    It has happened over and over again……

  21. joe on Thu, 1st Oct 2015 1:50 pm 

    Can’t see the Saudis going down that easy. Just because ‘Saudi’ Arabia was only a reality since 1936, the reality is that the Wahabbis have ruled central arabia for nearly 200 years! Now they have extended their power far up to the Turks border and east as far as China. This is because of US support of them as a reliable oil partner. So many Arab leaders opposed the Wahabbis and the US toppled each one from Afghanistan 1979 onwards. Even after 9/11 the US still is weak against the Wahabbi interests and has done more against alqeadas enemies than against the Wahabbis/al qaeda.

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