If Salman dies tribal hostilities will mushroom in S. Arabia, says expert

July 25, 2020 - 15:32

TEHRAN– Professor Hossein Askari, an expert on Saudi Arabia who also teaches international business at George Washington University, believes that “Salman’s death will not significantly affect Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.”

However, Askari says he thinks “Saudi foreign policy depends much more on the result of the U.S. elections.”

Askari tells the Tehran Times that if the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins the election he “will be undoing Trump’s most egregious policies and one of these, the support for MBs will fall by the wayside.” 

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: When Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) took power, he marginalized opponents in various ways and even imprisoned and punished them. He paved the way for his rise to power. Is the path to power perfectly smooth?

A: “I believe not. MBS upended the al-Saud family agreement on succession to the throne. King Salman did nothing as his son put the designated Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Nayef, under house arrest and tortured him into accepting to step aside. MBS in turn arrested many senior members of his family and other high profile Saudis outside his family to extract money before he set them free. MBS has had other opponents arrested and tortured. Most notably he ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. His oppressive rule is taking a toll. He is making enemies in every corner of the Kingdom. And above all, don’t forget al-Qaeda, the mortal enemy of the al-Sauds, just waiting for the right time and opportunity.” 

 “MBS is universally hated in the United States. He has been riding high because of the corrupt support he has received from Trump-Kushner, support that is founded on their personal financial gains and not on the best interest of the United States.”Q: With the hospitalization of King Salman it seems that MBS intends to establish himself as the king before the end of Trump's presidency. Why does MBS insist on consolidating his power before the end of Trump's presidency?

A: “First, let me remind you about the pillars of al-Saud rule—family harmony, U.S. support in its many forms, plenty of oil cash to buy domestic support, and low profile in regional affairs. The Trump Administration has supported his domestic oppression and his crimes outside of Saudi Arabia. Most notably the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his crimes in Yemen. But as you well know, king or not, MBS has been the de facto ruler of the Kingdom since becoming Crown Prince. King Salman has been helpful in keeping his enemies within the 20,000 members al-Saud tribe, they really are a tribe and not a family, in check. But when Salman dies, I believe tribal hostilities will mushroom. At first in secret but then more openly.  MBS is afraid of that. But for now, he has Trump-Kushner in his pocket and he feels safe. But when Salman dies and Trump is no longer president, things could spiral out of control. There is no love for him in his own tribe. He is hated by the U.S. establishment. The country is no longer awash with cash to buy domestic loyalty and support. His regional enemies have been somewhat kept in check. And al-Qaeda is in the wings. He wants to establish himself more firmly while his father is still alive and Trump is in power.”

Q: If MBS becomes king, who will be his most important opponents at home. And are they a serious danger to him?

A: “He has opponents inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Are they a danger, yes. Let me explain. Inside, he is hated by many members of the al-Saud tribe. Mohammad bin Nayef has close connections to the U.S. intelligence services. His close ally in the tribe, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who also has close relations with the Saudi National Guard will be by his side or mount his own opposition. Then there is Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz, the uncle of MBS and the rightful heir if succession rules had been respected. I believe there are a number of younger al-Sauds that are also thirsting for power. Their names are not yet in bright lights but they are there. But most importantly, I believe that al-Qaeda is waiting for its golden opportunity—no Salman and no Trump-Kushner, the two financial opportunists who have supported him. I think Mohammad bin Nayef, Mutaib bin Abdullah and Prince Ahmad, other younger members of the tribe and al-Qaeda are serious threats to MBS.”

Q: If the Democratic candidate in the United States wins the elections and MBS becomes the king, will there be a change in relations between Washington and Riyadh?

A: “Definitely yes. As I said earlier, MBS is universally hated in the United States. He has been riding high because of the corrupt support he has received from Trump-Kushner, support that is founded on their personal financial gains and not on the best interest of the United States. So if and when Biden wins, I believe that that the tables will be totally turned. Biden will be undoing Trump’s most egregious policies and one of these, the support for MBs will fall by the wayside. Biden will demand al-Saud respect for certain norms and acquiescence to Washington’s policy demands that will include more respect for human rights, less regional adventures and better relations with neighbors.”

Q: What changes will Saudi Arabia's foreign policy undergo in absence of King Salman?

A: “Salman’s death will not significantly affect Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. But I think that Saudi foreign policy depends much more on the result of the U.S. elections. If Trump goes, then I believe MBS will reach out to Iran and cement his budding relations with Israel. With this, he would be in better stead in Washington and in the region. But if Trump stays, I think MBS will continue on his current course. Belligerence in the region in his attempt to crush Iran and later Iraq.”


 

Leave a Comment

6 + 5 =