First, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman elevated his 32-year- old son Mohammed to the rank of Crown Prince or heir apparent, then allowed him to take the radical step of arresting many in the vast Saud family on charges of corruption. He also took on the powerful clergy to announce that women would be allowed to drive cars in the Kingdom. Not too long ago, the head of the Saudi clerics, the late Mufti Bin Baz, had written an article “proving” the Earth flat; with then-King Faisal being able to do little except surreptitiously making it disappear.
Mohammed bin Salman has arrested 11 princes “in a sweeping crackdown.” More dangerously, he has sacked the head of the Saudi National Guard, “once a leading contender to the throne,” as well as the navy chief and the economy minister, all members of the ruling tribe. What is happening in the most stable state in the Islamic world bequeathing stability to the region of the Gulf and informally influencing states like Pakistan in times of crisis? Is it the final downfall of a state resting on its oil power after the world market refused to rise from its slump? There is no doubt that the action has taken place over a surge of “disagreement” among the princes over two increasingly unsuccessful operations undertaken by Riyadh in respect of Yemen and Qatar.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks of changing Saudi Arabia’s ancient hardline Islam and thinks it became draconian only after 1979 when the Iranian Revolution confronted it with an even more stringent form of Islam. But the “self-coup” he has launched could also be a form of “adjustment” to the economic squeeze the Kingdom is facing. Pakistan saw the change coming when its 405 construction workers had to head home in September last year after going without pay for nearly a year. Will there be a backlash from within the disturbed Saudi family-tree and has Mohammed tied up the loose ends of tribal politics in Saudi Arabia before taking his radical decision? Only time will tell—sooner rather than later.