Experts see confidence in Saudi stability unshaken during king’s illness

Experts see confidence in Saudi stability unshaken during king’s illness
Experts see confidence in Saudi stability unshaken during king’s illness

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - General view of Riyadh city, on July 21, after the Saudi government eased precautionary lockdown due to pandemic. (Reuters)

 RIYADH – Life goes on as usual in the Saudi capital. The Saudi Royal Court announced that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s health is stable, and the king’s sons reassured the Saudis that their monarch was fine. Experts believe there is no reason for concern about the kingdom’s leadership or its future, and the mechanisms of power transition in the event of an emergency seem coherent.

On Monday, King Salman, 84, was admitted to King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh to have medical tests performed for a gallbladder inflammation, according to Saudi media reports quoting an official statement by the Saudi Royal Court. The statement did not give any further details.

Saudi sources said on Tuesday that the king’s health was stable.

An official in the region, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he had spoken with one of King Salman’s sons on Monday and that the latter was “calm” and that there were no worries about the king’s health.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman received phone calls from the leaders of Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan and that he chaired a cabinet meeting.

A diplomatic source said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz travelled back to Riyadh on Monday, coming from his palace in the Red Sea city of Neom, and cancelled a planned meeting with a visiting Iraqi delegation.

King Salman’s last public appearance was on March 19 when he gave a five-minute speech on television about the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, official media have released pictures and video recordings of the king chairing weekly government meetings over the internet. Crown Prince Mohammed was also shown attending these online meetings.

Gulf affairs analysts indicated that Saudi circles close to the centre of power and the royal family were not overly concerned about the state’s administration, pointing out that past years have seen the establishment of the foundations and mechanisms of government by King Salman. The Saudi king has indeed widened the circle of Shura and advisors and created a climate of trust within the circles close to the central authority, particularly among the different generations of the Saud royal family, especially the younger generation, which has come to support the kingdom’s comprehensive reform programme that is viewed as important for stability.

These observers added that the players close to the central authority are no longer suspicious of the proposed and enacted reforms. Suspicions were first amplified by the media at the service of the kingdom’s opponents. The goal of such media outlets was to push King Salman to back down on his decision to limit the influence of hardline religious conservatives in the kingdom and his drive to gradually open Saudi society to universal human values and enrich the culture of Saudi youth through the arts.

Analysts pointed out that the anti-reform actors tried to create the impression that the sought after changes were the result of a personal drive by Crown Prince Mohammed and not an official policy of the state supported by King Salman.

Crown Prince Mohammed has overcome his detractors and is now viewed inside and outside the kingdom as the guarantor for a safe and smooth power transition in case of an emergency, especially as he is now familiar with the intricacies of the central authority and enjoys broad confidence within the ruling family. His anti-corruption campaign has contributed to shoring up this confidence despite being targeted by rumours, leaks and misinformation aimed at smearing his standing as the man of the future.

It was only natural that Crown Prince Mohammed’s rise to power and prominence would provoke a discussion inside the Saudi ruling family about the balances inside the family and internal traditions regarding choice and nomination. The crown prince’s policies have helped him earn full legitimacy within the royal family, especially among the young princes, as well as broad popular legitimacy that has qualified him to be the guarantor of the future.

Such policies include his determination to wage war on religious extremism and radicals in the kingdom by dismantling their grip on the country’s institutions and his endeavour to combat those who want to curb the kingdom’s efforts to become an effective regional pole,

To the crown prince’s credit is his enthusiasm for the comprehensive reforms included in his Vision 2030 plan, which has grown in popularity. The kingdom’s reform choices have now become the choices of the kingdom’s youth, who are defending them as an option for the state and not as Crown Prince Mohammed’s personal choices.

Even though the Saudi crown prince recently chose to reduce his media presence, he still holds all the levers for internal reforms and enhancing Saudi Arabia’s regional role and influence so as to bring them in line with the kingdom’s capabilities, size and history. The Saudi crown prince wants to depart from the kingdom’s traditionally vague and ambiguous foreign diplomacy orientations and lay the foundations for a proactive and vigorous diplomacy that relies on its Arab depth to stand up to counter-regional projects, especially those of Iran and Turkey.

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