There's hope the Crown Prince can remould Saudi

The idea of trimming state salaries as a part of a leaner economy has required reappraisal.

It does not exactly qualify as a giant leap for womankind. The announcement last week by the Saudi education ministry that girls in public schools would be permitted to partake of physical education is, if anything, a stark reminder of how far the kingdom will need to travel before it enters the 20th — let alone the 21st — century. It’s apparently part of Mohammed bin Salman’s 2030 Vision, ostensibly a plan for heaving Saudi Arabia out of its mediaeval mindset. But in the shorter term the new crown prince is also keen about extending the kingdom’s regional clout. And that project has run into trouble on account of impulsive overreach. The effective passing of the torch to a new generation should, on the face of it, have provided cause for relief, if not rejoicing, with Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension from deputy to heir apparent as presaging the end of the gerontocracy that had guided the kingdom’s mixed fortunes for far too long. The founder of the kingdom named after his family, Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al Saud, born in 1875, was a prolific progenitor. When he died in 1953, he left behind an extraordinarily long line of heirs: thus far ultimate power has passed from one brother to another, the unwritten rule hitherto being that no reigning monarch would name his own son as successor.

Salman bin Abdulaziz abided by it upon ascending to the throne in 2015, designating his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince. The latter was dismissed from all his posts last month, replaced by the king’s son, and reportedly placed under house arrest in his Jeddah palace. The 31-year-old cousin who took his place could be king before long. What would that mean for the kingdom? Given that Mohammed bin Salman has enjoyed considerable leeway in setting both the domestic and foreign policy agendas for the past couple of years, the prognostications are alarming. As defence minister, he masterminded the assault on his nation’s poorest neighbour, Yemen, presumably expecting success within months. Yet formidable Saudi firepower — courtesy the US and Britain — has, two years on, failed to resolve anything. In collusion with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, the Saudi scion is also believed to be the guiding light behind the ostracisation of Qatar, after the two of them convinced Donald Trump that Doha was somehow exceptional in sponsoring terrorist outfits in West Asia. Even that hasn’t gone according to the plan, apart from shattering the image of unity among Sunnis projected for Trump’s benefit when he made Riyadh his initial port of call on his first overseas journey.

News television channel Al Jazeera has this week refuted a Washington Post report, based on US intelligence that it was behind the hacking of media sites that provided an excuse for the assault on Qatari sovereignty. It has also hinted at Qatar’s exclusion from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which could be a blessing in disguise for Doha. Qatar has fulfilled its basic needs since the blockade with assistance from Turkey and Iran, and even GCC members Oman and Kuwait are not party to the punishment. Indications that Mohammed bin Salman is spoiling for a direct confrontation with Iran should suffice to curb anyone’s enthusiasm about the rapidly rising son, but his domestic plans have also been floundering. The idea of trimming state salaries as a part of a leaner economy has required reappraisal. After all, no one can be too sure that disrupting an ostensibly stable society based on a relatively generous welfare state will not have serious socioeconomic — and in turn political — repercussions. There’s cause for hope, though, that the brash crown prince could help to sharpen societal contradictions between medievalism and modernity, thereby precipitating an explosion that could remould Saudi Arabia in unexpected ways.

By arrangement with Dawn

( Source : Columnist )
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