Saudi Arabia’s Game of Thrones
by Bernard Haykel-Mareeg.com-PRINCETON – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has just replaced the 57-year-old Muhammad bin Nayif with his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, as crown prince, completing a process of power centralization that began with Salman’s accession to the throne in January 2015.
Prince Mohammed, commonly known as MBS in Western circles, is the king’s favorite son. By appointing him as crown prince, Salman, who is now 81, has signaled a clear break from a decades-old tradition of building consensus among the leading sons of the Saudi state’s founder, the late King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud.
In structural terms, Saudi Arabia is no longer a power-sharing gerontocracy. It has returned to the absolute monarchy that it was under Ibn Saud himself. Power is concentrated entirely in the hands of the king, who has delegated most of it to his son, the new crown prince.
In practical terms, MBS’s rise will streamline decision-making, and mitigate the political risks that are inherent in any system of multiple, competing power centers. There is now absolute clarity on the questions of succession and where power lies. But while this new arrangement certainly has its advantages, it also has potential pitfalls, because far-reaching decisions could go unquestioned and unchallenged.