King Salman’s government: A Two-Headed Camel

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February 3, 2015
By Ali AlAhmed and Sayan Das Gupta
Washington D.C. – Days after the passing of his brother King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the new King Salman engineered the largest cabinet shake-up in recent Saudi history. The move exposed the widening split in the Saudi ruling clan that has effectively divided the government between two of its strongest figures – American-backed Mohamed bin Naif, and Mohamed bin Salman, the king’s youngest son.

The Split:
The move effectively splits the council of the ministers, the government’s premier institution that acts as executive and legislator, into two committees, each headed by one of two powerful figures. The political and security committee is headed by Minister of interior Mohamed bin Naif, and the other economic and development committee is headed by the minister of defense Mohamed bin Salman, the king’s youngest son, who is only 28 years old.

The political and security committee headed by Bin Naif includes the minister of foreign affairs Saud AlFaisal, minister of the national guard Mitaeb bin Abdullah, minister of defense Mohamed bin Salman, and other bin Naif loyalists. This effectively makes him the prime minister. It is noteworthy that although that Bin Naif is younger than both AlFaisal and bin Abdullah, he is now their boss – a very important development that debunks much of the Western analysis of Saudi affairs, which holds it as an article of faith that the deciding factor in the Saudi leadership appointments is the age of the incumbent.
The director of intelligence, who is not an official member of the council of ministers, is a member of the committee, which makes him de facto member of the council – another a new development in the Saudi political system in over 30 years. The new director of intelligence Khalid AlHumaMabahith is a bin Naif loyalist and served until his appointment as the deputy director of Mabahith, the internal security apparatus that handles political and security crimes. AlHumaidan ran Mabahith’s external operations, and was in charge of the assassination of Saudi opposition figure and general secretary of AlOmmah Islamic party Mohamed AlMefreh in Istanbul in December.

Bin Naif also brought some of his loyalists to the council of ministers, including Saad AlJaberi who is in charge of the religious movements and the Saudi religious media – such as the notorious sectarian channels Wesal and Safa, both based in Riyadh. Wesal, which is funded by the ministry of interior and Islamic affairs, made headlines last November after it was shut down for one day following the terror attack on the Shia religious gathering in AlHasa that killed 8 people most of whom were children. The channel was ordered off the air by the former minister of information Abdulaziz Khojah, who was promptly fired the next day. The station resumed its regular programming, which includes incitement of violence against Shia Muslims, and Jews.

The Prince of Darkness
Mohamed Bin Naif, who has been appointed deputy crown prince and second deputy prime minister, is a rising force in the ruling family who received strong and clear American support. He is viewed in as the real ruler in Saudi Arabia by the top echelon of American foreign policymakers in the White House and the CIA. Bin Naif visited the White House three times in the past three years, including twice in 2014, in February and December.
His schedule included meetings with President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and CIA director John Brennan, whose close relationship with Bin Naif dates back over 14 years when Brennan was still CIA station chief in Riyadh. Brennan has been Bin Naif’s leading advocate in the Obama administration to the degree that they were described by some US officials as “boyfriends.”

He was treated as a sitting king and was visited at his Washington residence by the head of the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs among other senior officials.
Although he spent nearly eight years in the United States in the 1970s and 80s, he received limited schooling and did not complete a degree of any kind. Bin Naif falsely has claimed he graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon with a degree in political sciences, but the college issued a statement denying he graduated but took some classes. Until the publishing of this report, the website of the Saudi interior ministry maintains he graduated from Lewis & Clark College.

Bin Naif who is promoted in Washington as the anti-terrorism hero, is responsible for a plethora of human rights abuses, including killing protesters in Qatif, where at least 27 peaceful protesters and activists, including children, were killed by forces operated by bin Naif. Some of the killings were carried out by deaths squads known as “Naif’s Hawks,” who murdered five unarmed youths and children the end of December in Awamya, including 14 year old Thamer AlRabee. Other victims included local journalists Husain AlFaraj and Zuhair AlSaeed, who were shot while filming the protest.

Bin Naif also ordered the jailing hundreds of human rights and democracy activists such as American-educated Dr. Mohamed AlQahtani, Lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, Dr. Abdulkarim AlKhuder, poet Adel AlLubad, human rights campaigner Fadil AlManasif, and too many others to count. Last February Bin Naif introduced the anti-terrorism law, which criminalized peaceful dissent as terrorism, and established a terrorism court that operated under his command. The Specialized criminal court has issued deaths sentences against peaceful activists and children such as Ali AlNimer who was 16 when he was arrested for protesting. It also sentenced others, such as Waleed Abulkhair, to 15 years in prison for his human rights work.
Bin Naif also jailed two women drivers Loujain AlHathool and journalist Maysaa AlAmoudi days before his last visit to Washington in December. Both remain in prison and facing terrorism charges.

Favorite Son
The economic and development committee is led by the king’s favorite son Mohamed bin Salman. This king bypassed his older sons Faisal and AbdulAziz who serve as governor of Medina Province and deputy minister of oil consecutively, to appoint their half-brother Mohamed as minister of defense and head of royal court. Faisal and AbdulAziz have privately expressed displeasure with their father’s favoritism of their much younger and inexperienced half-brother. A source who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, said he was told by one of king Salman’s children that they hated him. They called him “the son of Ajmya”, in reference to his mother who is from the Ajman tribe. Referencing someone to his mother is seen as an insult in the local culture.

Many remember bin Salman for his threat of Judge Abdulaziz AlMuhna the president of Riyadh court 8 years ago. Bin Salman left few built from his gun at the judge’s desk after he delayed a title of a land bin Salman grabbed. Land grabs by members of the ruling AlSaud is wide spread in a phenomena known at “Tashbeek” or fencing. This may indicate the type of policies he will institute, and his willingness to challenge his cousin Mohamed bin Naif power and influence.

Bin Salman staffed his committee with his loyalists and former aids including Ahmed AlKhateeb, minister of health, Azam AlDukhail, minister of education, Waleed AlSamaani, minister of justice and others. Bin Salman youth and inexperience will be reflected in his policies.

Abdullah’s Disappearing Men
The reshuffle also targets the legacy of King Abdullah and effectively ends it by removing most of his appointees in the council of ministers and firing two of his sons from the two most important governorships in Riyadh and Makkah regions. The ministers of justice, Islamic affairs, health, and head of the religious police were all fired without the usual formula “upon his request,” indicating they were fired with displeasure.
The controversial former minister of Islamic affairs Suliman Abu AlKhayl, who was photographed holding hands with Senator John McCain last week, stated in a published speech at the Riyadh governor’s headquarters in November 2013 that “our enemies are Jews and the Rafidah (a derogatory label for Shia Muslims.) Source: http://www.alriyadh.com/882178

These developments have exposed the weakness of Mitaeb bin Abdullah, his ability to secure a shot at the throne, and to defend his brothers’ positions and maybe his own. He is now practically have been blocked by the emergence of bin Naif and bin Salman, and may end up losing his position altogether in the near future.

The new appointments also exposed the weakness of Mitaeb bin Abdullah, and his ability to secure a chance for power. Mitaeb, who has been described as lazy, greedy, and corrupt, is hated by many of his own national guards for his lack of “generosity” with its rank-and-file members. His reputation is also tarnished by his continued abuse of his four half-sisters Sahar, Jawaher, Maha and Hala. The four women have been imprisoned by their father and brother since 2001, and have banned from leaving their residence since that time. In 2013, they were kept on a starvation ration for four months on Mitaeb’s orders while they had to survive on distilled water and canned food. Their condition is not widely known as they have been isolated from the world by men in their family.
Finally, the move has put an end to the long career of former ambassador to the U.S. Bandar bin Sultan who has captured the American and regional imaginations for decades for his role in arms deals, high profile connections, funding terrorism, and lavish lifestyle. Bin Sultan was not only fired without the traditional decorum, but also had his national security council officially dissolved.

Greater marginalization
King Salman also fired the first southerner to head a ministry in the country’s 86-year history. Dr. Muhammad AlHayaza, who was appointed by Abdullah weeks ago on December, 6, 2014 as the minister of health, was fired in a clear indication of Salman’s disregard of the southern region and its population. The south is comprised of the provinces of Aseer, Jazan, Najran and Albaha, and makes up nearly 27% of the populations but remain grossly underrepresented in the top positions of governments.
Shia Muslims, black people, women, tribes, and representatives of the northern regions did not secure any appointments in the reshuffle. The presence of the Hejaz region at the council of ministers has also declined, as only two ministers from region, including minister of labor Adel Faghih and minister of hajj Bandar Hajjar.

A Najdi-centric Government
The cabinet shift reinforced the Najdi domination of the Saudi council of minister and top state positions, reflecting a desire to concentrate power in the hands of the AlSaud clan and their region, its natural constituency.

The rise of the Najdi-centric view, which maintains that all positions of power must be limited to the Najd region, is also is displayed in the official character of the country that embodies the Najdi culture in exclusion of all others. This can be described as a Najdi right wing formulation that has been expressed in the writings of two hardline Najdi-centric academics Dr. Khalid AlDhakil and Abdullah AlAskar.

The appointments also marked the return of Saleh AlShaikh, a hard-line Wahhabi cleric and descendant of Mohamed bin Abdulwahab, founder of Wahhabism. AlShaikh, a Salman loyalist, told Saudi AlHayat in April of last year that “our (Saudi Arabia) enemies are not only the Jews, Christians and the polytheists, but also the Muslim Brotherhood, who pose a greater danger.” Source: http://bit.ly/1kILKEL

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