Wednesday 13 November 2019

How a tribal kingdom still holds powerful sway over working of the world's economy

The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (L) and his successor, his half-brother and new King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz
The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (L) and his successor, his half-brother and new King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz

Richard Spencer

The confirmation that Crown Prince Salman (79) was to be king settled one question in the minds of many in the Middle East.

There had been mutterings that the succession was not secure, and that on the death of King Abdullah, who had managed one of the world's most perplexing countries for two decades, anything could happen.

The new King Salman then went one step further: he confirmed Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin as his own crown prince and heir.

These statements may have the flavour of a Ruritanian kingdom of another era. That is only fitting, perhaps, for a country which self-consciously retains not only an absolute monarchy but many of trappings of the tribal, religious and traditionalist attitudes of its founders. By appointing his youngest half-brother Muqrin (69) as crown prince and nephew Mohammed bin Nayef (55) as deputy crown prince, Salman has swiftly quelled speculation about internal palace rifts at a moment of great regional turmoil.

Oil prices jumped in an immediate reaction as news of Abdullah's death added to uncertainty in energy markets.

Salman must navigate a white-hot rivalry with Shi'ite Muslim power Iran playing out in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain, open conflict in two neighbouring states, a threat from Islamist militants and bumpy relations with the United States. In his first speech as king, shown live on Saudi television, Salman pledged to maintain the same approach to ruling the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam as his predecessors, and called for unity among Arab states. His thinking is vital for a world that relies both pragmatically on Saudi oil and politically on the influence of Saudi Arabia on the followers of Islam, whose holiest places it controls. As crown prince, Salman, though from a grouping of princes seen as more politically conservative than King Abdullah, will have signed off on recent reforms and other political decisions.

Prince Muqrin is seen as the closest to King Abdullah of all the surviving royal brothers who control Saudi politics. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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