Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Does the new leader of the Interior Ministry bring hope for modernization?

Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who died on 16 June 2012 reportedly of cardiac problems. He served as First Deputy Prime Minister from 2011-2012 and as Minister of the Interior from 1975 until 2012. The Minister of Interior is responsible for national security and customs as well as other responsibilities. It is believed that his death could create some breathing space for domestic reforms, due to the fact that he opposed almost any change to the kingdom's extremely conservative laws. Nayef was also a key planner of Saudi policy in Yemen and Bahrain. The royal family has long been divided by staunch conservatives such as Nayef and modest reformists like the king himself, who desire incremental changes. His brother and successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is believed by Reuters to signal that cautious reforms under King Abdullah's are likely to proceed. However, Prince Salman is alleged to focus mostly on economic development, rather than political change. There is also much skepticism for the prospects of modernization due to key royal support for enduring Nayef's conservative policies. As exclaimed by al-Dakhil, "It's true that Salman doesn’t share the same concerns as Nayef does, but Nayef wasn't the only one with these views."
Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud -

The death of the Prince is important as the security forces he presided over numbers over 130,000 members which have the main task of stomping out perceived threats to the royal family. Nayef was a major player in regional policy, having enormous influence in the conflicts of Yemen and Bahrain. He was a strong supporter of the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain and the central government in Yemen. These ideals do however transcend the former Crown Prince, and though no dramatic foreign changes may arise from his death, his absence could somewhat affect the policies and practices being carried out in these regions. Political analyst Khalid al-Dakhil states that, "He didn’t tolerate any opposition to the state, or any freedom of expression," and directed his security forces at reformists and hardline opposition. This may change with the more moderate leader Prince Salman who is believed to be more open minded towards reform and a strong advocacy for philanthropy. Nayef was also known to be very hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, a major force in Egypt and surrounding areas, and his death is believed to have released some of these tensions.

Though Salman is arguably more moderate than his late brother Nayef, it is unclear how this will affect the Kingdom. It may be the case that political opposition organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood will gain more influence in the region and inspire more activists to speak out against the regime. As talked about with preference falsification, this change could create some openness that starts a snowball effect for acting out against the monarchy. This could already be underway as spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, on 9 March 2013 criticized social networking for organizing protests and online activists for encouraging demonstrations. The regime has remained successful in squashing protests, which are considered unlawful, by arresting and even deporting many supporters, but the prisons seem to be filling up and numerous trials seem to be flooding the judicial system. There appears to be some eminent fear within the Ministry of the growing unrest. However, it is difficult to directly attribute any of the changes to the new prince, who now controls the security forces intended to silence opposition. Interestingly, Prince Salman is also reported to have some strong connections with journalists, such as Othman Al Omeir, who is the owner of the liberal web newspaper Elaph. The prince also created a Twitter account on 23 February 2013, becoming involved in social networking. His relationship with the media and views on reform may have some interesting implications for the future. As of now it seems that non-violence is a first resort suggesting that incremental changes may in fact persist. On 11 January 2013 King Abdullah appointed 30 women to sit on the Shura Council, the senior representative state body which advises government legislation. Although this may be considered window dressing, since the council essentially has no formal powers, it is arguably a step in the right direction and promising for future modernization.

I would recommend that activists continue to organize and that they attempt to make as many connections as they can with reform-minded figures within the royal family. The conservative and reformist divide within the family signals weakness from the state and promise for opposition success in some regards. I would recommend that the kingdom continues to remain as non-violent as possible unless they want to rally more opposition and stir up anger abroad. Slow and gradual change may be in the best interest of both the regime and citizens if they want to avoid the conflicts occurring elsewhere since the Arab Spring. Although modernization and gradual reforms cannot be directly attributed to the less conservative Salman, the fact that he is the new leader of security forces meant to prevent opposition poses well for some changes to continue slowly. That said, there still exists strong conservative veins within the royal family and gradual reforms, many arguably ineffectual or minor, may not be enough to appease future protests. 

- Carlstorm, Gregg. "Nayef's Conservative Policies to Outlive Him."Http:// N.p., 16 June 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. 
Tait, Robert. "Saudi King Abdullah Appoints Women to Shura Council."Http:// N.p., 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Khan, Ghazanfar Ali. "342 Foreigners Deported on Criminal, Terror-related Charges."Http:// N.p., 9 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.


  1. The person who takes over the position will have the power to make progress or to continue the restrictions that are in place. I believe that the family will appoint someone who will be conservative. Saudi Arabia is weary of the changes going on in other countries and if they allow a reformist to make changes then it could spur a regime change within the country.

  2. I think it will be interesting to see how changes in the Saudi ruling family will have impacts on Saudi Arabia's surrounding countries including Yemen and Bahrain. As we discussed in class, Saudi Arabia's shadow as the "big brother nation" has played a significant role is how the Yemen and Bahrain Arab Spring protests played out and changes in Saudi Arabia could impact the stability of these nations. I'm also interested to see how Saudi Arabia reacts internally to changes in the region and how the regional pressures will play out with the long ruling family's adjustments in their actions and policy in order to maintain power.