Andrei Baklanov: "It's time for the young rulers of Saudi Arabia"
This week King Salman made a fateful decision for Saudi Arabia as one of the key players of the Middle East - he appointed his 30-year-old son Mohammed as the crown prince instead of a 57-year-old nephew Mohammed bin Naif. Vestnik Kavkaza spoke about the importance of this decision for the future of Saudi Arabia and the entire Middle East with the Deputy Chairman of the Association of Russian diplomats and former Russian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Andrei Baklanov.
- In your opinion, what is behind this decision - why did King Salman decide to change the tradition of inheritance of the royal title of the Saudis?
- The changes in the tradition of succession to the throne - this is not a problem of today, it has required solution for a long time, due to the fact that kings Khalid, Fahd and Abdallah, as well as the current ruler, King Salman, ascended the throne at a fairly old age. An established order of the succession to the throne - from the elder brother, the son of Saudi King Abdul-Aziz, who establish Saudi Arabia, to the younger brother - was in a certain contradiction with the realities, serious changes were required due to the fact that the sons of Abdul-Aziz were far from young, and there was a need for a transition to the princes of the new generation. So the decision of King Salman to designate his son Mohammed as the Crown Prince can be regarded as an attempt of the present king to take responsibility for the transfer of power to the representatives of the younger generation, of course, having divided it from the Allegiance Council. This is done, in particular, so that the ruling dynasty can make appropriate adjustments to the order of succession to the throne in time and adapt the traditional system to new tasks and realities.
The second question is that the ruling family is interested to stay in power, because there are old and new pretenders to the throne who seek to remove the House of Saudis from the levers of the state administration. The family, naturally, should keep together, especially when there have been certain contradictions between certain clan representatives. The king’s this step shows his desire to ensure the continuity of power to his direct descendants in the coming years, so it is preferable to inherit from father to son.
- Are there any economic or foreign policy factors in this decision?
- Of course, it is worth mentioning the financial, economic and foreign policy reasons. Long brewing and only now entering into the phase of the final preparation the economic and financial component of the regime of the house of Saudis is associated with the current king and crown prince. An emphasis is clearly on accelerating the process of the economic diversification, a positive decision is being prepared on the denationalization of the most powerful financial and economic instrument in the country - Saudi Aramco, which later will have a more standard look with a participation of the private shareholders, including foreigners. An attempt is being made to tie Americans and other foreign investors to the stability of the regime, because an uninterrupted oil production and export of this oil abroad is possible only in conditions of stability. And this idea, as well as an adjusting of the plans of development of the country, is also associated with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed. They set a goal to develop the financial and economic components of the country for a sufficiently long perspective, up to 30 years ahead, so that the diversification of the economy would take place on a more thoughtful, scientifically grounded basis and be linked to the regional, international and domestic realities.
From the political point of view, it is possible to expect that this decision will bring a serious change in the position of Riyadh on the Syrian settlement and the situation in the Middle East as a whole. This will depend on whether the foreign policy directions of Saudi Arabia are working or not. For example, there is a crisis development in the Yemeni direction, the policy of Saudi Arabia in the Syrian direction has not fit into the trajectory of the developments in Syria. It would be logical, if the king and the new crown prince made an adjustment of these issues.
- In your opinion, will King Salman's decision meet any resistance in the future? Will Saudi Arabia face any turmoil after Salman's death?
- I think no. The fact is that the past two years were devoted to probing a possible reaction of the elites to a new succession system. The King, for sure, spoke with all the members of the Allegiance Council, so the decision was taken by a very substantial majority. Saudis tend to be cautious and careful when making decisions, so I am sure that this event was well thought out and calculated, since Riyadh understands that it is better not to rock the boat.
- In your opinion, what is the most probable consequence of the transition of the royal power from the elderly sons of Abdul-Aziz bin Saud to his young grandchildren? What does a new generation of princes prefer - conservatism or reformism?
-A new generation is well aware that life requires changes, but a manner in which the Saudis make changes is very specific: the reforms should not lead to the negative consequences associated with stability in the country. This is not even an idea of a new king, Faisal established this course, when he first raised a question of reforms in the early 1960s. Let me remind you that Riyadh has always tried to conduct gradually even the radical reforms, in accordance with a well thought out scheme, in order not to damage the stability of the domestic political situation.
- What should the neighbors of Saudi Arabia, its key external partners and, naturally, Russia expect in this regard from the young kings?
- I think the new Saudi leadership has inherited the traditional perception of the United States as the main guarantor of the domestic security and defender of the national security issues in Saudi Arabia. At the same time Riyadh and Washington can have friction on the financial and economic issues. Moreover, despite the unconditional priority of the relations with the United States, the course for diversifying political and foreign economic relations will develop in parallel. They will try to maintain good and fairly broad relations with the People's Republic of China and Europe, but differentially, as a number of countries provoke a political ‘allergy’ in Riyadh. We can expect the consultations with other countries of the Persian Gulf with regard to the regional issues and attempts to restore the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as it is necessary to overcome the current crisis with Qatar. As for Russia, I think, the young kings of Saudi Arabia will develop relations in a friendly manner with us.