MBS Strengthens His Hand

 

The latest batch of Saudi royal decrees aims, again, at bolstering the young deputy crown prince’s succession prospects

By Abdel Bari Atwan

 

Most of the many Saudi royal decrees that have been issued of late are aimed in a single direction: to rearrange the affairs and institutions of state in accordance with the prescriptions of the kingdom’s future king and de facto current ruler – the king’s son and deputy crown prince, Muhammad Bin-Salman – and to reduce the authority of the current heir apparent, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Nayef.

 

The royal decree issued on Saturday announcing a series of new high-level appointments can only be seen in that light. It abolished the so-called General Investigation and Prosecution Authority and replaced it with a new body named the ‘General Prosecution’, headed by an ’Attorney-General’ who will be directly answerable to the king and his court.

 

The official explanation provided for this change is that it is a move towards ‘modernization’ aimed at separating the former Authority from the executive branch in order to enable it to be more impartial and independent, and to create the post of Attorney-General in line with the practice of most if not all advanced countries. The reality, however, is that this step and the accompanying appointments strengthen the hand of Muhammad Bin-Salman (MBS) vis-à-vis his cousin and rival Muhammad Bin-Nayef (MBN), reducing the latter’s power and control over both the judicial and executive authorities.

 

The new attorney-general, Sheikh Saud al-Muujab, who replaced the head of the former Authority, Sheikh Muhammad Bin-Abdallah al-Uraini, is considered to be very close to MBS. The same can be said of Maj.-Gen. Saud Bin-Abdelaziz Bin-Hilal, who was named as the new chief of General Security and promoted to the rank of full general.

 

The new attorney-general can, thanks to the ‘independent’ powers bestowed on him by the latest royal decree and his direct links to the king, refer any state official or prince – however senior or junior – to the judiciary and the sharia courts. The next step may be to charge some senior statesmen with corruption or other misdeeds in order to bring them before the courts.

 

We do not know what powers have remained in the hands of MBN, other than those of his nominal position as crown prince and his government post as minister of the interior. Much of his authority over security issues was withdrawn six months ago when a National Security Centre directly under the king’s authority was established. With the linking of the judicial establishment and associated executive agencies to the royal court too, and the appointment of a new chief of General Security –possibly without even consulting him – MBN’s powers are being steadily eroded. This gives the impression that the only remaining decree to be issued is the one that deposes MBN and appoints MBS as crown prince as a prelude to his assuming the throne as heir to his father King Salman, and confining the future succession to his lineage.

 

MBN has been side-lined from the political stage and important state decisions and reduced to a largely ceremonial role. His reputedly close relationship with the Qatari ‘enemy’ – including both the present Qatari emir, Tamim, and his father, Hamad – puts these matters into clearer context, especially considering the timing of the latest decrees.