Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) buys a £472m yacht from Russian oligarch Yuri Schefler, as he imposes austerity on Saudi Arabians and total misery on the Yemeni population.
The endless pointless war in Yemen, as I wrote when it started, has ‘everything to do with [his]’ succession’ to the throne. More than 8,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition launched the military campaign in March 2015, 17 million people face dire food shortages – 7 million of whom are only one step away from famine, in a country now ravaged by illness including a cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 1,100 people.
The Yemen War was launched to subjugate Muqrin bin Abdulaziz after he had been sidelined from the line of succession to the throne, together with Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz who controlled of the National Guard. The Qatar blockade, on the other hand, was instituted in order to put Al-Jazeera and the outspoken Sheikh Tamim on the back foot while Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz was in the process of being removed and, it is said, put under house arrest. Now that two of the major obstacles to MbS’s ambitions as his dementia-ridden father’s direct successor, have been overcome. Given his roles as Secretary to the Court (i.e. Prime Minister), Defence Minister, and Economic Supremo, MbS is thus effectively acting king.
Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi (MbZ) has guided the young prince to power, and gained his confidence despite having plotted against him and his father when Abdullah bin Abdelaziz was still king. The apparently odd alliance between them, however, is testament to the extent to which there is generalised mistrust between members of the Saudi royal family, as well as the extent to which MbS is gullible.
MbZ will undoubtedly want his pound of flesh, which as far as I can see will involve the division of Yemen to enable him control the entire South and with that, control of the Bab al-Mandab straits. This must ultimately lead to conflict between Saudi and the UAE, at some stage. Expect also conflict between members of the royal family after the unprecedented political changes which were engineered in hushed and rushed meetings before dawn of the 21st. The dawn of the longest day was also the night of the long knives.
The ‘arrival’ of MbS is feted in some quarters as the prospect of the rule of a millennial, who will ‘open up’ his country and take it out of its tawdry past. But for that to have any credence the country must become a democracy not merely a neoliberal paradise in an autocratic cage. The influence of the religious establishment on the daily life of the Saudis may be waning, but a series of recent tweets by the Ulama evidences the fact that Saudi religion will consolidate its role as the protector of autocracy against democracy.