Since 2015, the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia has been transformed both internally and externally. 2015 was the time when Salman bin Abdulaziz became king, launched many initiatives regarding foreign and domestic policies. The predecessor of King Salman, King Abdullah was widely known as the leader of reforms in Saudi Arabia. This reform process accelerated in 2017 when Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) was declared Crown Prince. MBS’ position in the kingdom has been backed by Muhammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MbZ) who is the tutor of MBS and de facto ruler of United Arab Emirates.
The state-backed media in Saudi Arabia and UAE have been trying to present that the society of Arabs, especially young people are in favor of MBS and MbZ. But we have witnessed that there are many speculations in contrast to what the state-backed media says. Recently, it came out that the military, police and cliques consisting of Saudi members are against the policies of MBS. Rumors of a military coup in Saudi Arabia, demanded by prince Khalid al-Farhan to overthrow the de facto ruler, MBS, has been running in backstage. Before examining the possibility of a coup in Riyadh, we need to go through the factors that accelerated Mohammed bin Salman’s rise and comprehend the ongoing situation first.
MBS’ rise is quite obvious to those who follow the current issues. Compared to the previous crown princes, he’s not well-educated in terms of Western education. He is neither experienced in political life. He was not popular in al-Saud family but his ambition to be a ruler of the kingdom accelerated his rise. Therefore, he started to use force to eliminate his potential rivals.
There are doubts about the death of Prince Mansour Muqrin bin Abdulaziz in a helicopter crash that can be examined as an example of MBS’ ravenous policies. On the other hand, the newly elected president of USA, Donald Trump willingly supported pro-American crown princes; MBS and MbZ when they were milked. The visit of Mohammad Bin Salman to the White House and Trump’s photo with King Salman and putschist al-Sisi were symbols of a new alliance.
The transformation of the regional order in favor of MBS also accelerated his rise. The lack of regional cooperation in the region was another factor. Even there are many determinatives that accelerated Mohammad Bin Salman’s rise, news mainly revealed by Qatari media recently showed that in al-Saud family there are rumors of dissatisfaction about MBS’ policies. One can say that there is a big turmoil within the al-Saud family. Within the Saud family, some members are feeling humiliated because of the so-called investigation and anti-corruption probe led by the Crown Prince in favor of his power. Esteemed members of Saud family, businessmen, influential figures of Arab world media (e.g. Velid Ibrahim) were in detention. Valid bin Talal, Ibrahim el-Assaf and Prince Turki bin Halid, son of King Abdullah Mutib are among those who are revengeful of MBS.
On the other hand, he fired several army officers which triggered the anti-MBS stance within the army. As a result of these, there were many speculations within the kingdom or outside on the possibility of a military coup. When it comes to a coup in Saudi Arabia or any other country in the region it depends on the USA, we must rethink these speculations.
If there is a coup attempt in Saudi Arabia, will it be successful without the United States’ help? It is hard to say yes. With the presidency of Donald Trump, even American Middle East policy is not smooth and one-way, we see that al-Saud family and Mohammad Bin Salman are cared and paid too much attention.
The stance of MBS on Israel’s attack on Palestine and his statements on peace plan pleased USA and Israel. Furthermore, it is hard for the USA and Israel to find an alternative to MBS.
Lastly, the army of Saudi Arabia has never been interested and affiliated in politics. Although there were four military coup attempts in the history of Saudi Arabia (1954, 1962, 1969, 1977) with its weak structure the army couldn’t succeed in any of these. On the other hand, there is a competition within the army between the branches of the al-Saud family. For example, National Guard Troops controlled by the Shammaries were formed as an alternative to Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Interior is controlled by another branch of the al-Saud family, the Sudairies. So, Army is unable to unite and execute a coup against the Crown Prince, al-Saud family and the government. All in all, under these circumstances, the possibility of a coup in Riyadh can be estimated to be very low.
The author is a doctoral student of Sakarya University Middle East Institute.