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Mohammad Bin Nayef takes leading role in Saudi Arabia

Prince Mohammad Bin Salman only Al Saud family member to sit on two councils marking ‘undue concentration of power’

Image Credit: EPA
Prince MohammadBin Nayef
Gulf News

Beirut: During a long decade, the late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz created 11 committees and councils to run the affairs of Saudi Arabia that, by universal account, found scarce supporters allegedly because of their bureaucratic burdens. On January 29, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz abolished them all, including the powerful National Security Council (NSC) because, observers concluded, he wished to rekindle efficiency and accountability.

In addition to the NSC, which was headed by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the other ten councils and committees axed by the new monarch were the Civil Service Council, the Higher Committee for Education Policy, the Higher Committee for Administrative Organisation, the Higher Commission of King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology, the Supreme Council for Education, the Supreme Council for Disabled Affairs, the Supreme Council of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals, and the Supreme Economic Council.

Two mega institutions, the Council of Political and Security Affairs (CPSA), headed by Heir to the Heir Apparent and Minister of the Interior Mohammad Bin Nayef, and the Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), headed by the Minister of Defence Mohammad Bin Salman, replaced the 11 bodies. Both princes received open mandates to reorganise the kingdom’s affairs, introduce efficient methods, and display transparency. Inasmuch as these reforms were sweeping, it was critical to assess their intrinsic capabilities, if for no other reason than to determine what patterns might emerge.

The CPSA held its first meeting on February 11 under the leadership of Mohammad Bin Nayef as Riyadh telegraphed its renewed attention to security matters. Eight other members served on the CPSA, Prince Saud Al Faisal, the minister of foreign affairs (absent for medical reasons), Prince Mit‘ab Bin Abdullah, Minister of the National Guard, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Minister of Defence, Shaikh Saleh Bin Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammad Bin Ebrahim Al Al Shaikh, Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance, Lieutenant General Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Humaidan, the Chief of General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Adel Bin Zaid Al Turaifi, the Minister of Culture and Information, and two ministers of state, Dr Sa’ad Bin Khalid Al Jabri and Dr Musaid Bin Mohammad Al Aiban.

While Princes Mohammad Bin Nayef, Saud Al Faisal, and Mit‘ab Bin Abdullah were well known for their service to Crown and Country, the other five CPSA members were less so, even if much was expected from them as well.

Still, there was no doubt that the very existence of the CPSA, which was carefully planned months ago, highlighted the trust that the King placed in Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef, whose performances and efficiency stood out. Moreover, the monarch appreciated the level of cooperation between the minister of interior and various regional and international counterparts, as the kingdom fought extremists. His anti-terrorism policy in particular, which included a rehabilitation component that was highly efficient, produced favourable results in more ways than many assumed, as Riyadh coordinated with its GCC partners, various Arab states, and leading Western powers to weaken and destroy Daesh and similar organisations. What was unknown, however, was the level of cooperation between him and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the newly appointed Minister of Defence who was, by all accounts, the rising star within the ruling family.


At 35, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was probably inexperienced to assume so many responsibilities — in addition to his Ministry of Defence portfolio, he is the head of the Royal Court where he replaced Khalid Al Tuwaijri; president of CEDA and a member of the CPSA. By virtue of his two memberships in CPSA and the CEDA, he thus became the only member of the Al Saud family to sit on both councils, which is an undue concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. It is possible to infer, nevertheless, that his father appointed Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef as head of the CPSA precisely because he wished his son to learn from a far more experienced person, and not necessarily because the Minister of the Interior occupied a higher protocol position.

Be that as it may, what is intriguing about Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is what is expected of him, and while his reputation as a forthright prince who can get things done is acknowledged, it remains to be determined how he will counsel his monarch. Detractors point out to his inability to communicate fluently in English, an essential tool for such a high-ranking leader who must carefully negotiate with leading global powers that have expressed interest in the stability of the kingdom and the entire Arabian peninsula, although what is far more important is the young man’s willingness to provide his King the type of recommendation than may not always be welcome. Over the short-term, nevertheless, few observers anticipate clashes between the two Mohammads on the CPSA, with the Heir to the Heir Apparent enjoying a slight advantage.

— In his next essay, Senior Writer Joseph Kechichian will examine the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.


New faces in Saudi Government

Shaikh Saleh Bin Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammad Bin Ebrahim Al Al Shaikh

Although little is known about the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance’s background — there is speculation that he was born in Makkah in the late 1930s — Shaikh Saleh was appointed to his first clerical post in 1954, and to his first ministerial post in 1996. He is well known for his strict adherence of Unitarian (Wahhabi) traditions and does not wear an igal (headdress.) A formidable orator that can mobilise masses, he nevertheless is also a strong supporter of the Al Saud family.

Lieutenant General Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Humaidan

A non royal general who previously filled senior intelligence posts, Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Humaidan was a close ally of the Heir to the Heir Apparent, and served at the Ministry of Interior for several years. By virtue of the fact that the Chief of General Intelligence Directorate fell under the auspices of the ministry, observers expect the relationship to continue, to deal with domestic security and counter-intelligence. As expected from the incumbent in such a position, details on his background in open sources are scarce, although he is well-known for his athletic skills and practices.

Dr Sa’ad Bin Khalid Al Jabri

Brigadier-General Dr Sa’ad Bin Khalid Bin Sa’ad Allah Al Jabri is a newcomer to government although he has been a long-time adviser to Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef. Since 2010, the Minister of the Interior entrusted him with a visible security adviser position, where he helped devise various counter-terrorism and rehabilitation programmes. As an ally on the CPSA, Al Jabri was likely to play a critical balancing role, aware that the Heir to the Heir relied on him.

Dr Musaid Bin Mohammad Al Aiban

Dr Al Aiban is the only non-royal serving on both the CPSA and the CEDA. A graduate of Harvard University in the United States, he is considered one of the kingdom’s most efficient behind-the-scenes official, entrusted with various missions over the years. After 1992, when he was first appointed as a minister of state on the recommendation of the late Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Dr Al Aiban travelled extensively with both the former Heir Apparent as well as King Fahd. His loyalty, nurtured in the same Najdi confederation from which Al Al Shaikh emerged, earned him the trust of several senior members of the family. He accompanied King Salman to Asia in 2014 when the latter was Heir, and the League of Arab States 2013 Doha Summit. In early 2012, King Abdullah charged him with chairing the panel that looked into proposals for changing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a Gulf Union, a project close to the late king’s heart, and, in 2008, he was one of the few non-royals on a council aimed at mending Qatari-Saudi relations. In July 2014, he represented Riyadh at the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani, the newly elected President of Iran and, equally important, he accompanied the now Heir Apparent Prince Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz in July 2014 to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Manama and Muscat.