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The Machiavellian Prince: Welcome to Salman Arabia

The Machiavellian Prince: Welcome to Salman Arabia
From Al Jazeera - November 14, 2017

You have got to admire Mohammed Bin Salman's stamina and drive. The ambitious, adrenaline-pumped young prince is fighting a major war next door, while instigating diplomatic crises abroad and cracking down on powerful detractors at home. And yet he still finds the time to curtail the influence of the religious establishment and chart a future vision for Saudi Arabia through 2030 and beyond.

But is he reaching too far?

Well, there's rationality to that rashness, a certain dogma that drives the drama. If you lay out the acts and scenes in his short career, you will notice that his policies are anything but random.

Soon after King Salman took over the reigns of power of the Kingdom in January 2015, he appointed his young son and close adviser, Mohammed, to the post of minister of defence. Two months into the job, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) made his mark on the international scene.

Act I - It's a good day to start a war

MBS led an Arab coalition to attempt to dislodge the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in March 2015. One month later, the son was rewarded and made deputy crown prince, the second in lineto the throne.

So here's the script:

Step 1: Consolidate power

Step 2: Head off internal controversy by capitalising on regional fault lines and stoking conflict abroad.

Step 3:Repeat.

Over the following two years, the war wreaked havoc in Yemen, rainingdeath and destruction upon Saudi Arabia's impoverished neighbour. But the rewards kept piling up for MBS. His influence grewand his 80-year-old dad, the King,delegated new authority over economic, social and foreign policy affairs to his son. Itwasclear he was racing to the throne. But there remained one major obstacle. And so it was time for another bold move within the Saudi royal family. Time for another diversionary tactic, a win-win move.

Act II - It's a good day to start a crisis

In early June 2017, MBS, along with the crown prince of the UAE, Mohammed Bin Zayed, manufactured a new Gulf crisis. This time, they took aim at a fellow Gulf Arab royal, by hacking into Qatar's official news agency and planting false statements attributed to the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Soon after, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began an all-out diplomatic, political, economic and public relations assault on their Gulf partner, with the help of Bahrain and Egypt,whichcontinues to threaten theexistenceof the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Two weeks into the crisis, his cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was removed by royal decree and MBS was elevated to crown prince. To ensure his silence, the once-powerful interior minister was put under house arrest, causing jitters in the Kingdom and dissatisfaction in the royal family. But those reactions were muffled by the shrieks of manufactured patriotism deployed against Qatar.

MBS was now in charge of Saudi Arabia's defence forces as well as internal security. To achieve total dominance over all levers of security in the country, he needed direct control over the National Guard, a strong force made up of all Saudi tribes. For decades, the National Guard was in the hands of two men only: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and, after he took his turn as King in 2005, his son, Miteb.

Act III - The Night of the Great Purge

On November 3, Saad Hariri, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen and prime minister of Lebanon was lured to Riyadh for an audience with the royals. On November 4, he declared his resignation on a Saudi TV channel, condemned his coalition partner, Hezbollah, and threatened to "cut the hands" of its backer, Iran.

The voice and face were Hariri's, but the words and objectives were Saudi.Before the shock turned into suspicion, MBS moved to depose and detain his cousin Miteb, along with dozens of princes and present and former ministers, under the pretext of fighting corruption.

The Trump effect

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)November 6, 2017

'They know exactly what they are doing.' Really?

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