In a short span of time, Saudi Arabia mourned two of its loved statesmen — Prince Sultan and Prince Naif. So, the talk about leadership succession cannot be avoided whether by Saudis or those concerned about it around the world.
The announcement on Nov. 5 by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah regarding the appointment of Prince Muhammad bin Naif as the new minister of interior has a political significance with respect to the succession process. The Ministry of Interior is one of the few important ministries (defense and foreign affairs are the other two), and hence its minister is one of the pillars of the Saudi leadership structure. The range of responsibilities of this ministry is huge, and it involves running the police, domestic intelligence, civil defense, border forces, penitentiaries and other security forces. In other words, the minister of interior is responsible for the security of the state and the well-being of its residents. This is a tough job.
King Abdullah’s decision to name Prince Muhammad for this job highlights the basis on which the leadership succession process is conducted with respect to the appointment to a top post of a person taking into account his credentials and qualities.
Prince Muhammad is 53 years old and he is the youngest member of the royal family to hold the top position of the minister of interior. He is a grandson of King Abdul Aziz and this indicates that the Saudi leadership’s primary concern is to ensure that the affairs of the country are run smoothly.
In view of the growing population and the increasing need to ensure law and order against the backdrop of hostile groups operating worldwide, there is need for strong security planning and measures. Such a situation puts a heavy responsibility on the government to meet the security needs of the population, especially the youth that comprises its majority. Also, some parts of the Middle East region are in political turmoil that again warrants extraordinary security measures to keep our country safe from terrorism and external threats.
These pressing challenges need to be considered and the Saudi leadership is aware of its responsibility and the appointment of Prince Muhammad testifies to that.
Prince Muhammad has earned the respect of the Saudi leadership (Prince Ahmed praised him several times after the success of the pilgrimage operations), the Saudi people, and the international community.
Two years after his assignment as the Assistant Interior Minister for Security Affairs, the tragic events of 9/11 happened, and since then he has been dealing with the security challenges that the Kingdom faced — terrorism. Prince Muhammad has always exhibited extreme control and discipline while not missing his prime objective — tackling terrorism. This is due to his personal traits and his leadership qualities, which all contributed to set him as a charismatic leader.
His overarching trait is his emphasis on human interactions that is obvious during the receptions when he interacted with people as well as with the staff. He received the people with a smile and listened to them attentively. He is a patient listener and never loses his temper. He is also accessible to anybody.
On Aug. 27, 2009, an Al-Qaeda member expressed his intention on phone to meet him and surrender. He received this person in his palace among those who were visiting him on the occasion of the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. The Al-Qaeda member was not security checked. The bomber, who blew himself up close to Prince Muhammad, had hidden the bomb in his own rectum. Prince Muhammad sustained minor injuries.
Prince Muhammad is always very helpful to his friends and staff. He inquires about their welfare and ensures that they are all well.
Professionally, Prince Muhammad is hardworking. He works long hours and at the same time supervises and closely monitors the progress of the task he assigns. He is always keen on continuously improving the performance of his staff by enhancing their skills, reviewing existing procedures and employing modern technology. He likes people with good nature and encourages his staff to exploit their full potentials and achieve their aspirations.
The families of officers and soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty receive his special care and attention. He personally visits them and offer his condolences and that of the Saudi leadership. Also he sees to it that their needs are met with respect to health care, education, employment and financial assistance.
The combination of human element and decisiveness is evident in his fight against terrorism. He extends helping hand to those who repent and denounce their past terror acts, and help them integrate into the society. The de-radicalization program for those who repent has been commended by international organizations for its effective results. However, those who insist on carrying out acts of terrorism are met with swift force. Hence, Prince Muhammad's approach to fight terrorism does not rely only on security solution, but provides the human solution first.
King Abdullah has presented an excellent succession model personified by Prince Muhammad. Now, we can say that the system of leadership succession in Saudi Arabia is already in place and it would run smoothly.