Saudi stability and royal succession



Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Published — Saturday 23 February 2013

Last update 23 February 2013 12:51 pm

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For the first time in history, women are members of the Shoura Council. Sworn in on February 19 along with their male colleagues by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the presence of these 30 new members is an indisputable sign that Saudi Arabia is making great political and social strides forward, reforming government and society in a smooth and transparent manner, even as many governments in the region are attempting to control unruly and restive populaces who harbor serious doubts about the new political culture.
So, why does the Western press always put the spotlight on Saudi Arabia?
I have been following reports about the Kingdom that appear in Western media and I have come to realize that there are two words common to nearly all of them: stability and succession. The Western press, particularly the British press, seems to be far more concerned about stability and succession that do Saudis themselves.
In the past few months, the Kingdom has seen six royal changes come from six royal decrees, showing the world how smooth, stable and transparent Saudi royal succession actually is. The decrees were as follow: the appointment of Prince Salman as crown prince; the appointment of Prince Muqrin as the second deputy premier; the appointment of Prince Saud bin Naif as governor of the Eastern Province; the appointment of Prince Faisal bin Salman as governor of Madinah; the appointment of Prince Khaled bin Bandar as governor of Riyadh; and the assignment of Prince Turki bin Abdullah as the deputy governor of Riyadh.
So, why is the story of stability and royal succession in Saudi Arabia such a mainstay of the Western press?
It has its roots in the 1950s and 1960s when the British presence in the Arab world, especially in the Gulf region, was particularly strong. The British were present in Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. And I have seen some of the old British intelligence reports regarding the Gulf including ones about Saudi Arabia. At the time, it was the British media that was the most trusted source of news and information. The BBC was the only foreign news organization whose reporters in the Arab world would listen for news not reported by the local media. All of this gave the British an edge in understanding the political and social milieu of the Middle East. But the irony about the British intelligence reports is that they always insisted on characterizing Saudi Arabia as unstable and facing many obstacles when it came to royal succession or filling political posts.
In the 1950s and 60s, the British considered Saudi Arabia the least stable country in the Arab world. But governments change and instabilities have appeared in every Arab and Middle Eastern country, except for Saudi Arabia. The world saw the Egyptian monarchy displaced in 1952, riots and a coup in Iran in 1953, bloody revolutions in Iraq in 1958, 1963 and 1968, civil war in Yemen in the 1960s, revolution in Libya in 1968, and yearly coups in Syria.
Just a few years before the Arab Spring, I read many Western press reports about instability in the Kingdom. At the end of the day, however, instability affected Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon. Also, during the Arab Spring, the Saudi economy continued to experience a boom across the Kingdom.
So, what makes Saudi Arabia unstable?
The Saudi royal family has been a part of local society for hundreds of years, but as Crown Prince Salman said recently, every tribe and every family in the Kingdom made direct contributions to the establishment of Saudi Arabia. And it is still common for many Saudis to hear their grandparents’ stories of their own fathers and grandfathers having direct contact with members of the Al-Saud family many years before the establishment of modern Saudi Arabia. The Al-Saud royal family enjoys a continued and strong popularity that only Saudis can truly understand.
The Al-Saud presence in Arabia did not come out of the blue nor did the family ascend to the thrown through a sudden military coup. It was Al-Saud family members and common Saudis who worked hand-in-hand until the day King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman founded modern day Saudi Arabia in 1932. And it is very important that the Western press know that the Saudi royal succession is one of the smoothest and most transparent transitions in the world.
For us Saudis, as long as it is a Saudi royal family member at the helm, we get a good night’s sleep. We’ll let others worry about analysis. For the past 60 years, some of the Western media has been talking about Saudi Arabia’s stability as if we were in a civil war. The doors of the king, crown prince and all the Saudi provinces’ governors are open to all Saudis and we have never felt that there is a contact gap between the ruler and the ruled.

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