Leadership in the Kingdom

Published: April 9, 2009

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Editor’s Note:
The Saudi royal decree that announced Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz as Second Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom late last month indicated it was “made in the interest of the public good” without further comment. To put this important story in context SUSRIS called on Jean-François Seznec, Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University, for his perspective on the timing and significance of Prince Nayef’s elevation.

Leadership in the Kingdom: Prince Nayef Named 2nd Deputy PM
A Conversation with Jean-François Seznec

SUSRIS: What circumstances led to the naming of a Second Deputy Prime Minister in Saudi Arabia and why was it Prince Nayef?

Jean-François Seznec: The immediate cause for Prince Nayef being named is probably the illness of the Crown Prince Sultan. The Crown Prince is reportedly extremely ill and may not be able to resume his responsibilities. Normally, as the King leaves the Kingdom, the Crown Prince, as First Deputy PM, is placed in charge of the government. Lately the King has been abroad for numerous conferences, leaving the government without leadership. Hence, the most senior cabinet member was slated to become the 2nd deputy PM. This of course, in true Saudi fashion, has been a long time in the making. Prince Sultan has been ill for a number of years, and the present move could have been expected sometime ago, but it was probably subject to extensive consultations between the King and all the parties within the royal family.

SUSRIS: How does Nayef’s elevation affect the line of succession to the Saudi throne?

Seznec: In my view, which I must stress is very limited – as no one outside the very top princes know the actual working of the royal family, the elevation of Prince Nayef is probably a fairly important step towards his being made the next Crown Prince should Sultan die. Nothing, of course, forces the King to name Nayef as Crown Prince. The King could still name anyone of his own choosing to become CP. Hence, the Nayef elevation does not necessarily take Prince Salman or members of the next generation out of the immediate succession.

Indeed, Prince Nayef is also relatively old and considered to be ill. However, the Baya committee edict, which defines the rules of succession post-King Abdullah, states that a new King must immediately appoint a new CP and this new CP must be endorsed by the Baya committee. I doubt that the Baya committee would openly reject the choice of Prince Nayef. Hence, I think that there is a probable deal being made, or having been made, whereby Nayef would become CP and perhaps in due course King. He would then name CP someone who has been already been approved by the family and unofficially by the Baya committee.

There is a chance that the King may have insisted on preparing the way for someone who can pursue his vision of the Kingdom and of the world. Indeed, we may see a member of the next generation come up and be primed for the long term succession. One should not dismiss the chances of Prince Salman, a younger full brother of Prince Nayef, and well known governor of Riyadh. He could be seen as one with the same vision as King Abdullah.

SUSRIS: What will Nayef’s new status have on reforms in the Kingdom and on U.S.-Saudi relations?

Seznec: Despite many fears among the Washington-based Saudi observers, I do not think that Nayef as CP or even King would make much change to U.S.-Saudi relations. Indeed, the King whoever he may be is faced with the same problems and will act accordingly. The King has to maintain the Kingdom’s market for its oil, has to continue to develop the economy to create jobs. He has to preserve the Kingdom against the Jihadis. He has to think about how to deal with Iran without irritating it to the point of promoting Iranian interference in the Gulf. Any king will still be dependent on supply and spare parts from the U.S. to run its military forces. Hence, not much will change for the near future.

What could change, however, is that the new King may not have the vision that King Abdullah has of making the Kingdom into a leading industrial power, to build the economy, to overwhelm the military potential of Iran, and to decrease dependence on the U.S. This vision may come back as the second generation of educated princes comes to power. Of course this could take a number of years or occur quite quickly, all this being ultimately in God’s hands.

About Jean-François Seznec

Dr. Seznec is a Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University. His research centers on the influence of the Arab-Persian Gulf political and social variables on the financial and oil markets in the region. He is focusing on the industrialization of the Gulf and in particular the growth of the petrochemical industry. He holds a MA from Columbia University [1973], a MA and his Ph.D. from Yale University [1994]. He has published and lectured extensively and is interviewed regularly on national TV, radio and newspapers, as well as by the foreign media.

Dr. Seznec has 25 years experience in international banking and finance of which ten years were spent in the Middle East, including six years in Bahrain as a banker. Dr. Seznec is a founding member and Managing Partner of the Lafayette Group LLC, a US based private investment company. He uses his knowledge of business in the Middle East and the United States to further his analysis of the Arab-Persian Gulf.

Jean-Francois Seznec on SUSRIS:

SUSRIS IOI – Dec 21, 2008 – Consequences of the Oil Price Crash – Jean-Francois Seznec

SUSRIS Exclusive – Interview – Aug 1, 2008 – The Rule of King Abdullah: A New Paradigm – A Conversation with Jean-Francois Seznec

SUSRIS Exclusive – Interview – Mar 12, 2007 – National Security Issues and the Saudi-US Relationship: A Conversation with Jean-Francois Seznec

SUSRIS IOI – Sep 28, 2006 – Doubtful of the US, Saudi Arabia Begins Looking East

SUSRIS IOI – Jan 22, 2006 – Saudi Arabia’s Accession to the WTO: Is a “Revolution” Brewing? Middle East Policy Council Capitol Hill Conference Series on US Middle East Policy, Jean-Francois Seznec: A Look At Future Growth

SUSRIS IOI – Oct 8, 2004 – Crossroads in US-Saudi Relations