Transition in the Kingdom: A Conversation with Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: June 18, 2012

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Editor’s Note:

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, the heir apparent to the throne, Nayef bin Abdulaziz passed away on Saturday, June 16, 2012, while abroad for medical treatment. The Crown Prince served as Deputy Prime Minister (Oct 2011-Jun 2012) and Minister of the Interior (1975-2012). Nayef, a son of the Kingdom’s founder King Abdulaziz bin Saud, was named as the man next in line to be Saudi Arabia’s monarch following the death of Crown Prince Sultan last October. He was designated Second Deputy Prime Minister in March 2009 to provide leadership in the Kingdom, during overseas travels of the King and due to the incapacitation of Crown Prince Sultan. Nayef was named Crown Prince on October 27, 2011, five days after the death of Crown Prince Sultan.

The passing of Crown Prince Nayef set in motion a transition within the senior levels of the ruling family. A Crown Prince to succeed Nayef as heir apparent was announced about one hour ago. As expected by many “Saudi watchers” Prince Salman has been designated as the Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister and retains his position as Minister of Defense. Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the current Deputy Minister of Interior, will be elevated to Minister of the Interior, according to a Royal Court statement published by the Saudi Press Agency this morning.

The leadership transition was the focus of a series of exclusive interviews conducted by SUSRIS since news of Crown Prince Nayef’s passing on Saturday. We are pleased to share the perspectives of three distinguished specialists on Saudi affairs who have regularly provided their insights to you through these pages. You will hear from Professor F. Gregory Gause, professor of political science at the University of Vermont and author of the 2012 Council on Foreign Relations Special Report “Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East”; Thomas Lippman, newsman, scholar, and author who recently published, “Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally”; and Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE and Beirut, Lebanon.

NOTE: These SUSRIS exclusive interviews were conducted prior to today’s announcement that Prince Salman was named Crown Prince and Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz was named Interior Minister and their remarks should be taken in that context.

We conclude this series of quick-look conversations about the leadership transition in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with our exclusive interview with Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Development at the think-tank INEGMA.

CHECK THE SUSRIS SPECIAL SECTION “LEADERSHIP & TRANSITION” FOR SUSRIS ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS, SPECIAL REPORTS AND A COMPILATION OF MEDIA REPORTING

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EXCLUSIVE

Transition in the Kingdom: A Conversation with Theodore Karasik

[SUSRIS] Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz passed away on Saturday, June 16, after serving as Deputy Prime Minister and heir apparent since last October when long-serving Crown Prince Sultan died. It is widely assumed that Prince Salman, who followed Sultan as Defense Minister will be the next heir apparent. What are the concerns and considerations for Saudi watchers during a transition such as this one?

[Dr. Theodore Karasik] There are two major concerns at this moment given that two crown princes died in the last nine months. First, who will be considered as “Number 3” or Second Deputy Prime Minister and ultimately the next in line to be Crown Prince. I think that this position, of Second Deputy Prime Minister, will remain vacant perhaps for a few months and into the fall.

We are now at the crossroads that many Saudi watchers were waiting for. Will there be a jump from the first generation of al-Saud princes — the sons of King Abdulaziz — to the second generation princes? It appears that the first generation may be running out of qualified candidates to be King. Either there is the case of not having the correct lineage or positioning, or not enough experience in key sectors of the state. Age is also becoming an issue so Saudi watchers are looking at the second generation.

One individual that steps up to the plate, for example, is Prince Khaled bin Faysal Al-Saud. As Governor of Mekkah, and previously as Governor of Asir, he has an outstanding track record and has overseen Mekkah’s reconstruction efforts with mostly great success. He is also very active in the Saudi political and social scene and close to the West.

Second, is the issue of Saudi foreign policy in the wake of the Arab Spring. Saudi leaders are pushing for a GCC Union as well as dealing with surrounding threats from violent activity in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen as well as Iran’s threats and the aftermath of the elections in Egypt. Nayef, as Saudi watchers know, was extremely conservative, especially regarding Shiites and women’s rights in the Kingdom. Many other elites shared his sentiment on the foreign policy component not because of his views per se, but because of the criticality of events in the region. Nevertheless, this viewpoint on external affairs, despite his death, will likely remain, because of the upheaval around the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

[SUSRIS] Crown Prince Nayef served as Interior Minister since 1975. What will be the impact of his passing on that important post?

[Karasik] As we all know, Prince Nayef has had a tremendous impact on internal Saudi security needs mainly fighting Al-Qaeda supporters. His passing will likely mean that Prince Ahmed Al-Saud will likely takeover the MOI. He has been a Deputy Interior Minister since 1975. Prince Ahmed is also operational head of Special Security Forces developed after the 1979 Grand Mosque of Mekkah take-over by apocalyptic Salafis. Muhammad bin Nayef Al-Saud, who serves as Deputy Interior Minister and in charge of the de-radicalization program in the Kingdom is likely to remain in his current position. Conservatism is likely to remain; as Prince Ahmed said in a press conference in 2011 that for women, driving is against the law.

[SUSRIS] What do we know about Prince Salman, the likely new Deputy Prime Minister, and the impact of his probably ascent to the position of Crown Prince?

[Karasik] The likely promotion of Prince Salman as a Crown Prince is good news for Saudi watchers. First, he held the reins of the Riyadh governorship for many years and was the key to the Family Council that controlled the Al-Saud’s finances. He is friendly to the West and speaks as being a bit more liberal than Nayef. As Defense Minister, he has been very active on many fronts visiting troops and overseeing military exercises, and setting up “Taqnia,” an offset that will offer indigenous defense goods to the wider region and the world. He is also deeply involved in Saudi press organizations and charitable causes. Prince Salman is highly regarded by Saudi officials and citizens and foreign observers.

[SUSRIS] The last two leadership transitions we have witnessed, Crown Prince Abdullah becoming King in 2005 and Crown Prince Nayef succeeding Crown Prince Sultan last year, were on the surface very smooth. Can you comment on the process that is in place for these changes?

[Karasik] This question is key. At a time of instability in the region, no extreme move should be necessary at this time. However, throughout the course of 2012, Saudi watchers should consider any possible changes with Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, General Intelligence Director Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, and of course, Prince Khaled bin Faysal Al-Saud. Their ties to, what we think will be Crown Prince Salman, should be closely watched. There are rumors of Prince Muqrin going to another position, such as Foreign Minister, to replace the ailing Prince Saud Al-Faysal. However, placing Muqrin in a new position now would not be a good idea since so many foreign policy headaches and security challenges are in play. It is also important to watch for regional governors, such as Prince Khaled bin Faysal Al-Saud moving to a national-level office. One other individual that comes to mind is governor of the Eastern Province, Muhammed bin Fahd Al-Saud. Overall, the Saudis, under King Abdullah, have set up a system of promotion to ruler that is founded in law and is key to preserving the state through the Allegiance Council. In the near future, I think Saudi watchers should be focusing on key speeches of the Saudi elite as well as changes in governorships and related promotions.

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About Dr. Karasik

Dr. Theodore Karasik is currently the Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE and Beirut, Lebanon.

Dr. Karasik is also an Adjunct Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government where he teaches graduate level international relations. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002-2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. He has worked on Central Asian, Russian, Caucasian and Arabian Peninsula issues for over 20 years regarding nuclear proliferation, security and terrorism questions including transnational terrorist groups, clan structures and politics, and criminal organizations. He writes numerous risk assessments across his geographical focus. Since 9/11, Dr. Karasik has also concentrated on terrorist targeting and tactics regarding critical infrastructure in the United States, Europe, and the GCC states. Finally, he is a dedicated “Saudiologist” who tracks and analyzes all issues related to internal and external Saudi affairs since the early 1990s.

Dr. Karasik’s key RAND publications released to the public are “Saudi-Iranian Relations Since the Fall of Saddam: Rivalry, Cooperation, and Implications for U.S. Policy (2009 co-author); “Future U.S. Security Relationships with Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. Air Force Roles (2008 co-author); “Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks (2007 co-author), “Beyond al-Qaeda: The Global Jihadist Movement” (2006 co-author), “Beyond al-Qaeda: The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe,” (2006 co-author), “War and Escalation in South Asia,” (2006, co-author), “Economic Dimensions of Security in Central Asia,” (2006; co-author), “The Muslim World After 9/11” (2004; co-author) and “Toxic Warfare” (2002). His other publications include “Islamic Finance in a Global Context: Opportunities and Challenges,” Chicago Journal of International Law, vol. 7, no. 2, Winter 2007 (co-authored) and “Chechnya: A Glimpse of Future Conflict?,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, July-September 1999 (co-authored).

Dr. Karasik is a military analyst on al-Jazeera International and is frequently interviewed by The National, Reuters, Trends News Agency, and AFP. He has a background in basic geology and petroleum geology directly related to his previous work on the Caspian and Arabian Gulf regions. Dr. Karasik served as a Subject Matter Expert on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia for the U.S. Library of Congress. He also served as a Committee Member on IREX’s Contemporary Issues Fellowship Program for Azerbaijani applicants. Dr. Karasik worked for 18 months with internists in Santa Monica, CA to develop a software package to track human systems and pharmaceutical use. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California, Los Angeles in four fields: Russia, Middle East, Caucasus and an outside field in cultural anthropology focusing on tribes and clans from Central Asia to East Africa. He wrote his dissertation on military and humanitarian operations in the northern port city of Arkhangel’sk and their impact on political institutions during the Russian civil war.

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About Inegma

INEGMA is best described as a commercial hybrid organization that complements the attributes of a research house with that of a corporate management consultancy, operating exclusively within the defense and security domains.

At the core of INEGMA’s activities is the research aspect – it is this intellectual capital that is the foundation for its Strategy and Risk Management Consultancy and also the basis for its wider activities. We possess a strong research network that brings former government and military officials together with high-caliber security expertise from around the world. As a result INEGMA has been delivering high-class open source intelligence on key developments impacting the wider Middle East region since 2001. These insights have come in the form of risk reports and editorials, television and newspaper interviews, and information exchange forums such as specialized conferences and seminars.

INEGMA’s relations with the public and private spheres of defense and security are simultaneously expanding and strengthening. This is a result of both constant interactions and partnering activities and because many of its staff have previously spent many years either in government or in the defense industry. These special relationships continue to provide INEGMA with an extraordinary window into strategic trend-lines of regional governments and militaries. They also give us the ability to follow market trends closely with defense and security vendors operating in the region.

Building on its strong public-private sector network and intellectual capital, today INEGMA is recognized as a leading organizer of high-level defense and security events across the breadth of the Middle East, and an increasingly active management consultancy advising government and private sector clients in the areas of Strategy and Risk Management, and PR and Marketing. INEGMA is a non-partisan organization. It receives no financial assistance from any government or political party, worldwide.

Source: INEGMA

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Also with Dr. Karasik on SUSRIS: