Transition in the Kingdom: A Conversation with F. Gregory Gause

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 start with Professor F. Gregory Gause.

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Transition in the Kingdom: A Conversation with F. Gregory Gause

Professor F. Gregory Gause, III
Professor F. Gregory Gause, III

[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. F. Gregory Gause] This does not appear to be a particularly difficult transition, from the perspective of an outsider like me. Prince Salman was given the Defense Ministry, after his long career as governor of Riyadh, to some extent to give him cabinet and security responsibilities as a precursor to his move into the line of succession. It seems to me that the more open question is who becomes Minister of the Interior, one of the most important ministries, to succeed Prince Nayif.

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

[Gause] This is the biggest question right now. The Interior Minister is the chief policeman of the country, with all the power and resources that position implies. Interior has been at the forefront of the successful struggle against Al-Qaeda in the country, that was the dominant issue in Saudi Arabia from 2003 probably through 2007, and remains the major agency through which the regime deals with the Al-Qaeda threat, both as a security issue and in terms of rehabilitation of former AQ activists.

The ministry is also central to the Saudi reaction to the Arab Spring domestically, carrying out efforts to prevent and control demonstrations and popular mobilizations. It is thus central to the ruling strategy of the regime. It will be very interesting to see who is appointed to take it over. Will it be Prince Nayif’s son, Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, who has very successfully managed the counter-terrorism strategy, or perhaps a member of the elder generation? I am waiting to see.

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

Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East by F. Gregory Gause, III
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[Gause] Prince Salman represents continuity. He is part of the original family coalition that backed King Faysal in his struggle for power against then-King Saud in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He has held the most important governorship in the kingdom, that of Riyadh, for decades before his recent move to the Defense Ministry. He is an integral part of the family’s ruling elite, not an outsider whom fate has thrust into a new position of responsibility.

[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?

[Gause] The process is completely within the upper reaches of the ruling family, and thus opaque to outsiders. It will be very interesting to see if the Allegiance Council is convened in the process of naming a new crown prince, and at what point in the process it is convened. But this is in terms of establishing precedents for future contingencies. There does not appear to me to be a candidate for the position now other than Prince Salman. This is very similar to the last two leadership transitions you mentioned — settled at the elite level within the family with very little evidence of any problems.

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About F. Gregory Gause III

F. Gregory Gause, III is professor of political science at the University of Vermont, and, since 2010, chair of the department, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. From 1997 to 2008 he was director of the University’s Middle East Studies Program. He was previously on the faculty of Columbia University (1987-1995) and was Fellow for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York (1993-1994). During the 2009-10 academic year he was Kuwait Foundation Visiting Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. In spring 2009 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the American University in Kuwait. In spring 2010 he was a research fellow at the King Faisal Center for Islamic Studies and Research in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

His research interests focus on the international politics of the Middle East, with a particular interest in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. He has published three books — “The International Relations of the Persian Gulf” (Cambridge University Press, 2010); “Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States” (Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994); and “Saudi-Yemeni Relations: Domestic Structures and Foreign Influence” (Columbia University Press, 1990).

His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Middle East Journal, Security Studies, Washington Quarterly, National Interest, Review of International Studies and in other journals and edited volumes. He has testified on Gulf issues before the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio commenting on Middle East issues.

Before completing his Ph. D., he held research positions at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California and at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University in 1987 and his B.A. (summa cum laude) from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 1980. He studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo (1982-83) and Middlebury College (1984).

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