She has written several books and articles in academic journals on the Arabian Peninsula, Arab migration, globalisation, gender and religious transnationalism. She is active on Twitter. Al-Rasheed was born in Paris, to a Saudi father and a Lebanese mother. Her father descends from the Rashidi dynasty.
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It has been edited in parts for clarity and length. If you can take us there and describe what was happening at the highest levels of the royal court? Before the death of King Abdullah, there was an attempt to formalize succession simply because the royal family knew that there is an aging royalty.
And there might be some conflict and rivalry between the young princes. So King Abdullah established the Committee of Allegiance in And he put in place several princes and also indicated in his royal decrees that his wish should be that those princes remain in that position.
So when he died, King Salman, naturally, the crown prince became king. And, then, there was the crown prince and the deputy crown prince. These are new posts, especially the deputy crown prince, that was invented during the time of King Abdullah because King Abdullah was the only monarch that survived and his crown princes died, two of them — Prince Nayef and Prince Sultan. So he invented this deputy—. Mohammed Bin Nayef. When Salman came to power, he immediately changed the succession.
He sacked two crown princes. The first one was Mohammed Bin Nayef and Muqrin, who were destined to succeed him. And he changed the succession from the horizontal line which the al Saud had followed for several decades that is moving the succession from brother to brother into a vertical line when he appointed his son, Mohammed Bin Salman. However, he did not choose his eldest son. He did not consult with the royal family. He completely ignored the Committee of Allegiance and as a result of a royal decree, sacking the crown prince and the deputy crown prince and promoting his own son.
And that happened three months after King Salman came to power. He gave his son so many positions in government until when he actually sacked Mohammed Bin Nayef and replaced him with his own son as the crown prince. But how significant was it as a break from the past? Of course, in an absolute monarchy, it is the prerogative of the king to appoint princes or commoners to high positions and also sack them. However, in the Saudi royal family, there had been the semblance of consensus and simply because a king was an equal person among his brothers.
King Salman had the advantage of the fact that all his brothers, almost all of them, the ones that count had died. And therefore, there were no brothers to fear. And therefore, he was able to appoint his own son and move the succession to his own line of descent thus ignoring the other branches of the Saudi royal family.
So he was able to do that with no opposition. So all the remaining princes especially among the powerful ones such as Mohammed Bin Nayef — who was extremely important in the fight against terrorism, who was responsible for the internal security in the country — he was dismissed. And he was put under house arrest according to some reports. So give us a sense of who King Salman is as a man. What do we know about him, his character, his behavior?
Fill in the blanks for us. King Salman was one of the most powerful princes in Saudi Arabia among the descendant of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullahziz.
He was the governor of Riyadh for almost half a century. This is an important post simply because Saudi Arabia moved to a greater urbanization where most of the population lived in cities. And Riyadh, the capital, is the city in Saudi Arabia with the highest number of people living there.
So he was extremely important as governor of Riyadh, the capital. And also he was known to be very, very strict in terms of disciplining princes, in terms of resolving conflict between princes. So everybody who had a problem with a rival prince or had a dispute, they will go to him.
And he used to mediate. And sometimes he would just impose his own decision. And this also applied to commoners. And therefore, he was like a governor. But he was also a judge. He had so much power in his seat as governor of Riyadh. But King Salman also had another side.
He was very, very dismissive of the religious groups. He never really had any sympathy with them. But he had to act in ways that gave the impression that he listens to them.
The religious clerics…would go to him. But he would give them the impression that he is sympathetic to their cause. But at the same time, he would distance himself from them. Sometimes he would patronize a sort of liberal constituency among intellectuals. He is known to be very interested in literature in the history of Saudi Arabia. He wants to promote his own homeland, especially the city of the area, as the center of Saudi Arabia.
Also, we know of him that he was very supportive of the jihad in Afghanistan. And he was donating money. He set up a fund to help in the s. And so King Salman has multiple faces. And it is very difficult to see that he is running the show. Although, the Saudi press and the media are very keen on promoting him as a new face. And this happened recently especially in the last two, three months. So he ruled, however, without the kind of scandal and controversy that his son has as crown prince?
So you describe him as strict. But he avoided the kind of overstepping of boundaries and offenses that his son has done. Is that fair? Mohammed Bin Salman has been— his rule has been rife with controversy whereas the father, although strict, has avoided that kind of controversy.
Because he has more respectability. The king has more respectability and authority than his son. First of all, his age, his long service in government. Whereas his son is a newcomer to the political game in Saudi Arabia. And as such, he has been erratic possibly because of lack of experience and possibly also because he knows that he has the full support of his father. So the only person who could discipline Mohammed Bin Salman is his father.
And why he chosen? Why was he chosen as crown prince? There is a theory that Mohammad bin Salman was the closest. And this happens. And if you look at Arab culture, you find that there is always an affinity between an aging father and his last son or the youngest one.
And this happens because the young son reminds the old, aging father of his virility. Whereas the eldest son might have political ambitions of his own. He might isolate his father and even depose him. And this happened among royalty in the Gulf.
We see that some Gulf rulers, very young and energetic, they had sidelined their father and even isolated them and deposed them. And this happened in Amman. This happened in Qatar.
And it happened in other places. You have been for many years. So when do you begin to notice Mohammed bin Salman? When do you become aware of him? And what were you learning? On several occasions when King Salman used to travel abroad, especially to his palace in southern Spain in Marbella, he used to have this young man. He was a boy at the time and always sitting by his side, always accompanying him.
So he was with him from a very, very young age. And I had the opportunity to know other sons of King Salman. There was one, Faisal, who was a student at Oxford University doing a Ph. And his Ph. And when King Salman became king, I expected that he might appoint his son, who is an Oxford graduate to become the foreign minister.
And he was sidelined, given the governorship of a city in Saudi Arabia although it is religiously important Medina. Also, he had other sons who had more international exposure — for example, the son who went to the moon on a mission very early on.
The FRONTLINE Interview: Madawi Al-Rasheed