The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as interior minister represents a significant move in the complex political chess game that is being played out in the Saudi royal family.
King Abdullah in a bold and highly unusual manoeuvre effectively sacked Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, a minister he had installed only a few months ago.
Anchor Aaron Schachter speaks with F. Gregory Gause III, Professor of Political Science, at the University of Vermont.
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Aaron Schachter: There’s been a shakeup in the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia’s interior minister has resigned. That may not seem that momentous, but this official was the 72-year-old brother of King Abdullah. His replacement is his younger nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. He’s 53, young by Saudi standards. Gregory Gause III is Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont and specializes in Saudi Arabian affairs. Professor Gause, who is Prince Mohammed and why is his appointment controversial?
Gregory Gause III: He is the son of the long-serving interior minister who was also Crown Prince, Prince Nayef, who died a number of months ago. And he has been a deputy minister for some time and in charge of dealing with the al Qaeda threat within Saudi Arabia, which was done in a pretty successful way. The controversial nature of this is that this kind of shunting aside of an older generation for a younger generation is an unusual thing in Saudi, and this does put Mohammed bin Nayef in one of the major ministries of the kingdom, and does put him, I don’t wanna say in line, but makes him a potential king down the road.
Schachter: Yeah, well explain that. Why is the position of interior minister significant? Is there a job there or is it just kind of uh king in waiting?
Gause: No, its a huge job. It is basically the chief of police for the country. The interior ministry runs the internal security in the country and so the interior minister has substantial security force under his control. He has a large budget. He has a major political role in the country. He’s chief censor in many ways. He is the guy who kind of polices the country.
Schachter: Okay, now you suggested that Prince Ahmed was pushed out. Why might that have been?
Gause: Well we don’t know because the opacity of the Saudi system is almost absolute, particularly when it comes to issues within the ruling family itself. But he’s only been interior minister for a couple of months and it doesn’t seem like there were health issues, at least there’s no public indication of that. This is a guy who had been the number two with his brother Prince Nayef for decades, and thus it’s just surprising.
Schachter: Now, how is Prince Mohammed bin Nayef perceived by ordinary Saudis? Is he more progressive, more liberal?
Gause: Hard to say how ordinary Saudis perceive him because it’s not a country where there’s a lot of freedom of speech where you can actively criticize members of the ruling family. My impression is that he has a reputation as being a pretty efficient guy. He was subject to a terrorist attack by an al Qaeda member some years ago, which he suffered a number of injuries. That I think increased his popularity among the Saudi public.
Schachter: Gregory Gause III is Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont. He specializes in Saudi Arabian affairs. Thank you for taking the time today to speak with us.
Gause: It was my pleasure.
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