Put yourself in Mohamed Bin Salman’s shoes. You want to be king. You survived the nerve-racking succession struggle instigated by Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah of the National Guard in the last days of his father King Abdullah as he sought to oust your father and install himself as Crown Prince. You saw the way he easily removed the veteran Prince Khaled al-Faisel as governor of Makkah and installed his incompetent brother Mishail. You saw how Miteb’s chief adviser Khalid al-Twijri burnt Bandar Bin Sultan’s credentials and forced Mohamed Bin Nayef, the then interior minister, into retreat.
But you survived. King Abdullah died before Miteb could complete his coup. However, the Americans intervened as they always do and forced your father to appoint ‘their man’, Mohamed Bin Nayef, as Crown Prince.
So, who stands in your way? First of all, your uncle Mugrin was only designated as Deputy Crown Prince as a means by which Miteb sought to cement his grip before King Abdullah died. Moreover, given that the Crown Prince is now from a new generation, there is now a precedent for your generation to assume the higher positions. Mugrin is weak-willed; one of the key reasons Miteb put him there in the first place. So, remove him and take over the position. Everyone knows the position means little so you will not necessarily incur the wrath of Mohamed Bin Nayef, or even the other princes. It is not in your cousin’s nature to fuel family feuds so he will allow this slight, particularly given that he remains confident the US will support him and that he will be able to remove you as Crown Prince later, which would be his prerogative as king. Moreover, who else is suited? Khaled Bin Talal who spends day and night on twitter? The billionaire Waleed bin Talal who has been a family renegade for years? Miteb Bin Abdullah of the National Guard who trampled on the family in his pursuit of power? Your frail uncles?
*Bin Salman becomes Deputy Crown Prince*
Now you need to convince the domestic population that you can be a brave and powerful leader; reminiscent of your grandfather, the great Abdul-Aziz Al Saud who marched on Riyadh with 40 men and established the kingdom. For too long we have sat back and allowed our neighbours to grow in arrogance. Let us demonstrate our power in Yemen. You are no Khaled Bin Sultan who fell from grace after being defeated by the Houthis in 2009 and it should be a swift operation. The PR must be on point. You must also announce a revolutionary domestic vision in case the war goes bad. The details can be ironed out later but we can recruit McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group to give the impression that we are truly serious about progress. There is nothing wrong with revising the plan later if details go against us. As long as we include Washington in the discussions and cede ground to them when necessary, we will be fine.
*Operation Decisive Storm is announced. Vision 2030 is announced*
Now that the domestic scene is sorted, we must deal with the more difficult challenges; how to unseat your cousin Mohamed Bin Nayef. Without causing a rift between him and Washington, or convincing the US that you are a more capable alternative, you cannot possibly become King. But how? The CIA, in an unprecedented move, has already awarded your cousin a prize in a clear warning that you should back off. Surely there must be some means. Make a series of trips to Washington and sound out the officials there.
*After a number of failed trips…*
What’s this? The Emiratis are happy to lobby Washington on your behalf? Excellent. You can prepare your pitch with them. Reforms? Offer them everything. Your father may have been an ally of the conservative scholars but not you. Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Treefe? Imprisoned. Sheikh Suleiman al-Dawish? Imprisoned. Sheikh Mohamed al-Arife? Disciplined. Everyone else is beginning to fall in line. Women can drive and go cinema. You will pump money into MBC to make it the leading channel laden with all Hollywood movies and ‘liberal progression’. Demonstrate that you are not a traditionalist like your cousin Bin Nayef who cannot possibly grasp what ‘progress’ is at his old age.
*Trump comes to power*
It appears Washington is not convinced. However Trump appears to be at odds with his institutions. Invite him to Riyadh and bestow upon him a lavish spectacle, such as has never been given to a head of state in modern times. He likes a good show and will be impressed by such a display of wealth. Test his views on those troublesome Qataris who ignited the flames of revolution across the Arab world in order to control it through the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be more favourable to us than that wretched Iran-loving Obama.
*Trump returns to Washington from Riyadh*
*Mohamed Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi requests a meeting with Mohamed Bin Salman*
Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed is right my prince. You will never have a better opportunity to remove Mohamed Bin Nayef. It is an opportunity sent by Allah himself. With the Pentagon and White House in such disarray, they will not be able to mobilise quick enough to protect Bin Nayef. Mattis and Tillerson are helpless as Trump continues to ignore them and lambasts Qatar day and night on Twitter. Move quickly and force your cousin to step aside. What do you mean how? Surround his house. Offer him money. Whatever you have to do. Make him step down. As long as you can keep it as clean as possible, the US’s hand will not be forced. The family is also in disarray with everyone looking out only for himself. No one will come to your cousin’s aid. In fact, some will even be happy to see him taken out. Move now.
*Mohamed Bin Nayef steps down as Crown Prince*
The US are not happy with the sudden move but they are now open to considering the possibility of working with us. Continue to make concessions. Open up more of the market to them, offer them favourable contract terms, and keep using the words ‘moderate’ and ‘progress’. The religious scholars are acting up. It is now time to go for bigger fish. Sheikh Awadh al Qarni? Imprison him. Sheikh Salman al-Ouda…? My Prince, are you sure? He lost his wife and children in a car crash not long ago. The public sympathy for him is still widespread. This may affect your…Yes, your highness. We will imprison him.
*After sweeping imprisonments…*
There is no doubt that you are the most powerful man now. However it is not the right time to ask your father to abdicate. There are still some powerful contenders who, if they can rally the family, may pose a genuine threat at some point. Even if they cannot overthrow you, they may thwart any impending attempt to become king.
First and foremost, Miteb Bin Abdullah is still leading the National Guard that his father used to force King Fahad to make him Crown Prince. Miteb has failed over the last couple of years to restore the ties he broke in his pursuit to become king. Although isolated, no prince should have access to the armed forces. He is the first one you should consider removing.
Next is Waleed Bin Talal. He has already sought to sound out his prospects at vying for power and with his large investments is capable of lobbying Washington. With Trump in the White House, his ambitions have suffered a severe setback given he put all his eggs in the Clinton basket. We do not know how long Trump will last in power so better to cut his wings as early as we possibly can.
However, we cannot do this alone. We need a headline that can help temper the impact of this cleansing of the political arena.
First, we can follow the ‘progress’ line by claiming to be fighting corruption. We know how the system operates and it will not be difficult to pin something on these individuals. Moreover, we can seize some of their accounts for more government funds. Doing so will open up some of the monopolies allowing greater manoeuvre for the implementation of economic reforms with which we can ‘buy’ international support for our regime.
Secondly, we must demonstrate the need for such decisive leadership with some sort of imminent threat; preferably from an Iran proxy.
Thirdly, we must make some decisive foreign policy decisions to back up the image of strong leadership. Hariri in Lebanon has failed us despite the amount of money and support invested in him. Similarly in Yemen, Hadi has failed miserably and cannot be trusted to continue giving orders. Let us withdraw support from the former, exposing Hezbollah’s machinations, and restrict the movement of the latter, demonstrating a willingness to his opponents in the Southern Separatist movement that we are willing to offer concessions in negotiations in exchange for fighting Houthi.
Fourthly, we should continue to tease the press over the ARAMCO IPO. It remains one of our most vital tools in leveraging influence in Washington and other Western capitals. Trump himself is very keen in offering support in exchange for listing in the US.
But we must act quick. Once this is done, nothing will stand in your way to become King and you will then be able to approach your father about abdicating in your favour.
But if you fail my Prince, remember that this is not the West where you can just go home or go surfing near Richard Branson’s islands after your term ends as Obama did. There is no going back now. It is do or die. Literally.