Frederic Wehrey writes: A king has passed in Saudi Arabia. And yet, despite the breathless speculation over the seismic effects of succession, the kingdom’s foreign policies are likely to remain unchanged. What is often overlooked is that Saudi foreign policy has been remarkably consistent since the reign of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. The Al Saud family is a tightly knit, conservative coterie that shares a similar vision of the world and Saudi Arabia’s place in it.
There are several indications to suggest that the Saudi succession is unlikely to lead to major changes in policies over the short term. King Abdullah had been largely incapacitated before his death, functioning for, at most, a couple hours a day. The new king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, and Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz had represented King Abdullah at various functions in the past few years. The new head of the royal court is also the new defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman. At only thirty-four years old, he’s a young son of King Salman, but he has been head of Salman’s court as crown prince. As Salman’s health has deteriorated (he’s reportedly suffering dementia), Mohammed bin Salman has grown very powerful and influential over his father, which has made many Saudi royals very concerned about his power.
On particular issues, Saudi Arabia is unlikely to significantly change its policies with the death of King Abdullah. The general contours of U.S.-Saudi relations, particularly against the Islamic State, seem to be under the control of the new deputy crown prince, the Minister of Interior Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The centerpiece of U.S.-Saudi relations has always been at the interior ministry–intelligence level. The elevation of Mohammed bin Nayef’s position to handle the Syria portfolio last year only cemented this bond. [Continue reading…]