Saudi Succession Struggles: Who’s on Top and Why

by | May 1, 2015

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Defense Minister

What we are seeing in Saudi Arabia is the seizure of power by one section of the Sudeiri faction in the Saudi Royal family. The late King Abdullah was not a Sudeiri and relations between him and the Sudeiris were always a bit tense. King Salman, who is reputed to be a bit gaga (kharaf) is seeking to ensure the succession for his part of The Family. He, like all the Sudeiris, are much influenced and obliged to the Wahhabi, Hanbali ulema. Abdullah, with his half rwalla bedawi descent was less so. The new crew seem to be listening to the ulema desire for Sunni triumphalism in the Levant.

To that end they, along with their pals in the Gulf Cooperation Council, (notably Qatar) and Erdogan (the semi-crypto Turko-Islamist), have convinced themselves that Assad’s government has lost the war and will soon fall. They have conjured this image from Syrian government reverses in the north and a profound hope. There is also a supposedly effective combat alliance (including al-Nusra) that is thought to be Assad’s bane. We will see if they are correct. In any event the professional bits of the US government are fearful that if the present Syrian government goes down, chaos will ensue that will end in an Islamist government. I agree.

In the Yemen/Saudi Arabia crisis it is my view that the Saudis have bitten off far more than they can chew. We must remember that Saudi Arabia is a medieval relic, politically speaking. The country has no secular constitution. It has no democracy, no freedom of the press. Nor does it have freedom of religion. There is little tourism in Saudi Arabia other than groups herded around by companies reminiscent of Intourist in the old USSR. There are really no citizens, only subjects. Foreigners let in are those useful to the autocratic oligarchy. The armed forces are status symbols and convenient occasions for private diversion of what passes for public money. The younger generations in The Family have been much exposed to Western military schooling and imagine that they understood what they more or less listened to in lecture halls. They did not understand. In reaction to their hereditary fear of Yemen and Iran these sprigs of the “royal” tree have picked a fight with all the nasty little Yemenis and will have a hell of a time escaping the disgrace of eventual apparent failure.

Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of US Military Intelligence and US Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He was trained as a specialist in the Middle East by the US Army and served in that region for many years.

Reprinted with permission from Sic Semper Tyrannis website.


  • Col. W. Patrick Lang

    Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He served in the Department of Defense both as a serving officer and then as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service for many years. He is a highly decorated veteran of several of America’s overseas conflicts including the war in Vietnam. He was trained and educated as a specialist in the Middle East by the U.S. Army and served in that region for many years.

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