Analyzing and forecasting the Gulf Cooperation Council's geopolitical environment

Mohammed bin Salman: The Saudi Scapegoat?

By Akhil Shah
August 26, 2015

Modern history has demonstrated that Middle Eastern rulers face high political risks in the aftermath of humiliating military defeats. This is particularly true when victory is expected. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military campaign in Yemen has fallen short of what Riyadh had in mind on March 26, when it launched “Operation Decisive Storm” (later named “Operation Restoring Hope”). That four months into the Saudi-led campaign there is still no end in sight is problematic for the kingdom’s image. Moreover, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud risks losing power as a result of a costly quagmire in Yemen, which would alter Saudi Arabia’s current line of succession.

For the Saudi leadership—and to various extents its fellow Arab statesmen in eight other capitals—the war in Yemen presented an opportunity to stamp their authority both regionally (against Iranian influence) and domestically (against democratic opposition movements). For Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the conflict was critical. As a young and inexperienced member of the ruling Al Saud family, he has most likely led efforts in Yemen to publically establish his leadership credentials. Yet, the less than fruitful results and deadly blowback have left him open to much criticism—internally and externally—and have provided more senior princes with a legitimate reason to remove him from the line of succession following the death of his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

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Akhil Shah is a counterterrorism and foreign policy analyst at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Gulf Affairs.