QUESTION #1:What’s the background of the royal family in Saudi Arabia, and what’s changing in terms of leadership and direction?


JR McGee:

“…it’s incredibly complicated and there are a lot of dots to connect. The house of Saud has been going on for quite some time.

Just a little bit of history, Abdullah Bin Saud was the first king. I believe he was king of Saudi Arabia from 1932 to 1953. He had 11 sons. Each one of these sons was a crowned prince, and the sons have shared power throughout the ages.

Now, the king that replaced Bin Saud was Abdullah Bin … Abdulaziz. He was king until 2015. His son was crowned prince Mutaib bin Abdullah. He was the heir to the throne up until 2015. In 2015 Salman Bin Abdulaziz became the new king of Saudi Arabia, and frankly, he’s got health problems. One of the things that’s really going on in Saudi Arabia right now is twofold. There’s major issues. One, there’s a changing of the guard. All 11 of these princes, the ones that are still alive are in their late 80’s, early 90’s. They’re very old.

The current king, King Salman is in very poor health. And there is some evidence that he is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s. He realizes, he is not going to be able to manage this job for very long. What happened, Al-Waleed bin Talal was the crowned prince and the heir apparent up until very recently. Just a few months ago, King Salman put his own son, Mohammad Bin Salman, into position as the crowned prince heir apparent. He was the Minister of Defense. He is responsible for Saudi Arabia’s engagement in Yemen. He is responsible for the recent upgrade of military equipment in Saudi Arabia. He’s 32 years old.

He is by most standards a moderate, he is responsible for giving women the right to drive. He’s trying to shift the structure of Saudi Arabia. He’s alienated the vast majority of the House of Saud. He has alienated some of the traditional allies in the Islamic world with Saudi Arabia because he’s a young Turk. And he’s trying to reposition Saudi Arabia.

He’s got some massive issues in front of him. And that is just a very quick, thumbnail sketch of the players. And what’s transpired politically in all of this. A very complex situation is going on so.

Another major issue that’s driving changes in Saudi Arabia is technology. And US technology in specific, fracking. Fracking has turned the United States from a net importer of the oil, to a net exporter of oil. And it’s allowed us to generate oil at levels that is now driving the price of oil down throughout the world.

This has cratered Saudi Arabia’s economy, Russia’s economy, and Venezuela’s economy. And we’re seeing them engage in a lot of this because of the financial pressure directly related to the technology that the United States has engaged in with fracking. This has been a world changing technology that is really the root cause of a lot of what we see going on.

Now, Mohammad Bin Salman, he’s got a threefold issue in front of him. He’s got a political problem, he’s got a military problem, and he’s got a religious problem. Let me take those in order.

Politically, he is fighting a major battle with corruption. This battle with corruption is allowing him to do two things. Number one, it allows him to kind of retrieve some of the money that’s been squirreled away by a lot of these princes that because of the financial problems, because of the price of oil, they need money, they’re about 800 billion to a trillion dollars in the hole economically. People thought that Saudi Arabia was rich enough that they would be rich forever. It’s not the case.

But, that battle has also allowed Bin Salman to eliminate a lot of the threats to him politically. That’s what’s going on. Everybody who is a threat to him and his administration is being rounded up and put into the hotel in there.

Now the military aspect of this, Bin Salman was directly responsible for engaging with Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Most American’s have never even heard of all that. But, it’s been a very traumatic and dynamic battle the Houthis just launched a ballistic missile at Riyadh Airport, and it was intercepted by an American Pack three missile and destroyed very late in the engagement. It was destroyed too late in my opinion. It should have been engaged earlier.

But, Saudi Arabia is now engaged in an existential battle for survival against Iran, Yemen, and Hezbollah, and Hamas. Secondarily, Saudi Arabia is trying to figure out where they’re going to go because the alliance with the United States has been virtually destroyed by the previous administration. They believe that they can trust Trump, I don’t think that they believe that they can trust the US Government.

Right now, they see those two as significantly different. It’s ironic, the American Government doesn’t think that you can trust Trump. Our allies think Trump is the only one you can trust. But, Bin Salman is trying to figure out, how does he navigate these waters between China, Russia, and the United States? Because once he deals with the immediate threat, then he’s got to look at the strategic threat. The third issue that he’s dealing with is religious.

Bin Salman himself is Sunni. The majority of the House of Saud was Wahhabi. Wahhabi is a far more radical sect of Islam, far more aligned with jihad. And Bin Salman is trying to move Saudi Arabia away from that into a more moderate religious environment. And one that would prosper tourism. And he wants to move the economy away from oil, and into tourism, manufacturing, and technology.

He’s got some very ambitious goals. He’s got some tremendous challenges. And frankly, he’s got his hands full with all of this.”

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