Have the Saudis created a coup-proof society?

by on November 5, 2017 at 6:54 am in Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

You might wish to read James T. Quinlavin from 1999 (pdf), who also covers Syria and Iraq, here is one bit:

While observers have pointed to the apparent fragility of this balance for decades, the longevity of the balancing act is both a tribute to the Saudi rulers and evidence that their tools are more effective than generally recognized.

Ibn Saud’s personal conquest of Arabia, supported by a community of trust of about sixty men willing to fight against the odds, began with the recapture of the family seat in Riyadh. From there Ibn Saud went on to conquer the Nejd, the traditional heartland of Arabia, relying on both war and marriage to personalize his alliances and conquests. Marriage, even to bereaved relatives of defeated opponents, provided Ibn Saud an effective means of monitoring his enemies. The tribes of the Nejd made up the human core of Saudi Arabia, while Ibn Saud’s numerous progeny comprised the dynasty’s human core. Today the al-Sauds rule from a base within a family group that is not monolithic. Bonds of personal loyalty rather than of an “abstract notion of citizenship” extend from the family to the tribal groups. Only nontribal Saudis define their relation to the Saudi rulers in the latter terms.

Here is another:

To varying degrees, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria have come to concentrate key capabilities of offense and defense in parallel military forces. The total military power of the state is reduced, however, when these forces are not made available when needed.

Ahmed Al Omran on Twitter, a former WSJ correspondent, is monitoring current developments.  If you are wondering, Saudi stocks have rebounded.

1 Walter D.H. Harrison November 5, 2017 at 7:23 am

Not to take a deep dive headlong into the lowest common denominator..BUT..I’d be interested in the views of the goats (in particular) and the camels of the Kingdom.

2 rayward November 5, 2017 at 7:35 am

Does jailing prominent family members promote the family’s hold on power? https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-waleed-bin-talal.html

3 Bill November 5, 2017 at 7:36 am

No, they haven’t made a coup proof society, as witnessed by recent actions to prevent it. The question you have to ask is: how stable is governance when it is dependent on links within a hierarchy where people get sick, have fights with each other, are corrupted or corruptible. Democracy is remarkably stable relative to oligarchy and family. It just means you have to have an educated population which works for a living and is not dependent on connections.

Which is more stable: Saudi Arabia or Iran? In one, stress occurs within a framework that is not flexible, and one occurs where there is more flexibility.

4 kaveh November 5, 2017 at 8:39 am

Bingo. Just as France and the UK have developed their systems in symbiotic conflict, so are IRR and SA. IRR’s system need to be more democratic or stable than the west’s, merely more than SA’s.

5 milo November 5, 2017 at 7:38 am

“… created a coup-proof society?”

yes, the Mid-East is well known for its political and societal stability over the centuries. Quinlavin is so insightful. And coup-proof monarchies/warlords/dictatorships are so commonplace in world history.

6 JWatts November 5, 2017 at 4:09 pm

It seems more likely that Middle Eastern countries have a 3-5% chance of experiencing a coup per year and that statistically some have gone a longer than others.

Flipping 8 coins 4 times each and having one of them show heads every single time, doesn’t mean you’ve discovered a two headed coin.

7 nigel November 5, 2017 at 8:04 am

“Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally….”

The billions they spend lobbying U.S. politicians with their enormous oil wealth probably contributes to regime stability as well. Something everyone should remember in conversations in which the words “meddling,” “collusion,” or “interference,” are used.

8 A Truth Seeker November 5, 2017 at 8:51 am

America is Sunni terrorists’ ally.

9 JWatts November 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

“The billions they spend lobbying U.S. politicians…”

Hey, giving 10’s of millions to the Clinton Charity foundation & the Bush Library is purely an act of good will.

10 rayward November 5, 2017 at 8:12 am

Spreading the oil-wealth around promotes dependence and helps avoid a coup, but serves as a disincentive to ambition. What happens when the oil-wealth runs out? The U.S. seems to be facing a different sort of crisis: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/books/review/ac-grayling-democracy-and-its-crisis.html

11 TMC November 5, 2017 at 9:01 am

I read that as the Democratic party. Makes more sense that way too. Dysfunction and corruption. An honest prosecutor for the uranium one scandal might take down the whole party. Think RICO.

12 Bill November 5, 2017 at 9:10 am

Yeah, that Uranium thing approved by nine other agencies and not Hillary.

Did you hear about that pizza thing?

13 Anonymous November 5, 2017 at 9:54 am

When I was a young nerd I really thought that having all the world’s knowledge and literature on-line would lead to a more informed society. Circa 1984, I expected people to read more than they wrote. To grow.

I really didn’t expect people to use the greatest information system the world has ever known to tell lies. And not just once, to be corrected and move on. But again, and again, without end.

14 hello November 5, 2017 at 10:57 am

I hear you. The truth about the human race hurts.

15 A Truth Seeker November 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

Such is life in America.

16 Thor November 5, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Good thing it doesn’t happen elsewhere…

And actually, the Puritan legacy in America probably ensures that Americans will be more outraged about lying than other places.

Look at the reaction by Dems to Trump’s philandering. “He’s a sexist monster, unfit for public office!”

But I recall the comments re: Bill Clinton: “We should be more tolerant of affairs, like the French.”

17 Anonymous November 5, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Important not to conflate consensual affairs between adults with assault, IMO.

Not that “consensual affairs guys” are necessarily free and clear on the other.

18 A Truth Seeker November 5, 2017 at 1:40 pm

I doubt a sophisticated electorate like Brazil’s would fall for the lies and hatred-mongering Americans fall for.
“And actually, the Puritan legacy in America probably ensures that Americans will be more outraged about lying than other places.”

Seriously? Clinton I was called the first post–truth president (got two terms), Bush II lied as if there were no tomorrow about Iraq and everything else (got two terms), Obama kinda obfuscated, to say the least, about that keeping the plan you like thing (two terms). If the trend holds, Trump will be president-for-life. I can not imagine a Brazilian president lying as much as Trump does and with impunity, too.

19 AL November 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm

This was exactly my assumption as well

20 Handle November 5, 2017 at 8:40 am

The Saudis didn’t create anything, but they get to benefit from the same advances in technological surveillance like all other states. You may notice there haven’t been a lot of successful coups lately, even in places that were once coup-prone and have the right conditions.

Counterintelligence capabilities have advanced to the point where it’s simply impossibly to evade detection for the time sufficient to do the minimal necessary coordination for a coup force strong enough to hold power if there’s a fight. And capturing the radio tower in the capital is no longer enough; there are too many redundancies to allow any leader to communicate with his loyalists and the nation at large. That “disrupts the disruption” of focal point transition, erasing the uncertainty that enables the potential establishment of a new consensus or shift of loyalties.

21 Anonymous November 5, 2017 at 9:03 am

I worry that GoT has had a wide-ranging impact on world affairs.

22 Roger Sweeny November 5, 2017 at 9:30 am

Perhaps demographics has changed things:

“In my recollection, the complete collapse of the Saudi royal family has been routinely predicted as happening any day now since, at least, the 1970s. So far it hasn’t happened, largely due, I’m guessing, to the royal family kicking the can of succession to the throne sideways down the road by routinely naming as king elderly surviving sons of the country’s founder Ibn Saud. That way, the major factions within the vast royal family get some power if they only wait long enough. …

“But death and senility has meant that the second generation is no longer fit to rule, so one lineage has emerged triumphant, with the 4th generation crown prince as the most dynamic figure. But the fact that the natural life expectancy of the 32-year-old crown prince would be about another 50 years has upped the stakes for everybody: almost nobody in power today can expect to outlive the youngster, so the old strategy of waiting patiently is outmoded.

“Saudi Arabia has a bad case of over-production of elites, with thousands of descendants of Ibn Saud due to polygamy. Saud married, if only briefly, something like 22 daughters of important Arab rivals, which did much conciliate his defeated rivals with his rule since they would wind up with grandsons in common with the arriviste king. This can work pretty well for awhile, but then becomes unwieldy.”

At least, that’s Steve Sailer’s take.

23 charlie November 5, 2017 at 11:08 am

So the Sauds have one one coup already, one assassination , and now this.

24 Matthew Young November 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

Who said evolution was dead?
Here we see it, formally applied by humans, as have they have done for a hundred thousand years.

25 Tom T. November 5, 2017 at 12:55 pm

“their tools are more effective than generally recognized.”

I dunno. I think the effectiveness of hundreds of billions of dollars in oil money is pretty widely acknowledged.

26 rayward November 5, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Does the House of Saud encourage (even fund) Sunni terrorism or merely tolerate it? Directing Saudi anger toward heretics is better than having that anger directed at the House of Saud. To survive, an authoritarian government must have a scapegoat. Here’s an irony: the term scapegoat comes from Leviticus, and means a person or animal which takes on the sins of others, or is unfairly blamed for problems. That pretty much describes Jews through the ages.

27 Barkley Rosser November 5, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Both Juan Cole and I have posted on our blogs on the multiple arrests yesterday, me first, but we are in complete agreement that this was a power concentrating move, not particularly an anti-corruption one, with anti-corruption being a way that both Putin and Xi Jinping have consolidated power over enemies: bust them for alleged corruption, of which they are probably guilty, but only along with most of the rest of the leadership not arrested.

So, of these arrests the crucial power consolidating on was of Prince Meti bin Abdullah, son of the former king, Abdullah, who was in power for a long time. Meti, followiing his dad in this, was the commander of the one military force independent of the Defense Ministry, which was already under Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s control. This independent military force is the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), whose HQ has long been on the private palace grounds of the late King Abdullah from way before he became king, with, I am sure, Meti now occupying that palace. SANG has long been known for its base among the rural tribes. Abdullah’s original signal of his power was back in 1979 when it was SANG under his command that finally ousted the Muslim Brotherhood rebels from controlling the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

SANG is serious business, and getting it under his personal control is a big deal for the crown prince to remove any remotely serious possible coup threats against his rule, and after 1979 there were periodic rumors that Abdullah might engage in a coup, which was part of why he was very deliberately put in line for becoming king, which he did and ruled for a long time.

28 carlospln November 5, 2017 at 2:53 pm

“Have the Saudis created a coup-proof society?” [SNIP}

According to Beveridge’s Law, NO:

‘The financial position of the Saudi state is in disarray. To the applause of the western claque Bin Salman announced the economic, social and religious liberation of Saudi Arabia. But little, if any, of the grand promises have been delivered.

Yesterday’s purge can be perceived as a panic-fueled move. All of Bin Salman’s endeavors have failed. The successful targeting of Riyadh’s airport only underscores this. He is under pressure but unable to deliver. The internal resistance to him is growing.

When Hitler initiated the Night of Long Knives against the socialist part of his party he was on an upward trend of his political power. The country was at peace, its international standing was growing, the economy surged and the majority of the people endorsed him. Bin Salman’s remake of that night comes while his initiatives fail. It is doubtful that the consolidation he seeks will be equally successful’. [SNIP]


29 Barkley Rosser November 5, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Well, oil prices have been creeping back upwards pretty steadily, with Brent now clearly well over $60 per barrel. If this continues for quite a bit more, the financial and economic situation in KSA could improve considerably. Of course the dream of getting off oil is just that, a dream very unlikely to be even remotely achieved.

30 carlospln November 5, 2017 at 6:11 pm

+ 1

31 BDub November 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm

I predict this headline will not age well. Probably less than a years shelf-life, if I had to guess.

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