By Crispin Hawes
The death of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Nayef bin Abd al-Aziz, though unsurprising, highlights the risk of policy stagnation, an issue of some significance for the Kingdom given its domestic challenges.
As expected Nayef's full brother and appointed successor, Minister of Defense and Aviation Salman bin Abd al-Aziz, has been anointed as Crown Prince. But the current generation of princes-the sons of the kingdom's founder, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud-is facing the end of its period in power, which has lasted since their father's death in 1952. There are a few potential candidates to succeed Salman, but the most obvious choices are the Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed (a full brother of Salman and Nayef), Muqrin, a longtime ally of King Abdullah and the General Director of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, and Sattam, Governor of Riyadh.
In broader policy terms, the government will delay any potentially controversial legislation or regulatory reforms. Moreover, there are unlikely to be any significant external or internal policy changes in the coming months. The Saudi regime will want to consolidate power and send a strong message (to both supporters and enemies) that stability will be maintained.
The longer-term danger is that more frequent changes to the succession driven by the age of the current princes will make policy stagnation more likely, creating significant political and economic risk. The Saudi Arabian economy faces considerable challenges and social discontent over economic issues, such as growing unemployment. The current response relies on spending to drive growth and legislative changes aimed at forcing employers to hire more Saudi nationals. These policies are unlikely to address the Saudi economy's significant issues. And as age claims more of the princes in coming years, the likelihood of successive policy freezes makes the adoption of more effective policies even less likely. That outcome would likely open the door to growing social tension and stresses in Saudi Arabia, a regional lynchpin and a vital source of energy for the global economy.
Crispin Hawes is the director of Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
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