Yet another sweeping overhaul of state institutions has been effected in Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This time the import is tremendous when viewed through the prism of the military and the societal
It thus comes about that the army’s Chief of Staff has been dismissed along with a host of top commanders. The timing is direly significant ~towards the end of the third year of the bloody conflict with Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015 in a conflict that has led to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
More than 9,200 people have been killed in the conflict and an estimated 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera amid deteriorating sanitation conditions, according to the World Health Organisation.
The desert kingdom’s intervention in Yemen was Prince Salman’s initiative ~ long before he was anointed as the heir apparent to the octogenarian King Salman. Thus did the prince jettison, three years ago, the country’s traditional caution.
In retrospect, the Saudi meddling in Yemen has come a cropper though it has enabled the ousted government to re-establish its foothold. The nub of the martter must be that both countries have suffered, and it is open to
question whether a change of guard in the military will turn the tide.
The Yemen factor is much too complex, and a dramatic change in policy must transcend a reshuffle of the military brass though the heads of the air defence and land forces have also been replaced.
For Saudi Arabia, the prolonged conflict has entailed a drain on the exchequer; for the storm-centre that is Yemen. it has been nothing short of a humanitarian disaster. From the perspective of the palace, Crown Prince Salman, who also happens to be the defence minister, has consolidated his grip further still.
Barely a few months ago, he had locked up princes, ministers, and billionaires, in Riyadh’s five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel in course of a drive against corruption. The kingdom bears witness to a conflict within the royalty, and there appears to be a division at the helm on the problems and policies of Saudi Arabia.
Another compulsion was the anxiety to accord prominence to the younger generation within the military, and thus bolster the system with fresh blood.
Not wholly unrelated has been the appointment of a woman, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah, as the deputy labour minister ~ an unprecedented ministerial portfolio for a woman in a theocratic and profoundly conservative kingdom.
The appointment can be contextualised with the simultaneous decision to invite applications from women to enlist in the military. This ranks as one among a welter of reforms to enhance the rights of women. Unmistakable is the churning in the desert sands.