By Glenn M. Stewart
The death this week of Mu’ammar al Ghaddafi and Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz Al Sa’ud has once again changed the face of Middle East politics and affected US interests in the region.
The capture and apparent ‘rapid execution’ of Ghaddafi and his son Mutassim have made the post-Ghaddafi era a little easier for the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya. It is, of course, a more fortuitous situation for them than any protracted trial either in Libya or at The Hague would have been. A trial would have merely given Ghaddafi another platform on which to spout off his rhetoric.
Given the number of weapons that are now in the hands of various ill-disciplined and untrained militia groups scattered around the country, the TNC is going to have enough problems creating a stable government in Libya. But maintaining law and order would be its first priority.
At present, it’s too soon to make any firm predictions but mine is that a new tribal coalition, based out of Benghazi, in alliance with tribal groups based out of Tripoli will constitute the next stage in the emergence of a government in Libya. I do not believe that the Islamist groups led by Abdel Hakim Belhaj have a sufficient power base to be a real threat to the TNC and I do not see them as an emerging power in Libya.
The tribal basis of Libyan society will ensure that turbulence and lack of consensus will prevail until eventually a new strong man will appear who commands a sufficiently large following to control a centralized state. Failing that, I can see a splitting of the country along east-west lines. You can rule out any meaningful democracy based on western principles. President Obama’s fatuous comments made from the Rose Garden that “the Libyan people are now free to determine their future” were based on cultural and political assumptions that do not exist in that country or the region.
The celebration within the Sa’udi Royal Family, who were, no doubt, delighted to learn the news of Colonel Ghaddafi’s fate, was cut short yesterday by the tragic death of Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz Al Sa’ud, the Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister of Sa’udi Arabia. The Sa’udis famously hated Ghaddafi because he had the temerity to openly quarrel with the then Crown Prince Abdullah at an Arab League summit meeting in 2003. Since then, rumors have been rife that Ghaddafi ordered the assassination of Abdullah and initiated a plot to have this carried out.
In any case, it is the death of Prince Sultan not Ghaddafi that will have the largest potential impact on US interests in the region. This elevates Prince Naif to next in line to the throne. His ascendency to the throne is most likely to be sooner rather than later, as King Abdullah is reported to be suffering from ill-health. Prince Naif is not a great friend to America. Followers of politics in the region may recall that he famously denied that the 9/11 highjackings and the terrorist acts could have been carried out by Saudi youths or by bin Laden alone and stated that “the Zionists are behind these plots”.
The Saudi Electoral Council of 35 Princes, that I have commented on before, is widely expected to ratify Naif’s appointment as Crown Prince. Now there’s democracy in action for you!
Finally, it should be noted that the architect of the glorious victory in the first Gulf War, General Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdelaziz Al Sa’ud, is unlikely ever to become King. After the war was over, he threw a victory party in Riyadh and as the centerpiece of his dinner service he had a life sized cake of himself made out of marzipan. I understand that a number of the senior Sa’udi princes took one look at it and decided that Khaled had gotten too big for his britches.
That will be the second time in history that cake was the undoing of a member of a Royal Family.
Glenn M. Stewart is a renowned expert on Middle Eastern affairs and business. a graduate of Oxford University, Glenn M.Stewart holds an advanced degree in Islamic History and Arabic and lived in the Middle East for 27 years. A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Stewart has a unique insight into this critical and important area of the world.
If you would like to see my other writing, please visit www.glennmstewart.com