x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

King Abdullah's son to lead new Saudi ministry

The elevation of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which came in a royal decree, bolsters his credentials within the ruling family.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah named his son to head a new national guard ministry yesterday, strengthening the force's role in the kingdom.

The elevation of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which came in a royal decree, has few strategic or military implications but bolsters his credentials within the ruling family.

"With this ministry, Miteb will have a stronger role to play. It gives the national guard more authority, better structure and a larger institutional budget," said Abdulaziz Al Sager, the director of the Gulf Research Centre in Jeddah.

The new ministry will be formed from the existing presidency of the Saudi Arabian national guard, based in Riyadh. Beside its military duties, the guard runs large social welfare and health programmes for families of guardsmen.

Saudi Arabia has appointed leading younger members of the ruling family to senior posts over the past 18 months, including the interior ministry and governorships of Riyadh and Eastern Province, two of the most important districts.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud turns 90 this year, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will be 77. The next generation of Saudi leaders, including Prince Miteb, are mostly in their 50s and 60s.

In a country where top posts are often held for decades, the moves represent a changing of the guard for the inner circles of a family where major decisions are based on a consensus of views among senior princes.

Prince Miteb's promotion also augments the special status of the national guard, commanded by King Abdullah from 1962 to 2010, as separate from the kingdom's conventional armed forces, run by the defence minister, Crown Prince Salman.

Originally based on the tribal fighters who helped King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud create the modern Saudi state in the early 20th century, the national guard later helped guard against possible coups by the regular army.

Although such coups are no longer seen as a risk, the force has retained an important role in the Saudi military and as a link to the country's main tribes.

According to a 2011 IHS Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessments estimate, the national guard has 100,000 personnel, compared with 75,000 for the regular army, 34,000 for the air force and 15,500 for the navy.