Jan 25, 2016, 1:30 PM
News Code: 81934762
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NBC: King's ailment, princes rivalry can make a mess in S. Arabia

Tehran, Jan 25, IRNA- NBC News announced that the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud suffers from dementia and the rivalry between two princes may explain Saudi Arabia's sudden eagerness to pick fights at home and abroad.

'To understand the Saudi royal family, you don't go to the Kennedy School of Government,' says Bruce Riedel, the CIA's former national intelligence officer for the Middle East. 'You read Shakespeare!'

The struggle between Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Prince Mohammad bin Salman has all the elements of Elizabethan drama, including strange alliances, ambitious courtiers - and an ailing, ancient king who may be mentally incompetent.

Diplomatic sources and U.S. officials believe 80-year-old King Salman, with whom Secretary of State John Kerry met in Riyadh last weekend, shows signs of dementia. One official said that during a recent meeting, the king was only able to follow the conversation by pausing while an aide in another room typed a response that the king then read from an iPad.

Some in the U.S. government believe that when King Salman declined to come to Camp David last spring to meet with President Obama, he was not just snubbing the president but trying to avoid embarrassment in front of world media.

The princes who would take his place may be first cousins, but they're polar opposites.
'MBN,' as Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef is known, is 55 and a trusted U.S. ally.
The interior minister and crown prince rose to power on his slow, steady success as head of the Saudi counterterrorism program, where he became a favorite of the CIA.

'MBS,' Mohammad bin Salman, is King Salman's son. Just 29, he's the defense minister and a savvy publicity hound who shot to prominence in 2015 as the architect of Saudi Arabia's war against Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Bin Salman's trips to Russia, France and the U.S. were heavily covered in Saudi papers and burnished his image with the huge chunk of the kingdom's population that is under 30. 'They can see themselves in him,' said Riedel. 'The system didn't normally operate that way.'

U.S. officials say the younger generations of the Saudi public seem energized by bold action, and the princes are competing for public favor by seeing who can take the most aggressive stance towards the nation's internal and external enemies. But their bold actions have brought risk and ruin.

The byproducts of their power struggle now include mounting tension with Iran, an increasingly costly military quagmire in Yemen, and protests by Shiites around the world.

Last month's beheading of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shi'ite cleric, which U.S. officials strongly believe was pushed by Prince bin Nayef, has led to a break in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and a wave of condemnation in the West.

Last year's decision to keep pumping oil in the face of declining prices, which both princes backed, has shrunk Saudi Arabia's economic power and led to lower revenues and vast cuts in social services.

The rivalry is the result of an odd arrangement the royal family made after King Abdullah died in January 2015. The family's Allegiance Council anointed Salman king and bin Nayef crown prince.

There were multiple rationales for appointing bin Nayef, aside from his counterterrorism work. He is the son of the late Prince Nayef, who would have been in line for the throne if he hadn't died before Abdullah.

Which of the two princes will win in the end? Salman has a very high opinion of his son. 'The king thinks the sun shines out of the boy's backside,' said Simon Henderson, director of the Washington Institute's Gulf and Energy Policy Program.

But bin Nayef is a survivor, literally. He's survived assassination attempts, at least three and possibly four, the most serious in August 2009 when the brother of al Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri blew himself up while shaking hands with him. Bin Nayef suffered minor burns.