Saudi Shifts Governor of Eastern Province

The Saudi royal family has long been noted for its practical resilience and the recent replacement of the long-standing governor of the East Province, Prince Muhammad Bin Fahd, is a case in point. The change in governors came in the aftermath of a renewed wave of protests set in motion by the shooting of an 18-year old protester on December 27, 2012 in Qatif.

Prince Muhammad Bin Fahd had maintained a dialogue with notable Shi’a clerics, leaders and youth activists but some citizens of the region remain dissatisfied with the pattern of security where they claim certain individuals have been sporadically been jailed without due process, historically for alleged involvement in the bombings at Khobar Tower or more recently for acts against the state.

Significantly, Prince Muhammad will be replaced by Prince Saud Bin Nayef, brother of the current Interior Minister and former head of the court of the Crown Prince. Prince Faisal Bin Salman was also appointed a governor of Medina.

The changes in governorship are important for two reasons. They expand the new rise of the second generation of political leaders in the kingdom. Toby Matthiesen of University of Cambridge notes the significance of the reshuffling in a recent blog at Foreignpolicy.com, arguing that the changes indicate that the competition among the new generation of Saudi leaders has begun “in earnest.” But in fact, it may alternatively show that even the most ambitious members of the Saudi second generation of leaders keenly understand the principle of power sharing in a manner that allows for continued stability.

The Saudi royal family has a pivotal challenge ahead from changes across the Middle East and North Africa: Minorities physically sitting on top of oil resources are clamoring to claim their fair share. In the case of Sudan, such divisions have led to the break apart of the country into two nations. In Libya, the solution was different. The country remains unified under new leadership and the future looks brighter.  Presumably revenue sharing between Tripoli and Eastern Libya will be more equitable over time under the new more pluralistic government than during the rule of strongman Muammar Qadafi. In Iraq, the jury is still out but the regional grab for control of resource development is becoming increasingly divisive.

As the aftermath of the Arab Spring unfolds, the struggle for control of the wealth from oil and gas may turn out to be like hidden corpses uncovered when drought dries a river bed. Sectarian sentiments about sharing of the spoils of oil will be a bigger challenge of the Middle East of the future. For global oil markets, the shake-out for how oil regions come to share power within the state (or not) will be a defining feature of pricing and supply.