The Showman Cometh
Apart from human rights groups and those favoring a rapprochement with Iran – representing considerable slices of public opinion back home – President Trump, who could be called America’s leading showman, seems to have made a success out of his visit to Saudi Arabia. He stayed on message and did not display the anti-Islamic venom he exuded during the recent presidential election campaign.
Trump even mastered – albeit sporadically -- the term “Islamist”, which is codeword for “extremist” and safeguards the purity of the word “Islam”. He also participated in a sword dance with his berobed hosts. It resembled line-dancing (or more properly line-shuffling) with the President holding a long stiletto to go along with the mournlng cadences.
The Riyadh visit was a boon for Saudi Arabia, as it was attended by some 50 leaders from the Sunni Arab world. Whether Mr. Trump’s attacks in Riyadh on Shiite Iran will call forth a hostile response from Tehran in the aftermath of an electoral victory of the moderates remains to be seen.
Lurking behind all the glitter and wealth lies the most fraught issue in Saudi Arabia today: who is going to be the next king? The age-challenged King Salman, 79, broke tradition by removing a fellow son of the Kingdom’s founder, King Abdal Aziz, from the line of succession and brought in two grandsons, as the Crown Prince and the Deputy Crown Prince. The former is Mohammed bin Nayif, 56, the childless son of the late Interior Minister, Prince Nayif. The Crown Prince sat smilingly by in the Trump meetings. The Deputy Crown Prince is King Salman’s favorite son, the highly dynamic Prince Mohamed bin Salman. More recently, King Salman has named Prince Mohammed’s younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, a Saudi Air Force pilot who has flown combat missions in Yemen, to be Ambassador to the United States. Whether King Salman’s appointments means that he is seeking to outflank Crown Prince Mohammed is the question of the day.,