Who is Muqrin?

The appointment of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz in the position of Saudi Arabia’s second deputy Prime Minister last Friday has sparked yet another round of speculation about succession in the Kingdom. It is speculation because almost none of what is written about the topic is based on first hand information. The Saudi royal family is notoriously secretive. Important decisions are made behind closed doors, and senior members of the royal family rarely give interviews. In the rare occasions when they do, they speak to state or state-friendly media that won’t confront them on anything.

This is why, as the Wall Street Journal correspondent Ellen Knickmeyer said, what passes as commentary and analysis by US think tank types about Saudi issues sometimes reads like a collection of biographical data taken from Wikipedia. The old adage about watching Saudi Arabia remains the same and remains true: “Those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”

Unfortunately, this situation is likely to continue due to the lack of alternatives. Writing critically about the royal family is still off-limits in the Saudi local media, and the topic of succession is too sensitive to be seriously tackled there. In the days following the appointment of Prince Muqrin, newspapers were full of praise of him and the wise choice made by King Abdullah by appointing him for the position traditionally held princes nominated to assume the throne after the current King and Crown Prince.

It is hard to overstate the great lengths some local news outlets would go to illustrate this, but here is one example from al-Riyadh daily published this Saturday:

One of the nice stories told about Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz is that when he was governor of Hail (1980-1999) he had been seen more than once stopping at red lights when he was on his way to the governorate headquarters at 8am.

However, one of the newspaper’s regular columnists used to work as the head of media affairs under Prince Muqrin when he was governor of Medina between 1999 and 2005, and he wrote two pieces about his experience working for him. Fahad al-Ahmadi did not have any criticism of his former boss, which is not surprising, but he has offered some interesting anecdotes about the prince.

For example, al-Ahmad reports that Prince Muqrin’s favorite film is Commanding Heights, a six-hour PBS documentary about globalization and the rise of free markets based on a book of the same title by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. Al-Ahmadi also reports the prince is a fan of Stephen R. Covey’s self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Other interests of the prince include agriculture and astronomy. According to al-Ahmadi, Prince Muqrin owns a large library of books on these subjects, and he has donated a telescope to Taibah University in Medina. Finally, the prince is reportedly highly interested in e-government and using technology in running the country and providing services to citizens.

In one of the few interviews he gave after being appointed, Prince Muqrin told Asharq al-Awsat about his personal passion for using technology in government. “It is important that this electronic information exchange is linked to the needs of the citizens in various fields,” he told the newspaper. “We are living in an age where the pace of tecnological development is accelerating and we can only respond to this.”

Muqrin is said to be socially liberal and firm on security, and observers said he is expected to continue the policy of slow, cautious reform that has defined the era of King Abdullah. This is exactly what he told the newspaper, which reported that he “confirmed that efforts will continue in earnest to bring about the reform sought by King Abdullah.”