The Saudi prince, relieved of the National Guard, once considered a pretender to the throne
RIYADH (Reuters) – Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, born in 1953, led the Saudi National Guard, an elite internal security force originally based on traditional tribal units led by his father for five decades.
As the favorite son of the late King Abdullah, trained in Sandhurst, he was once considered one of the main contenders for the throne.
He was also the last member of Abdullah’s Shammar branch to retain a key post at the top of the Saudi power structure, after brothers Mishaal and Turki were removed from their governorships in 2015.
This race for power ended on Saturday, when he was removed from his position in the National Guard by a royal decree.
Miteb had effectively commanded the force since his father became the country’s de facto ruler in 1996 when King Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke, but was not officially appointed commander until 2010.
“He is very pragmatic. I think he’s a lot smarter than people think. And he is very ambitious, ”said a diplomatic source in the Gulf.
His position was consolidated in 2013 when the National Guard received his own ministry and he was appointed minister.
The guard formed a power base for King Abdullah for decades as a sort of parallel army, serving as a bulwark against any possible military coup and providing the country’s powerful tribes with their primary link with the government.
Its origins can be traced back to the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who led white-clad “Ikhwan” tribal warriors to conquer much of the Arabian Peninsula during the first three decades of the 20th century.
After Ibn Saud’s death, Saudi authorities transformed the Bureau of Jihad and Mujahedin, which managed the Ikhwan and other tribal forces, into the National Guard.
It remains administratively distinct from the other two pillars of the Saudi security architecture, the interior and defense ministries.
The National Guard today operates military academies, housing projects, and hospitals, and is a tremendous source of income for US military contractors who train its approximately 100,000 active members and 27,000 irregular volunteers.
The Vinnell Corporation, now a subsidiary of Northrup Grumman, has held contracts to modernize the institution for nearly four decades.
“Miteb is highly regarded by tribal leaders and, more importantly, the recruits who benefit from his largesse,” wrote researcher Joseph Kechichian in his book Power and Succession in Arab Monarchies.
“In less than fifty years, the Guard has transformed a segment of the Saudi population from destitute tribal elements into well-off, well-armed and well-trained recruits.”
As commander, Miteb also inherited responsibility for the annual Janadariyah festival from his father, which attracts millions of Saudis each winter to celebrate the traditions, architecture and folklore of different regions of the kingdom.
For many Saudis, the festival is a major expression of national pride, safeguarding a rapidly disappearing cultural heritage in the rapidly modernizing society. It is politically advantageous to be associated with it.
Prince Miteb’s business interests are believed to include ownership of the prestigious Hotel de Crillon in central Paris, which French newspaper Le Figaro reported having purchased in 2010 for $ 354 million.
His father specifically asked him to distance himself from excessive business activities, according to Kechichian’s book.
He is married to a daughter of Saleh Fustock, who comes from a Lebanese family and whose sister was one of King Abdullah’s most important wives. Fustock owns Arab Builders for Trading, Vinnell’s local partner in the National Guard.
The prince is passionate about horseback riding and his son, Prince Abdullah, was part of the Saudi Arabian equestrian team which won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
Reporting by Katie Paul; edited by Andrew Roche