January 28, 2015, Wednesday
Saudi King Abdullah’s death (I)
The death of Saudi King Abdullah, one of the 45 children of founding King Abdulaziz, may augur a new era in the Saudi royal family’s succession rules.
So far, the succession has been carried out smoothly, at least in appearance. There is no set order among the royal princes determining who will become king. The successor is decided when the day comes that it is necessary. The post does not always go to the most elderly, but to the fittest, within acceptable limits. Kicking each other under the table determines who will occupy the role of crown prince and other important posts.
In fact, the story of the Sudairis explains how the late King Abdullah became crown prince and subsequently king.
The mother of the late King Fahd, Hassa bint Ahmed al Sudairi, was first married to King Abdulaziz. When she did not have children in the early years of her marriage, King Abdulaziz divorced her, marrying her off to his brother. When Hassa had children from the second husband, the king remarried her and she gave birth to seven sons. The “Sudairi Seven” is thus the name given to the late King Fahd and his six Sudairi brothers, the sons of Hassa bint Ahmed al Sudairi.
The appointment of Abdullah as crown prince in 1982 was indirectly connected to the misgivings of the non-Sudairi members of the royal family towards the Sudairis. When King Khalid died in 1982, Abdullah’s predecessor Fahd was made king. But the consensus in the royal family at the time was that King Fahd should be succeeded by a non-Sudairi prince. This is how Abdullah became crown prince. After the death of Fahd he became king in accordance with the customary rule of succession.
Fahd’s six Sudairi brothers held important posts in the kingdom for a long time. Among the “Sudairi Seven,” Sultan was minister of defense and aviation. Nayef was minister of interior. The new King Salman was the governor of Riyadh. Ahmed also served as minister of interior. Turki was deputy minister of defense. The only exception was Abdul Rahman, who became a businessman.
Now, after 10 years, Salman, another member of the “Sudairi Seven,” has become king. This proves that the misgivings of certain members of the royal family and their desire not to let King Fahd be succeeded by a member of the Sudairi clan were justified.
The new King Salman played his cards skillfully. He did not make spectacular changes to the upper echelons of the kingdom. He made few but critical appointments. One of them was the appointment of his nephew, Muhammad bin Nayef, the son of his full brother Nayef — thus another Sudairi — to the important post of deputy crown prince. He did this without touching the position of Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, his half-brother, who was chosen by the late King Abdullah as a non-Sudairi crown prince.
The appointment of Muhammad as deputy crown prince has to be regarded as the most crucial move on the chessboard of the Saudi royal family, because, if there are no surprises in the succession, it guarantees that the third generation of kings will also be Sudairi. The first generation began with King Abdulaziz, founder of the kingdom. The second generation of kings will be extinguished when the term in office of both current King Salman and Crown Prince Muqrin comes to an end. Since they are both over 70, this may not take long. Then the throne will go to the third generation and, at that time, the young Sudairi Prince Muhammad will be natural successor to the crown.
The second role given to Muhammad may be even more important. He was appointed secretary- general of the Royal Diwan. While the post of deputy crown prince is, in theory, a higher post and will entitle him to become crown prince and then king, the post of the secretary-general of the Royal Diwan will give him, in practice, control over everything that takes place in the Royal Court.
As part of their foreign policy, the new King Salman and his team may play a positive role in reconciling the Sisi regime in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. This may also open a window of opportunity for Turkey to re-adjust its Egypt policy to the realities on the ground.
I will try to elaborate on this subject in my next article.