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Post Abdullah Saudi Arabia: a Tale of Two Princes

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The late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz played a crucial role in shaping his country and the Middle East while alive. In his absence, he continues this legacy by virtue of his unfinished work of mapping out a clear line of succession for ascension to the throne of Saudi Arabia.


Yet, this issue is handled in many cases in the Western media with a mix of exaggerations, outlandish guesses and wrong perspectives. Any differences within the Saudi Royal Family have a self-imposed set of rules. The Family is conscious of the external threats that surround its rule. The traditional culture that forms the base of its internal relations provides an additional regulating mechanism. And these differences are rarely, if at all, pushed to a confrontational point.


The particularity of the succession issue in its current phase stems from the fact that a generational shift is looming. The more that time passes the more complex the question of the “line” to the throne becomes. The founding King, Abdul Aziz, left the throne to his sons in a vaguely defined process, not specifying a particular son. While the rule of age—that is, that the older son becomes a king—is a traditional Arab theme, it cannot always be applied. This period of time is the period when the generational transition is in the minds of all, Abdel Aziz’s sons, and their sons. Which group of the grandsons will be eligible to rule?


The preparation work for this transition is already known. But some of the sons of Abdel Aziz are still alive. Crown Prince Muqren and Prince Ahmed are the most prominent. Ahmed was pushed aside by the late King Abdullah, yet he still feels he is eligible to be in the front of the line, particularly given that he is older than Muqren. His fate will be decided in the context of the ascendance of the grandsons who already hold a large portion of real power. The role of Muqren should be understood as a transitional and temporary role. His fate will be settled in the same context of the arrangements prepared for his older brother.   


The first Royal decree issued by the new King Salman was to appoint his son, Mohamed bin Salman, as the new Minister of Defense. This might be taken as an early sign of the preparation for the historical shift to the grandsons, with all that this may imply. It is only now that a prediction of the formal rise of Mohamed and the rest of the grandsons of Princess Hossa Al Sudairy, one of the wives of the founder King Abdul Aziz, including Prince Mohamed bin Nayef could be made.


Indeed, Salman’s second Royal decree was to appoint Mohamed bin Nayef to the third position in the line of succession, that of Deputy Crown Prince. Therefore we have King Salman, Crown Prince Muqren, Prince bin Nayef and Prince bin Salman. All of them are Sudairies except Muqren. That decree was followed by firing Abdullah’s Chief of the Royal Court, the once powerful Kaled Al Twaijeri in an additional confirmation of the beginning of a new era.


If the two “young” princes, bin Nayef and bin Salman, play their cards right, they will shape the future of the Kingdom. Other forces will be given secondary roles in keeping the tradition of preserving the unity of the Family. The passing away of King Abdullah, a charismatic and strong personality, will usher in the real beginning of the transition to the third generation, with the two Mohameds playing the prominent role supported by the rest of the Sudairies.

It is expected now that some gradual, but extremely important, changes will be introduced to the Kingdom’s regional policies. However, cementing the internal unity will come first.

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