Oil Is Well That Ends Well In House of Saud

Troublesome winds of the Arab Spring continue to blow, and the House of Saud is gravely concerned should they head in Riyadh’s direction. That is why it is important to show the world – and its own citizens – that royal succession will not be a messy affair


Part-medieval kingdom, part-theocracy, with elements of the modern state (shorn, of course, of any vestiges of democracy) thrown in, it will be interesting to see if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can carry forward this puzzling combination into the future.

And central to the continued success and survival of the Saudi project is a smooth generational shift from the current rulers, sons of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the monarch who founded the kingdom in the 1920s, to his grandsons. In this context, the recent appointment of Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, Ibn Saud’s youngest son, as deputy crown prince and now officially second in line to the throne, by King Abdullah, has temporarily cleared some of the confusion over Saudi succession.

A former air force officer who has served as Saudi Arabia’s intelligence czar (and is not unknown in many of Pakistan’s power circles for his ‘interest’ in our internal affairs), Prince Muqrin was earlier considered an unlikely candidate for the Saudi throne. But now, he may assume the title of king sooner than many think — that is if all goes according to plan. While Muqrin is in his late 60s, King Abdullah is around 90 while Salman, the crown prince, is in his late 70s. If numerous sources are to be believed, both the king and crown prince are in failing health.

Perhaps that is why King Abdullah made the binding decision to clear the decks for Muqrin, in order to assure Saudis as well as the world that all is well in the House of Saud where orderly succession is concerned. After all, two crown princes (Sultan in 2011 and Nayef in 2012) have already predeceased the king.

These are turbulent times as unpredictability surrounds Saudi Arabia. The usually warm Saudi relationship with the US has experienced a frigid chill of recent, with Riyadh and Washington DC diverging considerably over how to handle hotspots such as Egypt, Syria and Iran.

There has been erratic Saudi behaviour on the external front, with the kingdom refusing to take its temporary seat at the UN Security Council, reportedly in protest against American regional policies; this is believed to be the first incident of its kind in UN history. Relations with Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar, the gas-rich emirate on the Saudi east coast, have also recently soured. Meanwhile, internally, the biggest issue remains discontent in the kingdom’s Shia-majority eastern province.

In short, the troublesome winds of the Arab Spring continue to blow, and the House of Saud is gravely concerned should they head in Riyadh’s direction. That is why it is important to show the world – and its own citizens – that royal succession will not be a messy affair.

But the billion-riyal question that nobody seems to have an answer to is: who will rule Saudi Arabia once all of Ibn Saud’s sons have passed on? The real test of smooth succession will come when the line of sons has been exhausted and the grandsons take over.

Interestingly, even Muqrin’s appointment as deputy crown prince was not entirely smooth: Saudi media reported that “…The majority of members [of the royal Allegiance Council], which exceed three-quarters of those present, backed the appointment”. If one’s reading between the lines is correct, Muqrin’s appointment was not unanimously supported by all the princes who sit on the Allegiance Council. Could this be the shape of things to come?

It is only a matter of time before the next generation of the House of Saud takes the reins, as soon as the last of their uncles rides into the sunset. That’s when things will really get interesting. What happens after Muqrin is anybody’s guess.

Saudi Arabia is a kingdom with thousands of princes, both ‘major’ and ‘minor’, this designation depending on how close their relationship with Ibn Saud was. In the desert kingdom the maternal lineage of a contender, as well as his ability to convince the powerbrokers within the clan of his merits, are key markers of success.

With no transparent system of governance, palace intrigues, tribal politics and a Machiavellian web of alliances and cliques, observers both inside and outside Saudi Arabia are left guessing about what course the future will take. For instance, Nayef’s progeny are said to be powerful. But what if Muqrin nominates one of Abdullah’s sons to repay the king’s favour? The possible scenarios are countless.

Due to Saudi Arabia’s position as a deep-pocketed petrochemical powerhouse, and the fact that it hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as the greater international community, will be following developments in the House of Saud very carefully.

-by arrangement with dawn.com