January 24, 2015

Naming of new Saudi deputy crown prince - future crisis averted?

محمد بن نايف بن عبد العزيز آل سعود‎
Muhammad bin Nayif bin 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud
Deputy Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In what can be described as uncharted seas for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the new king, King Salman bin 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud has named a deputy crown prince from the second generation - a grandson of the founder of the kingdom, King 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud. (This should be read in conjunction with an article I wrote earlier this month: Saudi King 'Abdullah's illness highlights looming succession issue.)

Saudi royal watchers are all waiting to see if and how the new line of succession will proceed - peacefully or will there be a power struggle among the other grandsons of 'Abd al-'Aziz? No one knows, of course, but there are enough issues to wonder if there will be acceptance of King Salman's appointment of a son of his full brother Nayif to be second in line for the throne.

Both Salman and Nayif are two of the seven sons of King 'Abd al-'Aziz and his eighth wife Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudayri. These seven brothers - known as "the Sudayri Seven"* - have been key power brokers in the kingdom for decades. The new deputy crown prince's father was himself the crown prince for a short period of time until his death in 2012, at which time Salman assumed that position.

In addition to formally appointing his half-brother Muqrin as crown prince and naming his nephew Muhammad bin Nayif as the new deputy crown prince, King Salman appears to be reasserting the power of the Sudayri Seven - he immediately named his son Muhammad bin Salman Al Sa'ud as the minister of defense and aviation, as well as head of the royal court.

Although the new crown prince is the ex officio head of the powerful Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), King Salman has ensured that a direct descendant of a full Sudayri brother controls the Saudi armed forces and the powerful Ministry of the Interior (MOI). The MOI is responsible for internal security in the kingdom - Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayif will retain that portfolio.

The new deputy crown prince has the qualifications to lead the kingdom when his time comes. Besides being part of the Sudayri clan, he was educated in American universities and trained by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Britain's Scotland Yard. As Minister of the Interior, he has a reputation for close cooperation with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

His qualifications are not the issue - it will be the acceptance of his selection by the rest of the Al Sa'ud, the House of Sa'ud. The current crown prince, Muqrin bin 'Abd al-'Aziz, will likely have no resistance from the family since he is a rightful heir in the first generation after 'Abd al-'Aziz.

The Allegiance Council set up by King 'Abdullah in 2006 to address the succession issue once there are no more sons of 'Abd al-'Aziz, has no doubt come up with an as yet undisclosed plan to ensure the survival of the House of Sa'ud. That said, there are hundreds of princes in that second generation who probably feel that they have as much right as anyone else to the throne.

The question is - will any of those princes attempt to rectify a perceived slight by interfering with the peaceful transition of power to the second generation?
* See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudairi_Seven