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Who Will Fill Saudi Power Vacuum? – OpEd

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By Mohyeddin Sajedi

The death of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who had served as the country’s defense minister for 50 years, came after a period he practically had no major supervision over the ministry.

No constitution has ever been written for Saudi Arabia and there is no rule to appoint the new heir.

Unlike most monarchies, the line of succession in the country does not move directly from father to the eldest son, but has moved down a line of brothers born to the kingdom’s founder since Saudi Arabia was established in 1932.

In Jordan, which is a newly established country, the line of succession used to move from father to son. Although Malek Hussein’s brother was set to succeed to the throne after his brother, the Jordanian king appointed his eldest son as his heir apparent during a coup.

In 2007, the current Saudi King sought to reorder the transfer of power in the kingdom and thus established the Allegiance Council. The Council comprising Abdul Aziz’s surviving sons plus a grandson of each of his deceased sons, is set to determine which member of the royal family will be the heir apparent (the Crown Prince) after Prince Sultan, whose death was announced on Saturday in New York.

Prior to the establishment of the Council, it was customary for the first and second deputy prime ministers to be in line to the throne. There is no prime minister position in Saudi Arabia and the king is the absolute monarch. Sultan was appointed as heir apparent before Malek Abdullah succeeded to the throne in 2005, but he avoided appointing his second deputy in the cabinet until 2009 when he appointed his other brother Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz for the position. He has the greatest chance to succeed the king to the throne.

The 80-year-old Nayef has been the minister of state for several decades and there are many reports indicating that he is ill and incapable of doing his daily activities. His oldest son, Muhammad, runs the ministry of state for the time being.

Sultan had 37 children from seven marriages. Some of his children are well known, such as his oldest son, Khalid, who was his father’s deputy in the Ministry of Defense and, Bandar, who governs the Saudi embassy in the US. Corruption allegations have been made accusing the Saudi ministry of defense of accepting bribes in arms deals with the finger of blame particularly pointed to Bandar.

When the king of Saudi Arabia appointed his son, Motab, to presidency of the National Guard some analysts stated that Motab would probably be the crown prince which will be the first time that the line of succession moves directly from father to son.

On the other hand, we should mention three brothers whose father Faisal was the king of Saudi Arabia till 1975 when he was assassinated. ‘Saud’ has been the foreign minister for several decades. Having served as the head of the Saudi security service for a long time, ‘Turki’ was ousted after the 9/11 attacks and dispatched to the Saudi embassy in London and Washington, but neither of these responsibilities lasted for long. As for ‘Khalid,’ he is the vicegerent of the holy city of Mecca.

Considering the old age and illness of the Saudi King, who recently underwent surgery for the second time over a year, the Allegiance Council in Saudi Arabia will face new missions. Can choices made by the council move Riyadh ahead in line with the current developments in the Arab world? There is not yet a definite answer to this query, but it is evident that the tribal, ultra-traditional, and backward royal system of Saudi Arabia must change itself in order to survive and stay in power.

So far Riyadh has kept clear of the transformative developments and regime changes in the Arab world. Lack of political development and parties in the country, huge financial power and production of nearly 10 million barrels of oil per day, and the prevalence of strict and reactionary Wahhabi religion are the three major factors that have kept the Arab monarchy away from change.

Demonstrations in the Shia-populated eastern parts of Saudi Arabia against political and social discriminations have remained limited to these areas and no trace of them can be detected in the central regions, including the capital, Riyadh.

With the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Saudi King dedicated around 135 billion dollars to the improvement of people’s economic situation and strived on the international arena to help similar ruling systems in the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council ([P]GCC), Jordan, and Morocco.

In some of these analogous systems, such as those in Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and recently Oman, we witness elections and existence of a parliament, though their parliaments do not have an identical or advanced structure, but in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, elections are held to a very limited extent and only at the level of city councils or local consultative assemblies.

The future leaders of Saudi Arabia have no choice but to adapt themselves to the new developments. Rarely does the old system that allows them to rule have an equivalent or parallel in the world.

Even if we regard as radical the observation of some analysts that future changes in Saudi Arabia will be very dramatic and lead almost to civil war and disintegration of the kingdom, there should be no doubt that any change will plunge the country into social and political turmoil.

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