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Saudi Arabia Awaits Next In Line To Throne – OpEd

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By Arash Zahedi

The 81 year old heir to the Saudi throne for the past six years, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz has died of illness outside Saudi Arabia.

The prince had apparently fought a long battle against an officially undisclosed illness many say was some form of colon cancer.

Sultan, who was the kingdom’s deputy prime minister and the minister of defense and aviation, was the 15th child of Abdul-aziz Al-Saud the founder of today’s Saudi Arabia.

It is now open to question who will be the successor to Prince Sultan, half brother of ailing Saudi King Abdullah in a country where kingdom is not handed down from father to son but transferred from brother to brother based on a tradition left by Abdul-aziza Al-Saud.

In fact, the founder of the kingdom had wanted his sons rather than a grandson to be Kings. And his sons have lived to date to keep their father’s way.

In line with the power transfer tradition in Saudi Arabia, the next heir to the throne must be the oldest living son of Abdu-aziz, and that is the country’s interior minister since 1975 and second deputy to King Abdullah, Prince Nayef Bin Abdul-aziz.

However, the fact of the matter is that many Abdul-aziz sons, in line to the throne, are elderly and ill. A truth that can seriously jeopardize not only the kingdom’s stability but the interests of the West.

Hence, it will be safe to say the power might be transferred to an Abdul-aziz grandson after King Abdullah. A point to bear in mind is that these grandsons generally hold academic degrees and have modern and West-friendly views.

Among the most powerful faces are of course Mohammad Bin Nayef, Bandar and Khaled Bin Sultan as well as the world’s longest serving foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal.

The poor health of the 86 year old King himself together with the death of Sultan will without a doubt intensify the by now heated power struggle within the Al-Saud family. It is predicted that the main competition will be among the younger generation of the family led by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, son of the deceased crown prince, on the one hand and the elders led by the King on the other.

The once long time Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar was chosen head of the Kingdom’s security council after the current king’s predecessor King Fahd died. A post every royal family member knows Bandar is not pleased with, as he has always asked for a larger share of the power.

According to a Financial Times article in August 2009, Bandar had in 2008 planned a coup in the kingdom to grab power and change the whole Saudi governing system. A number of military officials were arrested and Bandar was politically isolated and had to spend some time abroad only to come back to a hero’s welcome by some of his uncles and brothers!

It is widely expected the US will throw its weight behind Bandar if he decides to fight for the ultimate post in the oil rich kingdom. Having lived in America, he is known to have secular ideas which many say he will use to de-traditionalize his country.

One possibility, though not very strong, might be the occurrence of brief internal wars among the hopefuls.

The history of the Al-Saud family is no stranger to even military face-offs and activities. Founder of Saudi Arabia Abdul-aziz Al-Saud won Riyadh in a fight with rival family Al-Rashid. He defeated all his rivals through 1902-1932 with Britain’s assistance.

Another issue of significance is the current internal situation of Saudi Arabia. Though not as largely as some regional countries have seen uprisings recently, the kingdom has and is experiencing domestic difficulties especially in its Eastern Province where people are regularly protesting against the oppression of their civil rights. The nation has also made itself clear on the crackdown that has been taking place in their smaller neighbor, Bahrain. They say they do not want the killing of Bahrain’s peaceful protesters in their name. Saudi Arabia is backing the Bahraini Al Khalifa regime in its crackdown on the mostly Shia protesters demanding reforms.

The Saudis have been losing on another internal front as well as they have certainly not come even close to winning the hearts and minds of its female population. Unlike in most countries, the Kingdom still bans women driving and deprives them of their right to vote.

Nevertheless, the already triggered struggles of Saudi Arabia will definitely enter a new phase and get more intense after Crown Prince Sultan’s death.

Despite the calm the Saudis are trying to depict the domestic situation as being in, the internal strife among the nation and the rulers and even among the members of the royal family cannot go hidden forever and sooner rather than later Saudi Arabia will have to face a large revolution head on.

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