The Call

Saudi Arabia’s succession starts to take focus

Saudi Arabia’s succession starts to take focus

By Crispin Hawes

There are a growing number of signals from Saudi Arabia that the question of when the younger generation of princes will be included in the formal line of succession has been resolved. On 5 November, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was appointed to succeed his late father as the minister of interior, a decision that is likely the result of a deal between King Abdullah and different branches of the ruling family. As a result of that appointment, an announcement on who will take the second spot in the succession is likely to come soon.

Mohammed’s appointment to head the Ministry of the Interior is the latest move in an extended process aimed at setting out the ruling family’s plans for the long-term succession. Prince Mohammed replaces his uncle Prince Ahmed at the ministry after a truncated term. Prince Ahmed was likely moved aside, despite official statements that he had asked to relinquish the post, and that hints at a decision on the succession. Defining the long-term line of succession requires public consensus among senior family figures, and Ahmed’s recent public statements suggested that he was pushing to succeed Crown Prince Salman, who is set to take the throne on Abdullah’s death. Saudi Arabia’s opaque internal politics make interpreting what is happening behind the scenes very difficult, but Ahmed’s replacement as interior minister could well have been triggered by his opposition to developments in the line of succession. If Abdullah has decided to appoint Prince Khaled al-Faisal as second deputy prime minister, the position occupied by the second in line, Ahmed’s opposition would be enough to force his departure.

Abdullah seems intent on defining a long-term plan for the succession in an effort to prevent the kingdom from instability if, as is possible, there is a rapid series of deaths among the current and elderly ruling generation. The transition to the generation of Mohammed and Khaled al-Faisal, grandsons of Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and modern Saudi Arabia’s founder, has been the subject of speculation for years. Faisal is in his early 70s, only a few years younger than Salman, but the move is a very significant one.

Mohammed’s promotion is likely part of a broader compromise between the king and the dominant Sudairi branch of the family. Again the details are impossible to confirm, but it is likely that the Sudairis have retained the interior ministry in return for agreeing to allow the insertion of the moderate Khaled al-Faisal (and not a Sudairi) in the line of succession. If that is indeed what is happening, there will almost certainly be a number of other deals emerging in coming weeks and months that will set the stage for other members of the next generation, including King Abdullah’s son Mitaeb, to move into more prominent positions.

Crispin Hawes is the director of Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice