Saudi Arabia after King Abdullah

Ali Alyami writes: The Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, has been inundated with inquiries from Western media and politicians since news broke of King Abdullah’s recent hospitalization. They are wondering about the Saudi royal succession and whether King Abdullah’s “reform” initiatives will continue when he no longer rules.

Traditionally, Saudi kings are designated years or decades before inheriting the throne. Crown princes become automatically kings when reigning kings die after long and, in some cases, incapacitating ailments. Given this family tradition, it’s assured that Crown Prince Salman (known for his pro-Salafi Islam and anti-reform proclivities) will inherit the Saudi throne unless the 35 princes’ “Allegiance Commission” which King Abdullah established in 2006 reasserts its powers to recommend future Saudi kings and crown princes.

This is unlikely to happen without a potential palace revolt which is said to be the primary reason that convinced King Abdullah to bypass his brainchild Commission when he unilaterally appointed his ultra-conservative half-brother Naif (a staunch opponent of any political reform) Crown Prince in 2011 without consulting the Commission. When Naif mysteriously died in Switzerland, the King again disregarded his Commission and appointed Naif’s full brother Salman as Crown Prince.

Ironically, the King was profusely praised for creating the Commission by the international community and by progressive members of the royal family like Prince Talal, who resigned from the Commission to protest King Abdullah’s decision to circumvent it. Abdullah’s move dashed the hopes of Saudi reformers for any reform that might pave the way to popular political participation.

However, the traditional process of royal succession could be transformed if reform-minded royals, especially the younger generation, or if King Abdullah’s powerful sons, specifically, Prince Mitib, the Minister of the ruthless National Guard, Prince Mishal, the Governor of Mecca and Prince Abdul Aziz, the deputy to the ailing Foreign Minister Saud Alfaisal, demand a greater role in deciding who should be the next king and what reform strategies must be initiated and implemented after their father no longer rules. Like their father, none of King Abdullah’s sons trusts Crown Prince Salman and his Sudairi wing of the family (the Sudairi 7) due to historical animosities, namely the marginalization of their father for decades prior to his ascendance to the throne in 2005. [Continue reading…]

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