The American journal Foreign Policy runs a surprisingly speculative – and, I believe, not very well informed – article on stability in Saudi Arabia. Simon Henderson, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an organization with strong affinities toward Israeli policies, offers a lot of ideas about what might happen in the Kingdom following the death of the current king. Sure, his predictions are possible, but he make so many offhand remarks that he loses credibility.
There’s no doubt the the sons of the country’s founder and hitherto the only ones to become kings, are an aging group. Inevitably, there will be none of them left to succeed to the throne. When that happens (I think it likely within ten years), there will be a generational change. It’s probable, too, that members of the Al-Saud family are discussing succession within the family, but no one has a slightest clue who they might choose. I’m very confident that this is because none of them have made any decisions. They will wait until making a choice approaches necessity. I don’t think this makes the country any less stable than a country that changes leadership every four or eight years. No one knows who will be the next President of the US, or even when. It could happen as a result of this year’s elections or those four years from now. That’s hardly a cause for panic or even much concern.
Saudi Arabia has had six kings. The five successions have all occurred smoothly and promptly. The legacy of the Second Saudi State (1824–1891) shines brightly within the ruling family. They know that intra-family dissension leads to bad things and will work hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The arguments and consensus building may be opaque to foreign analysts, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.
The Man Who Would Be King
Saudi Arabia’s ruling clique is dying off. It may be up to the new defense minister to guide the kingdom through a turbulent Middle East
The senior members of the Saudi royal family are looking increasingly frail, and the buzz in the Gulf is that there will be not just one, but two, changes in the kingdom’s leadership during the course of the next year. Although there is no fixed succession plan if that comes to pass, the newly minted defense minister, Prince Salman, looks well-placed to ascend to the throne.
The evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia’s current ruling clique is on its last legs. This week, the 89 year-old King Abdullah presided over the usual meeting of the council of ministers from the vantage point of his own palace in Riyadh rather than travelling to the council building. Propped in his chair, a cushion supporting his back, he looked as uncomfortable personally as he probably was politically with the state of the Arab world. It grieves him that Syria, a country with which he has family ties, is in such bloody turmoil, and it infuriates him that Washington does not share his view of the danger of Iran.
Within a day or so, the Saudi heir to the throne, the 79 year-old Crown Prince Nayef, is due to return home after more than a month away from the kingdom. He initially went to Morocco on “vacation,” but within a week traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, for “routine” medical tests, before flying to Algeria. Such an itinerary — and an absence of photographs of him since leaving Cleveland — has raised speculation that he is unwell. In recent months, he has added a stick to his wardrobe and regained a steroidal puffiness, renewing speculation that cancer, probably leukemia, has returned after an apparent respite of several years.