01/22/2009, 00.00
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Doubts and problems over Saudi succession

Problematic scenarios are being presented by the fact that in Saudi Arabia, there has been open talk about the health of Prince Sultan, the designated successor to King Abdullah. The monarch is selected from among brothers, which means that a sick and elderly king could be followed by another elderly and frail king, and another.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Problematic scenarios are being presented by the fact that in Saudi Arabia, there has been open talk about the health of Prince Sultan, the designated successor to King Abdullah, who is 86 years old. Having undergone surgery for a tumor on his colon in 2005, the crown prince, who is 84 years old, will visit the United States next month, for "medical tests and treatments," according to his son Khaled. Succession to the Saudi throne, unlike what generally happens in monarchies, does not pass from father to son, but from brother to brother. After the death of the founder of the monarchy, King Ibn Saud, in 1953, in fact, the throne passed to the oldest of his 35 sons, and it was from among them that the next heir was chosen, who accompanied the reigning monarch until succession.

The poor health and advanced age of both King Abdullah and Prince Sultan, currently head of the armed forces, leaves room for various hypotheses, recently examined by Simon Henderson, director of the Washington Institute, keeping in mind the fact that in 2006, King Abdullah created the "council of fidelity" - made up of the older sons and grandsons of King Saud - which has a consultative role and now should share responsibility in the decision of succession. It is headed by one of the stepbrothers of the king, Mishal, considered one of Abdullah's allies. The first hypothesis sees Prince Sultan dying before King Abdullah. In this case, a new crown prince would have to be chosen. The nod should go to one of the "Sudairy Seven," the largest and strongest group, made up of the sons of King Saud and one of his wives, Hussa Ahmad Al Sudairy. It includes Sultan, interior minister Nayef, and the governor of Riyadh, Salman. Nayef is not considered very popular, for which reason one possible choice could be his younger brother Prince Salman.

If King Abdullah dies before Sultan, the latter becomes king. The problem then becomes the selection of the crown prince, provided that the new monarch does not decide to abolish the council and decide the succession himself. Apart from this improbable hypothesis - even less possible than the theoretically viable chance that the council could declare the king or the prince unfit for health reasons - the selection should be among Abdulrahman (78), Nayef (76), Abdulillah (74), and Salman (73). Except for Abdulillah, they all belong to the Sudairy Seven.

In this last case, if the succession to the Saudi throne remains as it is now, a country that is key in both Middle Eastern politics and in the world oil market would find itself ruled by a sick and elderly king (Sultan) in the place of another elderly and frail king (Abdullah), who would be followed by another elderly monarch, given the current age of the potential crown princes. In addition to this, little is known about the ideas and character of these men.

This is unless a king decides to change the line of succession. This last hypothesis could clear the way for one of the younger sons of Saud, like Salman or the 66-year-old Muqres, currently the head of the intelligence services.

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