Skip to main content

The coming Saudi decentralization

The appointment of Prince Muqrin as deputy crown prince reveals a trend toward multiple power centers within the royal family.
Saudi royal guards stand on duty in front of portraits of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (R), Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (C) and second deputy Prime Minister Muqrin bin Abdulaziz during the traditional Saudi dance known as "Arda" at the Janadriya culture festival at Der'iya in Riyadh, February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Fayez Nureldine/Pool (SAUDI ARABIA - Tags: POLITICS ROYALS) - RTX192TG

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia adhered to the unpredictable succession rule that dominates the Saudi system when he appointed Prince Muqrin as deputy crown prince on March 27. Muqrin, an ex-intelligence chief, will become crown prince after Prince Salman, and eventually king when both the king and current crown prince pass away. The Saudi Press Agency reported the appointment as a royal decree that cannot be challenged under any circumstances in the future. The royal statement must have come after months of deliberation among royals, who, like the rest of Saudia Arabia and the world, are impatiently waiting for a resolution of the mystery of succession in the kingdom.

Abdullah missed an opportunity to resolve the succession issue, which sooner or later will have to be passed on to the second-generation princes awaiting their turn to shape the future of the kingdom. He overlooked the seniority principle and chose to elevate a close and loyal aide above not only other surviving brothers of the king, but also the new generation of princes. It was reported that the decision had the consent of 75% of the Oath of Allegiance Committee members, the 34 princes appointed by the king when it was established in 2007. The committee was meant to ensure a smooth succession to the throne as the king urged its royal members to "stand united, settling any differences by transparent dialogue and without allowing external forces to interfere in their private affairs." But the committee was meant to become active only after the death of Abdullah and the crown prince at the time, Prince Sultan. The king lived through the death of two crown princes, Sultan and Naif. Consequently, it became urgent to deal with the unexpected, mainly the succession moving to the second generation as a matter of necessity under the pressure of old age. It seems that the king did not want the committee to meet after his death, as stipulated in the committee’s constitution, and "elect" the future king. He may have anticipated a possible rift and resolved the matter in favor of Muqrin.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.