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Nov 27, 2012 | 20:42 GMT

Possible Succession Crisis in Saudi Arabia

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Possible Succession Crisis in Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Abdullah, 88, reportedly has been placed on life support after undergoing spinal surgery the week of Nov. 18. His death could mark the end of rule by Saudi Arabia's second generation of princes, who were the sons of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern kingdom. Since the 1960s, Saudi Arabia's kings have appointed second deputy prime ministers to serve as a de facto crown princes-in-waiting. The previous two crown princes, former Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdulaziz and former Interior Minister Naif bin Abdulaziz, died in October 2011 and June 2012, respectively, and on neither occasion was a second deputy prime minister appointed. After Naif died, his younger brother Salman, who had taken over as defense minister, was informally designated crown prince. Salman will succeed Abdullah, but the key issue now becomes who will replace Salman as crown prince. With so few options from the second generation, the far more numerous third-generation princes now have greater chances of becoming crown prince — a critical evolution in the Saudi dynasty. However, this also means that the old ways of huddling together and deciding succession will no longer work. For this very reason, Abdullah decreed a succession law in 2006 that created the Allegiance Council, which is supposed to elect the king and the crown prince. The problem is that this system assumes the royal family will honor the decisions made by a democratic body; such a tradition has never existed in Saudi Arabia, and there is no reason to assume that one will exist in the near future. As a result, there will be an added potential for rifts among the various al-Saud clans and with them the risk of instability in the world's biggest oil exporter. Given the uncertainty brought on by the Arab Spring, that risk could spread throughout the region.

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