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Feature Article
King Abdallah: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing? (Part One) 2014-08-16
King Abdallah has worked to place his own sons in positions of power and influence, much as the late King Saud did for his progeny. During Saud's reign, it was thought that the king was preparing the ground for one of his sons to take the throne after him, altering the rules of succession. Could the same charge be levelled against Abdallah now?

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

Positioning one's own sons for succession, of course, is nothing new for the amirs of the Al Saud, whose various factions, when they have come to power, have always tried to establish a line of succession which would favor their own offspring. For generations, power passed back and forth from one family branch to another, notably in the epic rivalry between the al-Turki and al-Thunayyan lines, and later in the vicious 19th-century battles between the sons of Faysal bin Turki, when Abdallah, Saud and Abd al-Rahman fought among themselves for the amirate. Abd al-Rahman, as the last man standing, handed power to his son Abd al-Aziz (Ibn Saud), the Kingdom's founder, who ensured that his numerous sons would be well provided for, but crucially, he made sure that family branches like the Saud al-Kabir, who would henceforth be excluded from dynastic succession, were co-opted into the new regime. Ibn Saud also favored a structure that would see each of his own progeny ruling in turn, rather than having the royal line pass through the offspring of one of his sons.

On his deathbed, Ibn Saud named his eldest, Saud, as his successor, and his next eldest, Faysal, as crown prince. Famously, he asked them to 'hold hands over my body and promise you will never quarrel in public'. Yet Saud and Faysal almost immediately began to manoevre for power, with Saud undercutting the positions of lesser princes and replacing them with his own sons. By late 1955, Saud had in the immediate royal household placed his sons Fahd (Diwan Chief), Musa'id (Personal Bodyguard), Muhammad (Chamberlain), and Abdallah (Royal Palaces and Gardens). The next year, however, Saud installed Musa'id as Commander of the Royal Guard, then considered the best trained and equipped force in the Kingdom, capable of defeating the National Guard and most of the regular Army combined. Sa'd, Saud's tenth son, took over as Commander of the Personal Bodyguard. At the Ministry of Defense, Saud managed to ease his brothers Mish'al and Mit'ab out of office, and eventually have his eldest son Fahd appointed Minister in 1956 with the rank of Lieutenant-General. Further consolidating his hold over the defense and security establishment, Saud made his son Khalid Commander of the National Guard in July 1957. This was the first time a prince had been in direct control of the Guard, and Saud acted to strengthen what was then a minor and loosely-organized force. By 1957, he had placed three of his sons in command of the Royal Guard (Badr, 1958-61), Regular Army (Fahd, 1956-60), and National Guard (Khalid, 1957-61), in the process removing three of his half-brothers (Nawwaf, Mish'al and Mit'ab), and introducing direct dynastic control over the National Guard. Saud also used his control over advisors and appointments to weaken the position of other junior princes.

A coalition of Saud's brothers, angered by his profligacy and mismanagement, approached the king in March 1958 to demand that he hand over all his powers to Faysal (who had resisted a demand that he abdicate), yet even after Saud agreed to their terms, he still "commanded the resources of the throne", as the then American ambassador put it. Indeed, his sons still held formal control over the Kingdom's armed forces, and any move to depose him risked a violent confrontation.

Saud was able to make a comeback in 1960, however, reasserting his executive authority with the help of his own coalition, at the expense of Faysal's supporters. His son Fahd, removed from Defense in April 1959 by Faysal, was replaced as Minister of Defense by his third and favorite son Muhammad, thus restoring Saud's control over defense matters. Muhammad, married to Sarah al-Faysal, was regarded as the most promising of his sons and a possible candidate for succession. He had previously served as Chamberlain (1953-59), and Diwan Chief (1959-60). Other sons retained their positions at the Royal Guard, Bodyguard, and National Guard.

sons of Abdallah
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