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Feature Article
Khalid al-Tuwayjri - The "Uncrowned King"? 2014-07-15
Often spoken of as a "power behind the throne", the king's close adviser Khalid al-Tuwayjri plays an important role as gatekeeper to the Royal Court, but has often been fiercely criticized for his supposed influence in royal family politics. But is al-Tuwayjri really an "uncrowned king", or is it more a case of some members of the royal family venting their displeasure at a non-royal's rise to power?

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

The position of President of the Royal Court was first established in the mid 1920s. It was the job of the president of the court to manage the administrative affairs of the king's office, and to implement the king's decisions and follow up on his instructions. In 2005, King Abdallah appointed Khalid, a son of his adviser and close colleague, Abd al-Aziz al-Tuwayjri, as head of the court. Abd al-Aziz was not only a renowned historian and writer, but a dedicated and trusted adviser to the royal family. In particular, he became close to a young Abdallah, whose National Guard was starting to gain the respect of the American military. Abd al-Aziz, reform-minded and pro-western, had a formative influence on Abdallah in those years, and their close relationship continued after he became crown prince.

It seemed natural, then, for Abdallah to want to continue to benefit from al-Tuwayjri guidance, and so Khalid was taken into the fold. With the requisite family, legal, and political background, like his father before him he soon succeeded in winning the king's confidence. The Court of the Presidency was combined into the Royal Court on June 26, 2011, and Khalid was named President of the Royal Court and Private Secretary to the king, with ministerial rank. As the king's "gatekeeper", al-Tuwayjri controls access to the monarch and so to a certain extent determines the agenda, but being responsible for implementing Abdullah's instructions, he must also move between the various family factions and power centres, the most important of which are Interior and Defense, in a very delicate balancing act.

There exist few photos and little news footage of al-Tuwayjri, and he does not regularly speak to the press. Regarded as one of the Kingdom's most powerful officials, Khalid is elusive and secretive, a character trait which perhaps stokes speculation over the sway he has over the aging king, with some even speaking of him as though he were the real power behind the curtain, a modern-day Cardinal Richelieu. He is known to be close to Bandar bin Sultan, whose career he helped resuscitate, installing him as Chief of General Intelligence, and the king's son Mit'ab, now head of the National Guard with the rank of Minister. But lately al-Tuwayjri has become a lightning rod for criticism among some princes for his perceived role in engineering the outcome of future succession moves.

The crisis has been precipitated by the elevation of Muqrin to the position of heir-in-waiting. Muqrin's promotion, effectively bypassing Ahmad, who was seen as the most likely candidate to succeed his full brother Salman as the next crown prince, was unexpected. By leapfrogging his half brother, Muqrin stands to sideline Ahmad, a member of the powerful al-Sudayri clan of full siblings, since Muqrin as king would almost certainly be the last of his generation to the throne. The succession must pass to the grandchildren of the founder Ibn Saud at some point, as there are only a handful of suitable sons left alive, and there is immense pressure for that to happen sooner rather than later. Ahmad and the al-Sudayri will be excluded, and with them any chance for their sons to inherit, as it looks increasingly likely that Abdallah's sons are being groomed for that role.

It is in fact, the king's son Mit'ab, and his connection with al-Tuwayjri, that have caused the rift. According to some, recent changes in ministerial portfolios aim to put Abdallah's sons and those loyal to them in control of the important ministries, which will eventually pave the way for the king to be succeeded by Mit'ab. al-Tuwayjri is said to have been the man behind these decisions, which were taken in co-ordination with Abdallah, Mit'ab, and a small circle of loyalists. In this view, the hidden purpose of the flurry of appointments and constant ministerial reshufflings is to lay the foundation for Mit'ab's rise to power.

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