The king traveled to Morocco on May 31 for an "private vacation", accompanied by Prince Muqrin, Second Deputy Premier, it being understood that the trip is primarily one of rest and recuperation. Abdallah has has spent a fair amount of time in Morocco in recent years, having properties in Casablanca and in Aghadir to the southwest. He was seen off at Jiddah airport by a number of princes and officials, and looked healthy and alert, despite current rumors to the contrary. A few days after his arrival in Casablanca, he held a luncheon reception, where he also seemed in full control of his faculties.
Abdallah, like his late brother Sultan before him, has used Morocco as the go-to destination of choice when recuperating from surgical operations and confinements. He has had two previous operations to correct a slackening of ligaments in his back, in October 2011 and November 2012, when he spent a fairly significant amount of time in hospital, not being released until the following month. Partly as a result of these procedures and the subsequent rehabilitation periods (he continues to have some difficulty walking and relies on the support of a cane still), and partly as a result of a sensationalist gossip-mill, it has been rumored that his health had deteriorated quite substantially in recent months. Nonetheless, he appears in public more frequently of late, and is no longer confined to wheelchair. These most recent appearances help quash speculation that his health is precarious, even if it is in general decline.
Shortly before his departure, it was announced that the king had upgraded the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) to a Ministry, to be headed by his son Mit'ab, and thus placing Mit'ab in the Cabinet. The National Guard, commanded by Abdallah from 1962 until 2010, was during his tenure transformed into a force nearly on par with (and in terms of sheer numbers, actually larger than) the regular army, and there are plans to continue to upgrade its capabilities with more modern equipment. As such, and true to its original conception, it operates as a kind of counterbalance to the regular forces, which fall under the purview of the Defense Ministry. SANG has traditionally seen in terms of homeland defense, guarding the capital Riyadh and the holy sites of Makkah and Medina, while also being heavily deployed to guard the vulnerable Eastern Province oil facilities, also the site of a restive Shi'a population. SANG was also instrumental (along with the Interior Ministry) in leading the campaign to wipe out an al-Qai'da uprising in the kingdom, eventually driving remnants of the group south into Yemen.
In one sense, the elevation of SANG (and Mit'ab) represents a challenge to the old order, as Defense has been regarded as a bastion of the al-Sudayri brothers, the group including the former Defense Minister, Sultan, and his full brothers who were seen to be rivals to Abdallah and his circle. This grouping has been much less influential in recent years, however, as they have either passed on or been co-opted into the current power structure. Indeed, it is unlikely that the Sudayri can be considered a useful classification at this point, such has been the shift in dynamics. Of the original Sudayris, who were thought to scheme of diverting the succession to the benefit of their family sub-branch, only four remain alive - Salman, Abd al-Rahman,Ahmad and Turki. The new Defense Minister, Salman, is seen now as aligned more with the king than with his full brothers, and the new Minister at Interior, Muhammad bin Nayif, also seems to owe no allegiance to any conception of a separate and distinct dynastic branching. Other Sudayri members, such as the sons of Salman (Faysal, appointed Governor of Madina in January) and Nayif (Saud, made Eastern Province Governor at the same time), likewise owe their present positions as much to the king's favor as to their fathers' grooming and tutelage.