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Feature Article
The Triumvirate: A Sudayri Resurgence? (Part One) 2015-06-07
The elevation of the king's nephew and son to the roles of crown prince and deputy crown prince, respectively, has rekindled talk of the re-emergence of the al-Sudayri faction in royal family politics. But should the shifting succession dynamic be framed in such terms?

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

The tenure of Crown Prince Muqrin did not last long. A somewhat controversial choice to begin with, perhaps the real surprise was that Muqrin survived in the post as long as he did. Coming to power upon the death of Abdallah on January 23, Salman lost no time in rearranging affairs of state to his liking. The pace of change was staggering, as princes were reshuffled, promoted, or summarily shown the door, while government bodies were dissolved, merged, or called into existence overnight. Perhaps the king was in no rush to replace his crown prince, preferring to take care of more pressing matters instead, since Muqrin was powerless to prevent his own demise anyway, and by then must have known he could be disposed of at will. The plan was always for him to play the role of placeholder (for Abdallah's son Mit'ab, it is thought), to ensure that the succession would pass through Abdallah's line, or at least, not to one of his rivals, rather than that he should himself take the throne after Salman. Muqrin could, as crown prince, work to advance the interests of Mit'ab, with any luck ensuring his promotion to second deputy premier (which effectively meant deputy crown prince, or third in line to the throne). Supposedly, Muqrin's appointment was not open to challenge, by the terms of Abdallah's royal decree, but Salman overturned it anyway.

On April 19, Salman appointed Muhammad bin Nayif as crown prince, and his own son Muhammad as deputy crown prince. With these appointments, two things immediately stand out - first, the promotion of the younger, vastly inexperienced and under-qualified Muhammad to not only this post, but a host of other high-level positions as well, including Defense Minister and head of the new Economic and Development Affairs Council, all while retaining his role as his father's gatekeeper at the Royal Court. Never before has a single prince been entrusted with so much, and certainly not at such a young age, and with seemingly so little to commend him. Second, the new triumvirate (King Salman and the two Muhammads) all stem from the Sudayri branch of the family. At one time, the Sudayri brothers wielded awesome power, but after a decade of Abdallah's rule, and a high rate of attrition, their influence had waned in recent years. Are the Sudayris back on center stage?

The Sudayri Seven - Kings Fahd and Salman, Sultan, Abd al-Rahman, Nayif, Turki and Ahmad - were born between 1921 and 1940 to a favorite wife of the Kingdom's founder Ibn Saud, Hussa bint Ahmad, and represent the largest single group of full brothers in the family. Apart from Turki, who lives in self-imposed exile, all held high position and controlled the key levers of state power. Both Nayif, the feared Interior Minister, and Sultan, Minister of Defense, became crown prince, and many of their sons have also risen to prominence, such as Khalid bin Sultan and the current crown prince Muhammad bin Nayif. It was taken for granted, during the 1970s and 1980s, that the al-Fahd (as they were often known), were conspiring for ultimate power, and only biding their time until they could firmly establish an alternate line of succession which would bypass that of their half brothers and cousins. In this view, Abdallah's reign was simply an interregnum, a pause between two Sudayri kings, before the insurmountable force of the Sudayri faction reasserted itself.

In fact, Abdallah's career trajectory would seem to support such a reading. As far back as the late seventies, when the family debated who was to become crown prince upon Fahd's accession, there was intense conflict. Abdallah was not a popular choice, with Sultan (a Sudayri) being the favored choice. Abdallah was the commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), and he was pressed to give up control of SANG is exchange for being named crown prince, an offer which he firmly resisted. Ultimately, he did become crown prince in 1982, but the affair had left its mark.

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