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Feature Article
The King's Gambit - Crown Prince Muqrin and the Succession 2015-03-01
The unusual circumstances surrounding the appointment of Muqrin bin Abd al-Aziz to the post of crown prince, and the rapid pace of change since the new monarch, Salman, came to power, raises disturbing questions over succession planning. Did Salman acquiesce in the late king's nomination of Muqrin because he was the best man for the job, or was his support part of a grander design?

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

Salman was appointed crown prince in June 2012, following the death of his full brother, the late Crown Prince Nayif, and there was never any real question over his eventual succession. He and Abdallah had worked closely together and to all appearances were in full agreement with the ambitious course of reforms and modernization that the king had embarked upon, though questions are beginning to be raised over Salman's committment to those projects now that he has taken the kingship. But there was never any hint of discord, and since Abdallah had long since overcome any lingering doubts over his qualifications and abilities, the pair were seen as twin pillars of royal family unity. Salman was known as the family arbiter, dating from his years as Governor of Riyadh, when he was in charge of the Family Council, enforcing discipline and guiding the wayward back to the fold as appropriate. Salman, with his impeccable credentials, and considered to be close to the conservative religious establishment, also provided the perfect foil to Abdallah and his ongoing battles with the clerics over women's rights and education, and the constant roadblocks they threw up. (Long forgotten is that Abdallah once had a reputation as something of a zealot in religious matters himself, being known for taking down the names of those he believed had failed in their religious duties in a notebook he would carry around with him.) When Muqrin, the the youngest son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz (Ibn Saud), was appointed as deputy crown prince in March 2014, the path to succession for the immediate future looked to be secure.

In 2006, Abdallah established the Allegiance Council (bay'ah) as a means of selecting the future king and crown prince, to help resolve the uncertainty engendered by the ad hoc blend of tradition and legal formulations that had governed succession issues until then. According to article five of the governing charter, the king must be a son of Ibn Saud, and the most appropriate among them shall be selected to rule. In this context, appropriateness is determined based on one's adherence to the principles of the Qur'an and the nation's particular strain of Islam, but in practice, it has also been understood to take into account such factors as seniority, acceptability to the broader family, maternal.lineage, and, in more recent times, experience in office. The charter also mandates that the crown prince take over as king upon the incumbent monarch's death, at which time the Allegiance Council will select a new regent. Under article six, it was provided that the crown prince would continue to function as de facto king until his formal appointment as king by the Council. Originally, it was intended that the king would nominate several candidates for the position of crown prince, one of whom would be selected by the council. The bylaws stipulated that this should take place within 30 days of the nomination process.

This procedure was eliminated, however, in March 2014, at the same time that the king decided to appoint Muqrin to the newly created post of deputy crown prince, effectively guaranteeing Muqrin's elevation to crown prince upon his death. This meant that the nomination process Abdallah had previously set out was bypassed, since the royal decree appointing Muqrin expressly stipulated that the decision could not be altered or changed in the future by any party. This provision immunized Muqrin from any potential challenge to his selection, and likely reflected the fact that Abdallah was aware of the extent of opposition to his plans for not only the new position, but more particularly his intention to appoint Muqrin. Without the stipulation, members of the Council could simply have blocked Muqrin from becoming crown prince, and there is some sign that this might have been the case, given that a substantial number believed that his older half-brother Ahmad was the rightful nominee.

a hidden purpose?
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