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Feature Article
King Abdallah: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing? (Part Two) 2014-11-28
Prince Mit'ab bin Abdallah, head of the National Guard, has just returned from a high-profile visit to the United States, underscoring the prominence of the king's sons in public life. Is Abdallah, like King Saud before him, scheming to bypass the succession process and start an alternate line of succession?

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

Part One looked at various inter-familial dynastic struggles within a historical context, focusing mainly on the efforts of King Saud to position his own sons in critical government posts, grooming them for eventual succession. This would have represented a fundamental break from the command of his father, Abd al-Aziz, that kingship was to pass through each brother in turn, by seniority, the only caveats being that they be capable and pious. After Saud's removal from power, the inner royal circle breathed a collective sigh of relief, believing that a comfortable stability in succession matters would now settle in. This was true for a time, as Khalid and then Fahd took their turns on the throne, and aside from the inevitable squabbles over whose son would assume which post or governorship, there was little argument over the order of succession itself.

During the time of Fahd's rule, however, the so-called "Sudayri Seven" (Fahd and his powerful full brothers) came to the fore and their rise to prominence threatened to upset the order once again. It was feared that an alternate line of succession would now be set up, not from one king to his own offspring, but rather one which would see an al-Sudayri faction passing the kingship among themselves and excluding their half-brothers from power. Eventually, of course, one of the Sudayri brothers would have tried to claim the throne for his own descendants alone, cutting out his own full brothers, raising the spectre of open conflict within the faction itself, but the immediate concern was simply that there seemed to be very little anyone could do if the Sudayris decided to make a grab for power, such was the critical mass that was developing. Almost all the institutions of state power now fell within their sphere of influence, and any opposition was weak and disjointed.

Nonetheless, the passage of time has devastated the Sudayri power base, as attrition thinned the ranks of the brothers and many of their own offspring failed to establish strong enough positions to ensure their survival in the absence of a powerful benefactor. Khalid bin Sultan is a case in point. Seemingly destined for great things, his career stumbled after the death of his father, the crown prince. Khalid's erratic and inconsistent performance at Defence made it a simple matter for King Abdallah to remove him from high position, despite the presence of powerful uncles in key ministries. Similarly, the long-serving Governor of the Eastern Province, Muhammad bin Fahd, once seen as a leading contender for the throne among his generation, found that his own position was not immune to the vagaries of political manoeuvrings.

Of course, another key factor in the sidelining of the Sudayris, as illustrated in the two examples, is the unexpected rise of Abdallah. Once dismissed by his brothers as an uncouth bedouin (his mother was the daughter of a tribal shaykh, and he loves nothing more than the ways of the desert), Abdallah's capable (and vastly popular) reign has come as a shock. By virtue not only of his surprising longevity, but also a shrewd political sense, Abdallah has succeeded in creating a power base far in excess of what anyone would have imagined a decade ago, when he was nearly devoid of close allies. This has been achieved on the one hand through the careful and patient cultivation of political alliances, and on the other by means of a hard-headed management style that does not hesitate to sweep the decks when the opportunity presents. It is fair to say that those royals wtih positions in government who underestimated him are either out of work or on their way out. Comfortably held notions of royal prerogatives and assumed succession outcomes have been jettisoned, and all bets are off as as Abdallah surprises again and again with bold initiatives and legal frameworks to establish clear succession guidelines which, no doubt intentionally, have loosened the al-Sudayri grip.

the rise of Mit'ab
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