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Feature Article
The Kingdom: Succession in Saudi Arabia (part six) (Page: 2)
outmanoeuvering the al-Sudayris

The Commission is comprised, predictably, of the surviving sons of Ibn Saud, with some exceptions. The line of Hammud bin Abd al-Aziz (who died without male heirs) has no representation. The exclusion of Bandar bin Abd al-Aziz and Musa'id bin Abd al-Aziz was a foregone conclusion. Bandar is rarely seen in public, being something of a recluse, and has little involvement with family affairs. Musa'id's infirmity, not to mention the past disgrace which still taints his line, makes him unsuitable. Their sons (Faysal and Abdallah respectively) take their place on the commission.

Though there is no explicit mention of any place for a third generation prince in its composition, Turki bin Faysal bin Turki is included, since it was important that the line of Turki bin Abd al-Aziz (Ibn Saud's first-born son) be recognized.

The process will ensure that a consensus candidate emerges, widening the circle of political trust. Indeed, the new succession law would not have been possible without the support of the royal family's major factions. On the other hand, the Bay'ah council brings a new and bold dynamic to domestic family politics, excluding members from branches other than that of Abd al-Aziz, concentrating power ever more narrowly among the family's senior core. Further, several of the grandsons who will take part are too young and inexperienced to play much of a role. The fact that many family elders will not participate is a further consideration. By virtue of the "gravitas" they possess and the authority they command, even in the absence of any visibility or political experience by which they might otherwise merit a place on the council, these family elders often act as a tempering influence in family dispute. This could lead to unforeseen consequences, as the new dynamic will test a novel modus operandi, without any traditional, mitigating, influence, setting the stage for a potentially climactic showdown between competing family factions.

Sultan will be the second al-Sudayri king with the power to appoint a successor. The decision to name a vali al-ahd (presumably Nayif or Salman, from the al-Sudayri branch) will be made by Sultan then. Will his choice result in a rupture, or will Sultan make a suitable alliance between with the reformers? Sultan is without doubt the most powerful member of the family, and he controls an extensive web of patronage. Further, he enjoys good relations with the younger technocrat princes. Still, the nature of internal family dynamics would have prevented Sultan from forcing through his choice in the face of opposition from key figures. At best, he might have been able to advance the long-standing project of furthering al-Sudayri interests, entrenching their dominance beyond challenge, but it is likely that the family has already reached a tacit understanding that one of the al-Sudayri full brothers would succeed Sultan in any event. No other candidate, realistically, has enough influence and support to mount an effective campaign in the near future.

Nonetheless, Abdallah has apparently outmaneuvered the al-Sudayri faction with a pre-emptive move. Although Abdallah cannot prevent Sultan from appointing his choice, the Commission will challenge the dominance of the al-Sudayri faction. Given the difficulty of replacing commission members, it will be almost impossible to circumvent the process. The move presents an insurmountable obstacle to those al-Sudayris who had hoped to gain enough momentum to appoint their own successors and so create a new dynasty. For years it was thought that Abdallah was struggling, against the odds, to promote a candidate who could challenge the al-Sudayris. Many concluded that this had failed. In the end, however, Abdallah prevailed. In a move of political genius, he relied upon the broad coalition of interests he had put together to build a new institutional mechanism based on traditional family structures.

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