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Feature Article
Succession Issues - A Generational Change In Dynamic 2012-10-08
With a generational shift on the horizon, the younger princes grow restless. Structural changes to the succession process cannot disguise the shortcomings of a system designed for a very different era.

by Senior Analyst Talal Kapoor

On September 29, Hadhlul bin Abd al-Aziz, a senior royal and one of the few surviving sons of the Kingdom's founder, Ibn Saud, passed away. Though only born in 1941, and not realistically in line to the throne, the death of Hadhlul does highlight the dwindling supply of potential heirs from that generation. There are only a handful remaining with any real chance at succession, given their varying degrees of competence, inclination, and suitability. More and more, the grandsons are outshining them in every respect.

In a fundamentally different way, the younger generation (though they are often in their senior years themselves, and in many cases older than some of their uncles in the Abd al-Aziz line), saw their lives take shape in terms of career progression, rather than through a more traditional prism of enjoying what was due by right. By contrast, with such an abundance of siblings, and any thoughts of kingship and ruling too far in the distant future to contemplate, many of the sons of Ibn Saud spent their formative years each pursuing their own interests, or none. Aside from a small number (notably the al-Sudayri brothers) who pointedly, and ambitiously, went into government service of one kind or another, many chose to go into business, devote themselves to religious studies, pursue traditional pursuits like hunting, or idle their time away.

The family in those early years still very much viewed its position in terms of the shaykhly rule of the tribes, where the amir's son, brother or some other relative, would take over responsibility for leadership with the consent of the tribe's members. Suitability for the role was judged in terms of personal characteristics - uprightness, prowess in battle, his reputation for fairness in arbitration, even "hazz", that indefinable quality of luck that seemed bestowed on certain individuals. Ibn Saud was one such who seemed especially favored. Despite many setbacks, the successes he notched up soon began to give his rule an aura of inevitability. To a very large extent, the ambiguous framework for succession set out by him before his death was a product of this environment. Left intentionally vague, his directions were intended to ensure that the kingship went to the most upright and suitable (in the shaykhly sense) of his sons. There was little conception of a "career path" that would pay dividends down the road, as it was foreseen more that the most capable would naturally rise to the top on their own, personal merits, which would be manifest for all to see. True to the tribal tradition, the elder sons like Saud and Faysal competed between one another to win merit for their military prowess, which ended up disastrously for Saud, whose Yemen adventures went embarrassingly wrong. There is also a sense in which the elder sons regarded the kingship as their right, which it was, yet it often left them somewhat complacent and little interested in undertaking any further preparation.

Muhammad and Khalid for example, received appointments to provincial governorships, but did not pursue their duties with much enthusiasm, being far more interested in winning military renown and glory, or even going on hunting expeditions in the desert. In Muhammad's case, he regarded his post as Governor of Makkah a reward for his army's capture of the city. What was important to him, however, was the appointment's seeming confirmation of his eventual right to succeed, rather than its usefulness as a career stepping stone.

For the middle-ranking sons, there was a wide disparity in ability and outcome, as might be expected in any family of that size. Many had short-term careers as provincial amirs, or spent time in various ministerial posts, seeing public service as their duty. Musa'id, born in 1923 and a one-time Minister of Finance, or Bandar, born in 1921, who worked at Interior, are examples from this category.

competing visions
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