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With second crown prince named, Saudi succession still knotty

The designation of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second heir to the Saudi throne raises more questions than it answers

Nadeen Shaker , Monday 31 Mar 2014
Prince Muqrin
Saudi Arabia's Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, brother of Saudi's King Abdullah, gestures during a news conference in Riyadh November 24, 2007 (Photo: Reuters)
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Following a recent decree by a Saudi royal court making Muqrin bin Abdulaziz a crown prince, the kingdom now boasts two crown princes awaiting their turn on the throne.

Muqrin is now the second heir to Saudi monarch King Abdullah, after Crown Prince Salman.

The designation of the 68-year-old ex-intelligence chief Muqrin as second heir to the throne solves the mystery surrounding the succession of Saudi kings, while catapulting into question the reasons behind his favoured selection over other candidates.

Described as systematic and punctual, Muqrin has more importantly enjoyed a closeness with King Abdullah for the past six years, acting as his brotherly advisor.

“He has a fighter pilot’s tendency to get up early in the morning and work hard,” Robert Lacey, British journalist and best-selling author of Inside the Kingdom, described Muqrin to Ahram Online. Now deputy premier, the prince had trained to be an F-15 jet pilot in the United Kingdom early in his life. 

Muqrin’s relation to the king, his half-brother, is at the heart of succession issues that have long plagued the kingdom. It had laid to bed doubts -- and hopes, for some -- that the succession would skip a generation to crown-hopeful younger princes, sons, grandsons, and nephews of the ruling king. The appointment of the young princes to high-level ministerial posts in 2013, assumedly paving the way for their ascent to the monarchy, seemed to have set the transition in motion.

But instead, Prince Muqrin is now firmly established in his position with an unequivocally worded royal decree stressing that his appointment could not be altered "in any way or by any person, reason or interpretation."

The appointment of a second-in-line to the throne also marked a precedent in Saudi history.

Contrary to outward appearances, some analysts have interpreted the move as an attempt to derail the line of succession and pass it on to the sons of King Abdullah.

“Muqrin is being sewed in a fascinating game of political chess to block the ambitious and powerful [Prince] Mohamed Bin Naif who is a rival of the king’s camp,” Ali Al-Ahmed, Saudi scholar and political expert, told Ahram Online in an interview. “Muqrin is powerless on his own but is a trusted soldier of the king and his camp; that is why he is being used as place holder for the king’s son [Prince] Miteab ibn Abdullah.”

The opinion is shared by another Saudi analyst who argued that Muqrin could be swayed into appointing Miteab as crown prince.

Al-Ahmad contends that the decision of succession was jointly taken by King Abdullah in concert with Miteab and his close aide Khalied Al-Twaijeri, allegedly rising against the opposing camp of Prince Naif whom the West and particularly the US support as candidate for the throne. A campaign against Muqrin and Al-Twaijeri initiated by Naif’s camp has also gone viral online.

Muqrin’s nomination also bypasses and injures another figure: Prince Salman, first crown prince and successor of the current Saudi monarch. “It leaves no room for the current crown prince, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, to change the person that will succeed him,” said Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, a Saudi journalist and columnist.

The quarrelling ‘quarter’

Three-quarters of the Oath of Allegiance Committee members -- a committee of 34 princes appointed by the king in 2007 to elect a monarch after his death -- voted in favour of Muqrin. It is unclear why the committee was consulted at this time.

Whether the committee agonised over the decision or not cannot be determined, as royal decisions are made behind closed palace doors, far from the public eye. Some, such as political analyst at US-based gobal intelligence company JTG and former official at the Saudi embassy in Washington, Fahad Nazer, said the numbers show a majority support Muqrin.

Lacey, who believed the vote to be a measure of democracy within the royal palace, alternatively said: “the suggestion that a quarter of the senior princes voted against Muqrin might [imply] instability.”

Rumours of the old king’s inability to rule would also “lead some members of the ruling family to become vocal in their opposition to the king’s decision. He has been a trooper showing amazing strength at this age,” Al-Ahmed contends.

But, what the real purpose and ramification of this new addition to the dynastic tree will have on Saudi Arabia’s future politics cannot be predicted at present.

Since the decree was issued, rumours have swirled about the prospects of more decrees regarding not only the future leadership structure but also the current one, Nazer said.

“It is too early to tell what the ramifications of this decision will be on the Saudi royal family. The family is very closed and we may never know what real debates went on within it,” Abou-Alsamh argued.
 

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