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Al-Saud family chooses Mohammed bin Naif for a strong future

January 24, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Saudi Arabia’s new King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, has already decided to resolve the issue of succession by appointing Prince Mohammed bin Naif , his brother’s son, as the next crown prince but one. He will be the first of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud’s grandchildren in the line of succession with a real chance of sitting on the throne. According to Saudi state television, a royal decree said that Prince Mohammed will remain the Minister of the Interior, and will be third in line to the throne after King Salman and new Crown Prince Muqrin.

Prince Mohammed is a close friend of the United States, gaining the approval of Western countries after crushing Al-Qaeda’s activity between 2003 and 2006, when he was commander of the Saudi security forces. He has also made a lengthy visit to Washington in recent weeks. It is worth noting that his father was also minister of the interior.

Born in 1959, he is relatively young compared to other senior members of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. His confirmation as the appointed successor to Crown Prince Muqrin, when the time comes, provides an answer to the question raised a long time ago regarding the succession.

The transition to the second generation

The ruling Al-Saud family has chosen a clear path to the future for one of the world’s wealthiest states by appointing a strong security man who is close to Washington to a key position. He will, in principle, be the first king from the family’s “second generation”.

The new King, Salman, who is 79 years old, appointed his nephew just hours after he was handed the reins of power. He will be the last king of the first generation of children of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz. The kingdom sits on a great wealth of oil reserves and has faced a problem over the issue of transition from the first generation to the second without any conflict within the large family, which has 25,000 members and 200 princes in government positions. The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Naif settles this issue, albeit at the expense of perhaps stronger princes in his generation, including Prince Mutaib, son of the late King Abdullah.

Abdul Wahab Badrakhan, a political analyst based in London, told AFP that regardless of whether an individual was appointed or if internal rivalries in the family were resolved, “as long as the family decided, this means that it is a guarantee for the future.”

In this context, Badrakhan said that Mohammed bin Naif’s appointment in this position means that he will give security top priority as king, especially as the kingdom faces external threats on all sides, mainly from the Islamic State (ISIS). Riyadh is involved in the international coalition fighting the group. “This will be a relief to Saudi’s allies, especially the United States,” he added.

King Salman has appointed his son, also Prince Mohammed, as minister of defence, thus enhancing the influence of the wing he represents within the ruling family. Salman is the second Saudi monarch after King Fahd from King Abdul Aziz’s sons with Princess Hassa Al-Sudairi; Prince Mohammed bin Naif belongs to the same wing.

Prince Abdullah bin Mutaib remains as the head of the National Guard, where he can count on the support of Crown Prince Muqrin, who the late King appointed. “If there was a place for Prince Mutaib,” said Badrakhan, “it would be with Prince Muqrin, not King Salman.”

Transition mechanism

Stephane Lacroix, a professor at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and a specialist in Saudi affairs, believes that by resolving the question of who will be the first king from the second generation, a question remains with regards to the mechanism for the transfer of power that will be adopted in the future. He believes that the ruling family has two choices.

“First, they can adopt a horizontal transfer of power, similar to the current system. This is a difficult system to manage because there are hundreds of individuals who could be eligible to take over the government. The second option is hereditary transition from the father, which would exclude all the family wings from sitting on the throne and will restrict governance to one house. This is precisely what King Abdul Aziz did when he confined succession to his sons.”

Lacroix suggested that the first choice preserves the rights of everyone, which guarantees the unity of the family. “However, this option is not viable in the medium term, whereas the second option creates violent divisions in the short term, but the system will stabilise in the medium term.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.