A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 22, 2015

After ‘Abdullah: Salman for Now, with Muqrin Waiting in the Wings?

The death of King ‘Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is hardly a surprise, as he was 90 and had long been ailing, but it removes from the scene a man who had been a key figure in the Kingdom for decades, first as Commander and in effect creator of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, then as Crown Prince and, after King Fahd's stroke in 1995, de facto ruler during the decade until Fahd's death in 2005, and since then as King.

King Salman
His successor, his half-brother Crown Prince (now King) Salman has, at least on paper, considerable experience; after nearly 40 years as Governor of Riyadh Province, he has served as Defense Minister since 2011. But Salman, though at 79 he is a decade younger than ‘Abdullah, has suffered at least one stroke and has trouble using his left arm, has had spinal surgery, and there are many reports that he is suffering from some degree of some sort of dementia, perhaps Alzheimer's.

Probably because of these concerns, King ‘Abdullah last year took the unusual step of creating the post of Deputy Crown Prince, and naming Prince Muqrin, who is only 69 and a former head of General Intelligence, to the post. Muqrin presumably now becomes Crown Prince, unless Salman and the family make a change in ‘Abdullah's arrangements. [UPDATE: Salman has confirmed Muqrin as Crown Prince.]

Prince Muqrin
If Salman's health does not permit him to rule, Muqrin could become the de facto ruler the way then-Crown Prince ‘Abdullah was during the last decade of King Fahd's rule.That would be more in keeping with Saudi tradition than an abdication for health reasons, as happened in Kuwait in 2006.

It is axiomatic however, than those who speak about the inner workings of the House of Saud do not know, while those who know (the senior princes) do not speak. We'll see.

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