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June 21, 2012
King Abdullah’s appointment of Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz as Crown Prince on June 18 was widely expected after he was named Minister of Defense last November. Prince Naif, who served as Crown Prince for 8 months and Interior Minister for 36 years, died on June 16, thus opening both posts. The King quickly appointed Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz to replace Naif at the Interior Ministry. Ahmed, 72, has served as Vice Minister of Interior since 1976. He is a full brother of both Naif and Salman.
There have been no reports that the King assembled members of the Allegiance Commission as he did after the death of former Crown Prince Sultan last October. The Chairman of the Allegiance Commission, Prince Mishaal bin Abdul Aziz, is undergoing a medical check-up in New York according to the latest reports. On June 17, he received a number of other princes and top Saudi diplomats in New York who expressed their condolences. This may explain why the Commission has yet to meet.
The King is under no obligation to refer the appointment of a new Crown Prince to the Allegiance Commission, which he established in 2006. But when Prince Sultan died in October, King Abdullah assembled members of the Commission at his palace in Riyadh, where they swore allegiance to Prince Naif. He also took the opportunity to swear in two new members of the Commission who were chosen to replace their deceased brothers. In due course, the King can be expected to swear in sons of Naif and Salman to seats on the 34-member Commission, and eventually fill the vacancy created when Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz resigned his seat in November 2011. (If any of these vacancies have already been filled, it has not been widely reported.)
Once these seats are filled by new members, the Allegiance Commission will be comprised of twelve sons of Abdul Aziz, the Kingdom’s founder, with the remaining twenty-two members being either grandsons or great-grandsons of Abdul Aziz.
If King Abdullah dies before Crown Prince Salman, who is thirteen years younger, the Commission would be bound to pledge allegiance to Salman as King. Thereafter, Salman could nominate between one and three candidates to become his Crown Prince after consultations with the Commission. If the Commission fails to reach a consensus on a nominee of the King’s, it may then nominate its own candidate for the King’s approval. In case the King does not approve of the Commission’s choice, the Commission is to hold a vote, with the next Crown Prince chosen by a majority of the members of the Commission.
Prince Salman now holds three titles: he is Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense.
As Crown Prince and first deputy Prime Minister, Salman can be expected to chair the Council of Ministers when the King is absent or wishes to delegate the responsibility to him. During the final decade of King Fahd’s reign (1982-2005), then Crown Prince Abdullah became the de facto ruler when Fahd’s successive strokes left him incapacitated. King Abdullah, 89, has no similar issues and remains a decisive, engaged ruler. But he also will now have more latitude to let Salman tackle issues which he is not especially interested in.
Since becoming Minister of Defense last November, Prince Salman has toured military facilities all around the Kingdom and paid high-profile visits to London and Washington. During an April 10-13 visit to Washington as the guest of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Prince Salman had extensive meetings with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and others.
Earlier, he had finalized a major military procurement contract for the purchase of F-15 aircraft which will cement the U.S.-Saudi military relationship for the coming decade. This required overcoming some substantial and some nickel-and-dime concerns within the Defense Ministry over details of the procurement package. Under his guidance, the Ministry has sharpened its focus on its core mission and enhanced its reputation for integrity.
On June 21, Crown Prince Salman received U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta and an American delegation from the Pentagon in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The new Interior Minister, Prince Ahmed, attended the high-level meeting, as did Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Intelligence chief, Prince Saud bin Naif, President of the Crown Prince’s Court and his Special Adviser, and Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who coordinates the Kingdom’s counter-terrorism efforts.
There has been much reporting in the press contrasting the style and world-views of Prince Salman with those of Prince Naif. Salman is frequently described as being more forward-looking than his conservative brother, whose responsibilities focused on protecting the Kingdom and religious pilgrims from internal threats. Although Naif’s passing was unexpected, health issues during the past eight months have meant that he did not, as Crown Prince, play a more active role in world affairs.
The death of Prince Sultan last year was followed by the disaggregation of many powers accumulated during his years as Minister of Defense and Crown Prince. Early last November, the King issued a series of rapid-fire Royal Decrees that established separate lines of authority. The King also relieved Prince Abdul Rahman, 84, from his post as Vice Minister of Defense.
Abdul Rahman remains the eldest surviving member of the Sudairi seven. King Fahd was the eldest of these influential brothers before he died in 2005. The surviving brothers also include Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Salman’s youngest brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, the new Interior Minister. Ahmed is well-regarded and amiable. As Vice Minister of Interior he exercised his duties with a light touch, leaving much of the more arduous responsibilities to Prince Mohammed bin Naif, 53.
Prince Mohammed has been Assistant Minister for Security Affairs since 1999 and is widely credited for the success of the Ministry’s counter-terrorism program. As with any such program, success hinges on ensuring that the pursuit and punishment of actual terrorists does not create new enemies among their extended families or those wrongfully accused. In the event that Interior Ministry forces mistakenly raid someone’s home, Prince Mohammed has been known to personally visit the residence and apologize to families in full view of the neighborhood. He has also enlisted the families of those whom the Ministry sought to rehabilitate so that they have a vested interest in the success of the program. Prince Mohammed will remain a fixture at the Interior Ministry.
Foreign Reports is a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that writes and distributes timely intelligence reports on political developments in the Middle East relevant to oil markets. Oil companies, governments, and financial institutions rely on Foreign Reports for their insight and analysis on key issues affecting the world generally and the Middle East specifically. The firm was founded in 1956 and the current President is Nathaniel Kern.