A sequence of important events that occurred in Saudi Arabia, simultaneously with the recent visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to that country, have roused close attention and numerous comments of analysts around the world. First of all, this is because the kingdom is one of the leading oil producers and exporters in the world. Moreover, not only is Saudi Arabia the leader of the so-called Sunni Arab bloc, but it also plays a major role throughout the Arab world. In addition, if we consider just these two roles, it is natural that any change in the leadership of this country would be cause for close attention of the world community.
The visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia, so widely touted in the West, has led to very disastrous results. Western, and especially American media, which greatly discussed this event on the eve of the visit, after the completion of the American president’s mission, is now keeping silent. The formal reports were so brief that they produced the impression that this was a visit to some third-rate country, rather than a visit to the current leader of the Arab world, which is being asked to play a decisive role in the global arena.
After the talks with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Barack Obama said, trying to make the best of bad situation, that “despite their differences, both countries continue their friendship and cooperation”. Thus, we can say that the optimistic plans of the Saudi rulers, that the Americans would pull their Middle East chestnuts out of the fire, have failed. As usual, the United States is only pursuing its selfish goals and plans, regardless of the opinions even of its old allies. This apparently explains the fact that the official statements on the visit of Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia were indecently chary. As the saying goes, if there is nothing good to be said, it is better to keep silent.
Indeed, as the events show, the Saudi king and his entourage are deeply disappointed by Washington’s deviation from the previous strategic course, which has bound together both countries for 70 years – and where Riyadh has always played the role of errand boy for the Americans. We should recall that on February 14, 1945, a historical meeting took place aboard the U.S. Navy ship USS Quincy in the Suez Canal. The U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Rahman bin Saud Al Saud (Ibn Saud). Under this agreement, the U.S. guaranteed continued support for the Saudi royal family and the Aramco Oil Company, while they would provide an uninterrupted supply of the black gold. These relationships have been maintained almost until the last day, despite many ups and downs in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However now, Washington, being guided by its selfish reasons, is gradually beginning to depart from its unconditional support of Riyadh.
Nevertheless, one theme of Saudi-US negotiations, as diplomatic sources have noted, has been kept fully secret. This concerned the transfer of power in Saudi Arabia, given that the current King Abdullah is 90 years old, the Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is 79, the governance of the country, in most cases, is being carried out by other people, but of course these are members of the Saud family. On this occasion, a well-informed Arabic newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, citing Saudi sources, wrote: “King Abdullah has learned his lesson from the change of power in Qatar, but still has not determined the time to transfer the crown and throne to his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz.” It is well known that Crown Prince Salman, just like King Abdullah, has physical disabilities. Some persons close to the supreme authority of the kingdom claim that given the poor state of his health, Prince Salman apparently will refuse to accept the throne.
This is confirmed by the fact that Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was appointed as the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He has the potential to become the Crown Prince and King, in the case of death of any of the Saudi patriarchs, according to the TV channel Al Arabiya. Experts of the channel believe that this appointment reduces tensions around the question of succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia. The 70-year-old Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the youngest son of the founding father of the kingdom, is considered one of the main contenders for the Saudi throne. Since 2005, he has headed the country’s intelligence services, and also served as the second Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia. “The 70-year-old Muqrin, stepbrother of the monarch,” wrote the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, “will inherit the throne upon the death, or refusal to take power, of the current Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose health may not allow him to take ascent the throne.”
The Saudi king also appointed his eldest son Mutaib, third heir in line to the throne, according to Saudi media. Prince Mutaib, the eldest son of the present King, will respectively, follow Prince Muqrin, who is second in line to the throne. As King Abdullah says, the health of the 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman is a major concern, and he may in the future refuse to lead the country. The Saudi monarch intends to call the so-called Allegiance Council, consisting of 34 representatives of the ruling Saudi family, to approve of his will. In accordance with the rules for succession of power in the Saudi Kingdom, the throne is passed inside the ruling family from brother to brother, by seniority. The Allegiance Council was created in 2006 to regulate the transition of power by the right of succession. In case of the death of the king, this council enthrones the successor and appoints the next crown prince.
The thing is that Abdul Rahman bin Saud Al Saud (Ibn Saud), who founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, left a testament to his sons, which stipulated the transfer of power from one son to another. Ibn Saud was a very amorous Bedouin, who only officially was married to 19 women, not counting the so-called temporary, brief marriages. Annually, for almost 10 years, Ibn Saud went to a Saudi Arabian city for one day, visiting during a local Muslim holiday. There, he formally married one of the women, spent the night with her, and in the morning got divorced and returned to Riyadh. The following year, that woman would show him the child that was born during that year and the whole procedure was repeated. However, neither these women nor their children were considered as legitimate family for Ibn Saud. His official wives gave birth to 21 daughters and 45 sons, or perhaps more, as the special committee, which was created to find the heirs of Ibn Saud, keeps working hard and is always giving different figures. In other words, there are very many contenders to the royal throne, but Ibn Saud, who died in 1953, apparently did not anticipate that the issue of succession would be very relevant after 80 years. Today, the total number of members of the family of Saud reaches 25,000 people, including more than 200 princes.
It should be noted that the influence of the members of the royal family is primarily determined by their belonging to a particular family clan, whose members are connected to each other with close kinship relations (usually brothers and uncles on their mother’s side). In their activities, the princes have to confine themselves to the position, occupied by their clan. However, they make wide use of solidarity within the clans, and provide mutual support in obtaining government positions and consolidating their positions in state structures. The most important family clan is the Al Sudairi. The “core” of the clan was constituted by seven sons of King Abdulaziz from Hassa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi. The “second generation” of princes, the clan support, is mainly represented by the sons of the “Seven Sudairi”.
A certain counterbalance to the influence of the Sudairi clan in the ruling family and the state is created by the Sunaiyan clan of eight brothers – the sons of former King Faisal. The most prominent of them is the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. According to some accounts, the Sunaiyan clan is patronized by King Abdullah, who is, on his mother’s side, the representative of a less influential clan than Sudairi – the Shammar clan.
Enormous changes are brewing in Saudi Arabia now, and a change of generations may occur, as King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman are not just old, but seriously ill. Tensions are increasing and contradictions are spreading in the ruling Saud family, because the younger generation no longer wants to live by the standards of the 18th century Wahhabis. The protests of the Shiite minority, living in the country’s main oil production areas, are also growing. The shortsighted policy of involving the kingdom in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq has damaged the country. Hostility towards Iran, which is quickly coming out from Western isolation is artificially fomented. Everything seems to indicate that these changes will happen very soon, and they will affect not only the country, but also the entire Arab world. These will have an impact on the overall global policy.