Succession Risks Allayed For Now

BMI View: The binding appointment of 70-year Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to Saudi Arabia's throne resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. The stage is now set for a prolonged period of transition, as the younger generation of royals gradually acquires more responsibilities. We expect the incremental pace of reform adopted by King Abdullah to continue over the medium term.

Saudi Arabia appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to the throne on March 27, in a move that resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. In a royal decree announced on state television, the 70-year old Prince Muqrin was made second crown prince alongside his current duties as second deputy prime minister, a position he obtained in February 2013. Yet the ruling goes further, defining the line of succession for 90 year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud as binding and "not to be amended or replaced by whomsoever". In effect, Crown Prince Salman (78) is established to become the next king, with Prince Muqrin now firmly secured as his successor.

Such certainty had been sorely missing since the onset of the Arab Spring, with Prince Salman's two predecessors as heir apparent passing away in less than a year's interval over 2011-12. King Abdullah has remained relatively active in policymaking but is reported to be in increasingly frail health - a condition shared by Prince Salman. The Saudi royal family has thousands of members and is divided into several different familial branches, making it prone to inner rivalries. Although an Allegiance Council made up of senior members of the royal family was created in 2006 to manage the succession issue, the body had remained untested until this month. Prince Muqrin's appointment as deputy second prime minister last year had strongly elevated his status, but did not formally guarantee his ascension. Now that he has been formally designated as eventual heir - having won the backing of the Council with 27 out of 34 votes - one of the key medium-term risks to Saudi Arabia's political stability has been allayed.

Succession Risks Allayed For Now

BMI View: The binding appointment of 70-year Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to Saudi Arabia's throne resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. The stage is now set for a prolonged period of transition, as the younger generation of royals gradually acquires more responsibilities. We expect the incremental pace of reform adopted by King Abdullah to continue over the medium term.

Saudi Arabia appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to the throne on March 27, in a move that resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. In a royal decree announced on state television, the 70-year old Prince Muqrin was made second crown prince alongside his current duties as second deputy prime minister, a position he obtained in February 2013. Yet the ruling goes further, defining the line of succession for 90 year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud as binding and "not to be amended or replaced by whomsoever". In effect, Crown Prince Salman (78) is established to become the next king, with Prince Muqrin now firmly secured as his successor.

Such certainty had been sorely missing since the onset of the Arab Spring, with Prince Salman's two predecessors as heir apparent passing away in less than a year's interval over 2011-12. King Abdullah has remained relatively active in policymaking but is reported to be in increasingly frail health - a condition shared by Prince Salman. The Saudi royal family has thousands of members and is divided into several different familial branches, making it prone to inner rivalries. Although an Allegiance Council made up of senior members of the royal family was created in 2006 to manage the succession issue, the body had remained untested until this month. Prince Muqrin's appointment as deputy second prime minister last year had strongly elevated his status, but did not formally guarantee his ascension. Now that he has been formally designated as eventual heir - having won the backing of the Council with 27 out of 34 votes - one of the key medium-term risks to Saudi Arabia's political stability has been allayed.

The Salman - Muqrin era will be one of prolonged transition. Prince Muqrin is the youngest surviving son of the country's founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, and the half-brother of the current ruler. He is therefore well placed to bridge the gap between the remaining senior members of the Al Saud family and the younger generation of royals, which is gradually assuming more responsibilities (see 'Passing The Mantle', February 4, 2013). The last three years have seen Abdulaziz's grandsons rise to top leadership positions, including strategic ministries and the country's most important governorates (see table below). It seems likely that Prince Muqrin will be the last son of Saudi Arabia's founder to sit on the throne, given his relative youth and the increasing influence of the second generation.

SAUDI ARABIA - RECENT LEADERSHIP CHANGES
Position and Date of Replacement Newcomer (Age) Previous Incumbent (Age)
Deputy Crown Prince (March 2014) Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (70)
Governor of Mecca (December 2013) Mishaal bin Abdullah (43) * Khaled Al Faisal (73)
Deputy Minister of Defense (August 2013) Salman bin Sultan (37) Fahd Abdullah bin Mohammed
Governor of Riyadh (February 2013) Khalid bin Bandar Sattam bin Abdulaziz (died Feb 2013, 72)
Deputy Governor of Riyadh (February 2013) Turki bin Abdullah (41) * Muhammad bin Saad (68-69)
Second Deputy Prime Minister (February 2013) Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (70) -
Governor of the Eastern Province (January 2013) Saud bin Nayef (57) Muhammad bin Fahd (63)
Governor of Medina (January 2013) Faisal bin Salman (42) Abdulaziz bin Majid
Minister of Interior (November 2012) Mohammed bin Nayef (54) Ahmed bin Abdulaziz (71)
National Security Council Chief (July 2012) Bandar bin Sultan (65) Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (69)
Crown Prince (June 2012) Salman bin Abdulaziz (78) Nayef bin Abdulaziz (died June 2012, 77)
Head of Religious Police (January 2012) Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Humain
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister (July 2011) Abdulaziz bin Abdullah (50) * -
Commander of the Saudi National Guard (November 2010) Mutaib bin Abdullah (62) * King Abdullah (90)
* Son of King Abdullah; Source: BMI

No drastic shift in the direction of Saudi policy is likely for the time being. Prince Muqrin, who started as provincial governor before serving as director of intelligence from 2005 to 2012, is seen as an experienced policymaker, and will likely continue King Abdullah's incremental pace of reform. Under the latter's reign, Saudi Arabia has undertaken a series of small-scale economic and social reforms, downscaling the powers of the religious police (the mutaween), appointing women to the government's 150-members advisory Shura Council, aligning its weekend with the rest of the Gulf, and moving forward on long-anticipated mortgage laws (see 'Weekend Shift Prefigures Further Reforms', June 25, 2013). We expect Prince Muqrin to seek further economic modernisation while being careful to retain the support of the regime's (numerous) conservative elements.

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