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Feb 1, 2013 | 16:25 GMT

Saudi Arabia: A Succession Question Settled, For Now

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AFP/GettyImages

The Feb. 1 appointment of former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second deputy prime minister is designed to ensure a lengthy period of stable successions for the Saudi royal family. The appointment temporarily settles the long-standing question of whether the line of succession will skip from the second to third generation of princes.

Since the death of the two previous crown princes, former Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdulaziz and former Interior Minister Naif bin Abdulaziz in October 2011 and June 2012, respectively, Naif's younger brother Salman was appointed as crown prince. But during this period of transition, Saudi King Abdullah had not appointed a second deputy prime minister, a post that since the 1960s has been held by the crown prince in waiting and third in line for the throne.

Challenges Facing the Saudi Royal Family

Saudi Arabia Baseline Map

Because the pool of second-generation princes is dwindling, with many too old or too unqualified to assume the throne, the question has been a looming of when the line of power will pass to the third generation of princes — a transition never before seen in the kingdom. Muqrin's appointment as second deputy prime minister indicates that even if King Abdullah and Salman die, the throne will remain in the hands of a second-generation prince ideally for the next 10 to 15 years, though this time frame depends on their health. This assurance temporarily allays concerns that have been raised regarding the transition; for instance, only a few third-generation princes have been tested in foreign policy and national governance, and it is unknown whether younger, less experienced grandsons will place the stability and unity of the kingdom above their own interests. These concerns are sure to be raised when any one of the positions in the succession line needs to be filled again.

King Abdullah's choice to appoint Muqrin also puts to rest concerns that the nationality of a son or grandson's mother could restrict him from governing. In terms of government and foreign policy experience, Muqrin is a strong candidate. He served as governor of several Saudi provinces and headed the General Intelligence Directorate for several years. But Muqrin's chance at governing the kingdom was always questioned because he was born to a Yemeni, rather than Saudi, mother. 

Muqrin's appointment also signifies to many that a period of stability will ensue, as the transition from the second to third generation of ruling princes is now less likely in the near future. However, as King Abdullah, Salman and Muqrin continue to age, the potential will grow for rifts among the various clans in the House of Saud and for instability for the world's biggest oil exporter. 

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