Succession in Saudi Arabia
by Joseph A. Kechichian
New York: Palgrave, 2001. 297 pp. $55.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Kechichian asserts that the very appearance of his book indicates the Saudi family has "reached a very high level of political maturity," but reading the book makes this statement sound more like flattery than scholarly analysis.1 The vast size of the Saud family and its complete domination of the state named after them combine to make the rest of the world disappear from the intra-family wrangling over the succession. Reading about the Saudi succession question means entering the claustrophobic precincts of 36 sons of the state's founder (25 of whom survive), plus the 260 or so grandsons (the distaff side plays no public role). It is probably fair to say that never in the history of monarchy has a ruling dynasty included so many actors and so many complications. For example, one important factor in a man's standing is the ties his mother had to an important tribe; others are the number of his full brothers and his success in placing his sons in key positions. Another complexity arises from generational overlap – the youngest of the sons (born in 1947) is younger than the oldest of the great-grand-sons (born 1946), leading to a situation where "the pool of potentially active princes contains elements of four generations that are of roughly similar ages." From all this come a unique bouquet of family alliances and intrigues.
Getting down to specifics: the Heir Apparent, ‘Abdullah, controls the National Guard but "remains relatively weak" because of his somewhat isolated position within the family. With success, he has worked to make up for this by reaching out to the populace in an effort to become the "people's king"; nice try, says Kechichian, but "support within the family remains far more important." King Fahd's codification of the succession in 1992 amounted to a "bombshell" whose implications are still being worked out. The son to watch is Salman second youngest (b. 1936) of the bloc of full brothers known as the "Sudayri Seven." Of the grandsons, ten have a bright political future. Perhaps Kechichian's most important conclusion, one which this reviewer fully endorses, is that the Saud family is "far more secure than generally assumed."
1 Kechichian builds on what he calls the "enlightened" 1994 study by Simon Henderson, After King Fahd: Succession in Saudi Arabia (reviewed in MEQ, Dec. 1994. p. 81).
Related Topics: Saudi Arabia | Daniel Pipes | Winter 2002 MEQ
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