Unlike most monarchies, where one of the offsprings inherits power after the death of their father, the Kingdom Saudi Arabia has been unusual because after the death of its founder Abdulaziz Al Saud power has been transferred between his sons based on seniority and consensus. His eldest son Saud was the first, followed by Faisal, Khaled, Fahad and now Abdullah.
As the brothers get older together, this type of horizontal transfer of power creates a succession problem. By the time Abdullah became King in 2005, he was already above 80 years old. He is now on his third Crown Prince after the first two he chose, Sultan and Naif, passed away in October 2011 and June 2012, respectively.
King Abdullah set up in 2006 the Allegiance Council, a body composed of the sons and grandsons of the Kingdom’s founder, to vote by a secret ballot to choose future kings and crown princes. However, it does not seem that the role of the Council has been activated yet.
Instead, the path to the throne so far seems to follow a traditional way: the King, who is also the prime minister, appoints a Crown Prince who also serves as
a deputy premier and chairs the Cabinet when the King is absent. The King also appoints a second deputy premier. If the King passes away, the Crown Prince becomes king and the second deputy premier becomes Crown Prince.
When the late Prince Naif was named second deputy premier in March 2009, the appointment was a clear signal that he was the third in line to the throne after King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. So when the latter passed away in October 2011, Naif became Crown Prince, leaving the position of second deputy premier vacant. Less than eight months later, Naif passed away and Salman became Crown Prince without taking the position of second deputy premier.
However, the recent promotion of Prince Mohammed bin Naif to the position of Interior Minister has rekindled speculation over the Saudi monarchy’s succession plans. Will Mohammed bin Naif follow the steps of his father to become the next second deputy premier and later Crown Prince? He is certainly a strong contender for Position No. 3 in the Saudi royal power structure, but he is not the only one vying for the spot. Here is a list of ten princes who could be named a second deputy premier then crown prince, and maybe become king one day.
1. Mohammed bin Naif
After taking the helm of the interior ministry, he has become the first grandson of the kingdom’s founder to be appointed to one of the main leadership positions in the country in recent years. As the country’s counter-terrorism chief, he has led a successful campaign against al-Qaeda. He was targeted by the terrorist organization when a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate him in 2009 but he survived the attack with minor injuries. He is “one of the very few to be able to claim that he has paid in blood for his country,” writes Sultan al-Qassemi, “and that is a tough claim to beat.”
2. Khaled al-Faisal
Despite being Governor of Makkah province, he is seen as one of the more liberal princes. He is also owner of al-Watannewspaper, which is considered the most progressive paper in the country. A poet who appreciates arts and music, he is disliked by religious conservatives who view him as lacking the required piety to lead the Kingdom that prides itself as the protector of Islam’s holiest sites. At 72, he is the most senior member of the Royal family after Prince Salman, which puts him in a slight disadvantage if age is considered as one of the criteria for choosing the next third-in-line.
3. Khaled bin Sultan
Deputy defense minister and son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, he has led Arab forces during the 1991 Gulf War to end the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He owns the influential pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Hayat. When his father passed away, some expected that he would succeed him as defense minister but that position went to his uncle Salman, the current Crown Prince. He has led Saudi forces in their campaign against Houthi rebels on the border with Yemen in 2009, but he wascriticized for making tactical mistakes in the war.
4. Mohammed bin Fahad
As the Governor of the Eastern Province since 1985, he oversees the country’s largest area geographically. The region is also strategically important: it is the base for Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and home for its Shia minority. Son of the late King Fahad, he is married to daughter of the late Crown Prince Naif. When protesters inspired by the Arab Spring took to street in Qatif last year he met with Shia leaders and youth activists, but his initiative has failed to end the protests. He has founded a private university bearing his name outside Dammam, and he is said to have wide business interests in the region that he governs.
5. Miteb bin Abdullah
Son of the King and Commander of the Saudi National Guard (SANG). After he received his education at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he began his career at SANG in 1990, and in June 2009 he replaced his uncle Bader as deputy commander of SANG. In November 2010, his father handed him full control of SANG, and has since assumed anincreasingly visible role in government as a state minister. He is also known to be a patron of arts and culture through his sponsorship of Janadriyah, an annual festival of heritage and culture organized outside the capital Riyadh.
6. Turki al-Faisal
Often referred to as an influential member of the royal family who speaks for the government in an unofficial capacity, he does not hold any official position although he may be one of best known Saudi princes in the West. He has served as Saudi intelligence chief between 1977 to 2001, and as ambassador to the UK and the US before retiring in 2006. He is the Chairman of King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, one of the few think tanks in the country. He also teaches at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, his alma mater. He is the brother of Prince Saud, the veteran foreign minister, and Makkah Governor Prince Khaled.
7. Muqrin bin Abdulaziz
At 67, he is the youngest surviving son of the country’s founder. Trained as a pilot, he served at the Royal Saudi Air Force during the 1970s. He previously served as governor of Hail and Madinah. In October 2005, King Abdullah appointed him as Director General of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, where he worked until he was replaced earlier this year by Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He is said to be close to the King who appointed him as a special envoy after relieving him from his position as intelligence chief. However, his position in the succession picking order is hindered by the fact that his mother is non-royal. She was from Yemen.
8. Bandar bin Sultan
Son of the late Crown Prince who served as ambassador to the US between 1983 and 2005, where he cultivated a reputation for being a major power player with important ties to American politicians. He was particularly close to the two Bushes which gained him the nickname “Bandar Bush.” After his ambassadorship he returned to the Kingdom and was appointed Secretary-General of National Security Council. Few months ago he was appointed intelligence chief. But like Muqrin, his chances to climb the succession ladder are curtailed by the weakness of his maternal side of the family as his mother was a concubine.
9. Sultan bin Salman
His claim to fame is that he was the first Arab astronaut in space when he took part in the 1985 Discovery mission. The Western-educated prince served in several positions at the ministry of information during the 1980s, and in 2000 he was appointed general-secretary of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA). He is a constant presence in the Saudi media, and he was tipped by the US Embassy in Riyadh to hold higher office. In a leaked cable from January 2010, the US Ambassador described him as “intelligent, charismatic and affable.” He is the son of the current Crown Prince.
10. Alwaleed bin Talal
A businessman and one of the world’s richest men, he has previously hinted that he wants to become king one day. However, there are many issues that could hinder his chances of becoming king. His father, Prince Talal, was leader of the Free Princes Movement during the 1960s. Alwaleed is also seen negatively by conservatives in the country because he owns Rotana Group, a pan-Arab entertainment media network. His unveiled wife, Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, is one of the very few female members of the royal family who has a high public profile.