Succession to the Saudi Arabian throne

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The order of succession to the throne of Saudi Arabia is determined by, and within, the House of Saud. Every vacancy of the throne has been duly filled by the crown prince, with a new crown prince then being appointed according to agnatic seniority among the sons of Ibn Saud, though various members of the family have been bypassed for various reasons. A deputy crown prince (second in line for the throne) was first selected in 2014.

As of 2015, the current crown prince is the youngest surviving son of Ibn Saud, and the deputy crown prince is the first grandson of Ibn Saud to be officially placed into the line of succession. The appointment of grandsons to line of succession is to be based on merit. The Allegiance Council was created in 2006 to facilitate the royal transfer of power.

The current ruler of Saudi Arabia is King Salman,[1] who succeeded King Abdullah on his death on 23 January 2015. On the same day, Prince Muqrin became Crown Prince and Muhammad bin Nayef became Deputy Crown Prince.[1]


Main article: King of Saudi Arabia
Further information: History of Saudi Arabia

Abdulaziz "Ibn Saud"[edit]

The House of Saud controlled vast parts of the Arabian peninsula for two and a half centuries. The dynasty collapsed twice in the 1800s due to discord over succession. In 1890s, the Al Sauds were completely supplanted by the Al Rashid. The kingdom began to fight to restore itself through Emir Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman, known to the world as "Ibn Saud", and his capture of Riyadh in 1902.[2] After much tumult, Saudi Arabia became a kingdom in 1932.

As "Ibn Saud" conquered Arabia, he formed alliances by polygamous marriages to members of its biggest tribes. This strengthened his power within the Al Sauds and expanded his legitimacy in Arabia, not to mention nearly a hundred children, sixty of whom were boys. He died in 1953.[citation needed]

The question of succession in Arabia: 1920-1953[edit]

When Ibn Saud first began the reconquest of his kingdom, he had a son named Turki, who was considered his likely heir, but he died during the great influenza epidemic of 1918-19, leaving a pregnant wife behind. The possibility of a baby as heir to a kingdom that was patently unstable, as the Emirate of Najed was in 1920, was completely unacceptable. The Emir decided to leave the question open, leaving hope for one of his brothers or his second son Saud to eventually take over what would become a mighty kingdom.

In the late 1920s and early '30s, Ibn Saud's brother Muhammad bin Abdul-Rahman began to argue with him as to who would be next in line, his son Khalid, or Saud. In 1933, the king made his choice, and Prince Saud was declared Crown Prince.

Late in life, King ibn Saud declared that he wished that the Saudi succession would be via agnatic seniority and that Saud's heir presumptive would be his next, and more capable son, Faisal. There were rumors around this time that a third son, Muhammad, was plotting to take the throne from his brothers when the time came, but this came to naught. When the old king died in 1953, Saud became king and Feisal was immediately declared Crown prince.

Saud vs. Feisal[edit]

For the eleven years of his reign, the question of who was to succeed King Saud was considered a "done deal". However, as the war between the King and Crown Prince grew more heated in the early 1960s, the King let it be known that he was considering changing the line of succession from agnataic to primogeniture and naming his eldest son Crown Prince. This was unacceptable to the rest of the Royal Clan, and at Feisal's request, Prince Muhammed led a palace coup which ousted the King in late 1964.

The Problem of Prince Muhammed[edit]

Despite problems that let to his nickname "The Father of the Two Evils", Prince Mohammed was an intelligent and dynamic personality, leaving the possibility of another royal feud. During one of the times Feisal had taken over the government, he had appointed his half brother Khalid as Deputy Prime Minister in 1962, bypassing Muhammed. Secret negotiations as to the conditions to which Muhammed would step aside would last well after the reign of Faisal had begun, and Muhammed was technically Crown Prince from 1964 to 1965, when Khalid was declared Crown Prince, in the process disinheriting two other princes, Nasser and Saad, who were deemed "unworthy."

Fahd and Abdullah[edit]

One of the reasons that Muhammed initially demured from standing down, was his distrust of the so-called Sudairi Seven, the sons of Ibn Saud's favorite wife. The eldest of the group, Prince Fahd, was Feisal's top choice. He was given the position of "second deputy Prime Minister" and at the same time, royal sources let it be known that Prince Abdullah, head of the National Guard, would be in line after him. Between the two, they would reign for 32 years.

Return of the Sudairis[edit]

As King Khalid's health began rapidly decline, the problem of succession came back into the fore. Crown Prince Fahd wanted his next full brother, Defense Minister Prince Sultan, to become "heir to the heir", but there was a hitch: there were two brothers senior to him, Princes Bandar and Musa'id. Prince Musa'id was in disgrace, his son having murdered King Faisal, but Bandar was a different matter. [3]

While for much of his life Bandar had stayed away from government, preferring private business, but now he demanded his right to the succession, and Prince Sultan's Defense portfolio as well. He was asked his price for stepping aside and he named it. But the massive bribe, reputed to be in the tens of millions (USA$), was something the world's richest family could afford. Prince Sultan became second Deputy PM in 2005.

Abdullah ascended the throne in 2005 on his 81st birthday, and Sultan was automatically promoted. most other surviving sons of Ibn Saud were similarly elderly and many were bypassed. Crown Prince Sultan convinced the King to appoint the next Suderi, Nayef, to the Second deputy spot. In the early 2010s, both died within months of each other, and a fourth Suderi brother Salman became crown prince on 18 June 2012.

It appeared to one and all that after sixty years, the dynasty would soon run out of brothers.

Allegiance Council[edit]

With the advancing ages of the sons of Abdulaziz, King Abdullah created the Allegiance Council[2] to address the shrinking number of candidates for the throne. It is composed of 28 persons: King Abdulaziz's sons, the eldest sons of the brothers who have died and the sons of King and Crown Prince.[2] The Council is led by Prince Mishaal.[2]

Power of the Council[edit]

The purpose of the Council is to ensure the smooth transition of power in the event of incapacitation or death of the King or Crown Prince.

This, along with an earlier decree by King Fahd, opened the possibility of considering Abdul-Aziz's grandsons as viable candidates. Beyond age, the criteria for selection include:

  • Support within the Al Saud
  • Tenure in government
  • Tribal affiliations and origins of a candidate's mother
  • Religious persona[clarification needed]
  • Acceptance by the Ulema
  • Support by the merchant community
  • Popularity among the general Saudi citizenry.

The Council votes by secret ballot.[4][5]

Influence of the Council[edit]

With the promotion of Crown Prince Sultan's three successors deemed automatic, and the King's writ on the subject of the appointment of the second deputy PM (the honorific "deputy crown prince" being much more recent than the position itself). The Council has proved to be little more than a "rubber stamp."

The Election of Prince Muqrin[edit]

After almost a year with the post of second deputy Prime Minister vacant. Prince Muqrin was formally designated by royal decree in 2013. This meant that he was informally next in line, bypassing several senior princes. In order to make his place in the line of succession permanent and preclude any challenges by any of the dispossessed royals, King Abdullah polled each member of the Allegiance Council individually before announcing Muqrin's new title.[6] The Allegiance Council met on March 27, 2014, for an official vote, which was 75% yes and 25% No.[7]

The royal decree stated that the election “may not be modified or changed in any way or form by any person whoever it may be,” precluding a King Salman from capriciously choosing someone else.

The Election of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef[edit]

As King Abdullah lay dying, a plot to change the line of succession was underway.[8] It was said that Chief of the Royal Court Khaled al-Tuwaijri was conspiring with others to oust Crown Prince Salman and replace him with either Prince Muqrin or the King's son Prince Mit'eb.[9][10] Upon the death of King Abdullah on 23 January 2015, Salman ascended to the throne and Muqrin became crown prince.[1] At the same time, Muhammad bin Nayef, the Interior Minister and a supporter of Salman's, was appointed deputy crown prince, an act that was ratified by the Allegiance Council after the fact. Muhammad bin Nayef is the first grandson of Ibn Saud to enter the official line of succession.[citation needed]


As of 2015, the succession is open to any and all of Ibn Saud's grandchildren, but how they are to be chosen and what qualifications will be used is as yet unknown.

King Salman's son Mohammed has been given the Defense Ministry, the Secretaryship General of the Royal Court and Chairmanship of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and some in the press have dubbed him the "king in training." Whether or not his power will outlast his father's reign is an open question.