The Sudairi Seven (Arabic: السديريون السبعة, as-Sudayriyyūn as-Sabʿah), also spelled Sudairy or Sudayri, is the commonly used name for a powerful alliance of seven full brothers within the House of Saud. They are also sometimes referred to as the Sudairi Clan (Arabic: عائلة السديري ʿĀʾilat as-Sudayrī) or the Sudairi faction. After King Fahd's death, the group was sometimes called the Sudairi Six.
Origins and composition
In the early twentieth century, King Abdulaziz rapidly expanded his power base in Nejd to establish the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, and became its first King. As part of this process of expansion, he married women from powerful Nejdi and other Arabian families to cement his control over all parts of his new domain. It is believed he married as many as 22 women as a result. One of these marriages was to Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi, a member of the Al Sudairis, a powerful clan in Nejd, where the Wahhabi ideology emerged nearly 300 years ago.
The marriage resulted in the following children:
- King Fahd (1921–2005), the fifth King of Saudi Arabia from 13 June 1982 to 1 August 2005
- Prince Sultan (1929–2011), Defense Minister from 1962 to 22 October 2011 and Crown Prince from 2005 to 22 October 2011
- Prince Abdul Rahman (born 1931), Deputy Defence Minister from 1978 to November 2011
- Prince Nayef (1934–2012), Interior Minister from 1975 to 2012, First Deputy Prime Minister and Crown Prince from 27 October 2011 to 16 June 2012
- Prince Turki (born 1934), Deputy Defence Minister from 1968 to 1978
- Prince Salman (born 1935), Governor of Riyadh from 1963 to 5 November 2011, Minister of Defence since 5 November 2011 and current Crown Prince since 18 June 2012
- Prince Ahmed (born 1942), Deputy Interior Minister from 1975 to 18 June 2012, Interior Minister from 18 June 2012 to 5 November 2012
- Princess Luluwah (1928–2008)
- Princess Latifa
- Princess Al Jawhara
- Princess Jawaher
The number of children that King Abdulaziz fathered in total, with all his wives, is unknown. One source indicates that he had 37 sons. The "Sudairi Seven" – the seven sons of King Abdulaziz and Hassa bint Ahmed – were the largest bloc of full brothers and as a consequence, were able to wield a degree of coordinated influence and power.
Robert Lacey in his book The Kingdom lists 43 sons of King Abdulaziz and states that Princess Hassa was actually married to him twice, and the first marriage had produced another son, Prince Sa'ad (1914–1919), whom others attribute to Princess Tarfah.
Rise to power
The influence of the Sudairi Seven, which can be termed as asabiyya (group spirit) following the khaldûnian terminology, grew constantly after the accession of its leader, Prince Fahd, to crown prince in 1975 and then king in 1982. They represented one out of five of King Abdulaziz’s sons. However, they gained influence and power not solely because of their number. Unlike many of King Abdulaziz's other sons who were much more dealt with business activities, the Sudairi Seven tended to be interested in politics.
The Sudairi Seven's rise to power can be traced back to the accession of King Faisal and his earlier struggle with King Saud. Although not a Sudairi himself, Prince Faisal, in his struggle to overthrow Saud, relied heavily upon the seven Sudairi brothers. In 1962, as prime minister and heir apparent, Prince Faisal appointed Prince Fahd as Interior Minister, Prince Sultan as Defense Minister, and Prince Salman as governor of Riyadh. All were key posts. Following Prince Faisal's accession to the throne after King Saud's deposition in 1964, the King Faisal continued to favor the Sudairi Seven as his allies.
The Sudairis consolidated their hold over these fiefs by appointing their brothers and sons to their own ministries and other key positions: Late Prince Sultan appointed one of his younger Sudairi brothers — Prince Abdul Rahman — and one of his sons as his deputies, Prince Khalid. Another of Prince Sultan’s sons, Prince Bandar, served for two decades as Saudi ambassador in Washington and then head of the Saudi National Security Council. His other son Prince Khalid, the co-commander with U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf in the Gulf War (1991), became vice defence minister. Late Nayef also appointed one of his sons — Muhammad — as his deputy at the Ministry of the Interior.
The Sudairis’ rise to power and hold over government brought continuity to the system. It also prompted other princes to align quietly against them. The main opposition to the Sudairis came from Prince Abdullah prior to his accession to the throne. He cultivated allies among his other brothers and with King Faisal’s sons. Upon Prince Abdullah's accession to the throne, he created a new family council, the Allegiance Commission, to determine the future succession. The Sudairis filled a fifth of the council’s seats which is seen as a dilution of Sudairi power since their overall control over the state is perceived as proportionately greater than this.
Mai Yamani argues that Sudairi brothers previously known as the ‘Sudairi seven’ since King Fahd’s death in August 2005 reduced to al-Thaluth (‘the trio’), referring only to Prince Sultan, Prince Nayef and Prince Salman. And Prince Sultan became the leader of the group after King Fahd's demise.
On 28 October 2011, Prince Nayef became the Crown Prince after the death of his full brother Prince Sultan, and his other full brother Prince Salman who had been long-term Riyadh governor, was appointed the minister of defence. However, the eldest surviving member of the Sudairi brothers, Prince Abdul Rahman, was replaced by late Prince Sultan's son Prince Khalid as deputy minister of defence.
In other words, Prince Abdul Rahman was deputy minister of defence and general inspection until November 2011, but was relieved when his younger brother Prince Salman was appointed as the Minister. Prince Abdul Rahman was reported to argue that he should have been promoted instead of Prince Salman. On the other hand, the youngest of the Sudairi brothers Ahmed, who was late Prince Nayef's deputy at the ministry of interior since 1975, was reported to complain about that Prince Nayef was actively promoting the interest of his own son, Prince Mohammed. Lastly, another Sudairi Prince Turki, who returned to Riyadh in early 2011 after a long and at least partly voluntary exile in Cairo, was said to agitate for a more senior position. On the other hand, Prince Turki fully supported the appointment of late Prince Nayef as Crown Prince, indicating that the decision was totally right and that Prince Nayef had wisdom, sound management and long history in serving the country. However, although Sudairi brothers support each other against other princes, each attempts to form, with his sons, another power group.
On 16 June 2012, Crown Prince Nayef died in Geneva. His posts, namely Crown Prince, deputy prime minister and interior minister, were filled by his younger full-brothers. Specifically, Prince Salman was named as the Crown Prince and deputy prime minister, and Prince Ahmed as the minister of interior on 18 June 2012. In short, Prince Salman and Prince Ahmed were the only politically active members of the group. However, on 5 November 2012, Prince Ahmed resigned from his post and was succeeded by Mohammed bin Nayef, son of late Prince Nayef.
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