Succession in Saudi Arabia

Article excerpt

Joseph A. Kechichian, Palgrave Press, New York, 2001, 287 pages, $59.95.

Joseph A. Kechichian, who has been an adviser for think-tanks and government agencies, is a prolific writer on the Middle East. His book, Succession in Saudi Arabia, is the first look at the dynamics of succession within the Al-Saud family since Alexander Bligh's book From Prince to King (New York University Press) was published in 1984. Kechichian's book is the first to address the succession issue beyond Regent Crown Prince Abdullah and the sons of King Abdul-Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia. Kechichian postulates several viable candidates from among the king's grandsons. The survival of the Saudi royal family, and who becomes king, directly bears on whether the United States can maintain peaceful relations with the desert kingdom.

The story of the Al-Saud family begins in 1901 and continues for three decades. King Abdul-Aziz used a complex system of alliances with several tribes, families, and his own extended family to secure loyalty. One of his more important allies was the Al-al-Shaykh family, who were descendants of Islamic revivalist Abdul-Wahab, who preached during the 18th century. The Al-al-Shaykh family dominated religious and justice ministries, and Al-Saud's marriage gave the royal family its religious legitimacy.

The Al-Rashids, who were rivals to Al-Saud and who had forced them into exile from Central Arabia in the 19th century were also co-opted by war and marriage. The Sudayris is another old and aristocratic family in Arabia. Abdul-Aziz's mother was a Sudayri, and he also married into this family. His seven sons from the marriage now occupy major ministerial posts and governorships.

Knowing Abdul-Aziz's maternal lineage helps us understand the different branches of his line. Abdul-Aziz had an older brother who challenged Abdul-Aziz's authority to rule. Based on seniority, the descendants of this brother, known as the Saud-al-Kabir line, represent another aspect of the family, which requires recognition and analysis. …