Succession in Saudi Arabia

By Long, David E. | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Succession in Saudi Arabia


Long, David E., The Middle East Journal


Succession in Saudi Arabia, by Joseph A. Kechichian. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 151 pages. Appendix to p. 242. Notes to p. 266. Bibl. to p. 277. Index to p. 287. $55.

Reviewed by David E. Long

An inordinate amount of attention has been expended over the years in worrying about "the succession problem" in Saudi Arabia. To be sure, there is historical precedent for concern. In its over 250 years of rule, the House of Saud has survived numerous succession crises, the most recent occurring in the early 1960s when King Sa'ud was forced to abdicate in favor of his brother, King Faysal. Since the death of King `Abd al-`Aziz in 1953, however, succession among his sons has taken place relatively smoothly, including the accession of King Faysal in 1964. Brothers who stand next in line based on seniority, moreover, can be passed over due to the Islamic injunction that they must be physically, mentally, and morally up to the job. Perhaps there may be another crisis when the succession is to pass to the next generation, as inevitably it must do, assuming the regime is to survive.

But why, for the past 40 years, has there been so much debate in the West over Saudi succession? The succession problem has been firmly established as a cause of concern among those who worry about political stability because of the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia. Now, thank goodness, comes a first-rate scholarly study of the subject by a recognized student of the Arabian Peninsula. Dr. Kechichian presents in painstaking detail a vivid picture of Saudi Royal Family dynamics. Rightly asserting that "so much of the decision-making process is driven by personalities," (p. 6), he not only analyzes leading personalities among the senior princes and their offspring, but also Al Sauds descended from King `Abd al`Aziz's brothers and from cadet branches of the family, and looks at where they all might fit into the politics of succession. He also discusses a wide range of potential challenges to the regime and suggests ways the family might try to deal with them.

Dr. Kechichian concludes that the heir apparent, Prince `Abdallah, is likely to succeed King Fahd, while Prince Sultan will probably become the next heir apparent. …

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