The recent change in the line of succession in Saudi Arabia took a number of observers by surprise but I understand that it had been carefully planned for some time. I have always assumed that when it came time to transfer power to one of the grandsons of Abdelaziz that it would go down one of the Suderi lines but could never predict which one. In a sense it was a win at the roulette table for Salman bin Abdelaziz. In front of him in the succession were both of his full brothers Sultan and Nayef. The former may have ascended to the throne, the latter would certainly have become King except for his untimely death. That might have left him as the kingmaker and arbiter of the succession and not Salman.
As I have described before, I have also always assumed that as long as any competent sons of Abdelaziz were alive that they would not be set aside in the succession. Thus Muqrin’s appointment as Crown Prince seemed to be in keeping with that pattern. I was surprised when he was removed from the succession, however, well informed sources in the Kingdom tell me that he has a drinking problem and didn’t really want the job. He also was paid $4 billion to retire which secured his acquiescence.
This opened the door for Salman to appoint Muhammad bin Nayef as Crown Prince. MBN as he is known had solid bona fides for the position given his work in intelligence and Saudi Arabia’s internal security policies. MBN had led the crackdown on Al Qaeda in the Kingdom between 2003-2007. However, the assassination attempt on MBN in 2009 left him more badly wounded than has been widely reported. As a result he has been less active in recent years and in the reshuffle he was relieved of all of his official roles including those of deputy prime minister and Minister of the Interior. He’s apparently not unhappy with stepping down and retiring at the age of 57. I do not believe the rumors that he is under confinement in his palace. The family does not work that way in respect of someone so senior in the hierarchy.
My sources also tell me that Trump and Tillerson gave the King a green light for the changes during their visit and that the United States supported them. This combination of factors opened the door for King Salman to elevate his son Muhammad, known as MBS to Crown Prince. MBS is widely perceived in the Kingdom as being young and dynamic and there seems to be popular support for the move among the populace as a whole. Given the youthful demographics of the country both the family and the people wanted a younger King and the rule of the geriatric princes to cease.
I have been informed by more than one source in the Kingdom that there was in fact wide support within the family for the move and the vote in the leadership council of 31 to 3 in favor of the elevation of MBS is accurate. Above all else the Al Saud are concerned with staying in power and they are capable and it seems that they did reach a consensus for these changes. I am also informed that in true Saudi fashion that all the princely lines entitled to vote which voted in favor of the change were well compensated for their assent by King Salman in the form of either money or appointments to various official positions. But then selling votes has always been a universal practice in all functioning political systems. And as I have pointed out before there are more enfranchised voters in Saudi Arabia as a proportion of the population than the 535 we have in the United States!