The Geriatric Saudi Royal Family

King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, died yesterday. The WSJ has a useful Saudi dynasty family tree (full interactive version here):

Saudi Arabia

Dan Stewart introduces us to the new king:

A longtime governor of the capital, Riyadh, Salman has a reputation as a progressive and practical prince similar in bearing to his late brother. The transition is expected to be a smooth one, with little instability and no long-term policy changes. But the 79-year-old has reportedly been in poor health in recent years, and is perhaps unlikely to rule for as long as his elder sibling.

Josh Marshall marvels at how “every Saudi head of state who has governed this pivotal, brittle and profoundly influential petro-state during the years of its ascendency since 1953 has been the son of a man born only a decade after the US Civil War.” But, he notes, “they are coming to the end of the line”:

[Salman’s] successor will be Crown Prince Muqrin. But he’s it – the last surviving son of ibn Saud at a youngish 69. After Muqrin dies, assuming he outlives Salman, the family will move on to the grandsons of ibn Saud, with a council of princes of some sort who will choose who succeeds who. We will see then just how much the legitimacy of ibn Saud and the longevity of his sons was the key to holding the tightly wound edifice together.

Michael Kelley focuses on the royal now second-in-line:

“Given that there are scores of princes in [the third generation], the potential for discord is high,” Liz Sly of The Washington Post explained last year. “Whoever inherits the throne is likely to anoint his own brothers as future heirs, thereby cutting out multiple cousins from access to the throne and the patronage it provides.”

However, Saudi Arabia’s new king is moving swiftly to make sure that a looming succession crisis — driven by chaotic jostling for power — does not happen. King Salman has named his nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince, making him the second-in-line to the throne behind Muqrin. Mohammed, believed to be in his 30s, is currently the country’s interior minister.

David Ignatius looks ahead:

The next generation of Saudi leaders, symbolized for American officials by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the minister of the interior, is talented and modern. But the paradox of Saudi Arabia is that the Western-facing kingdom has depended for its legitimacy on a pact with conservative Muslim religious leaders. Frightened now by the power of the Islamic State’s extremism, Saudi leaders may be tempted to repeat that bargain — and govern through the repressive power of the Muslim conservatives.

Many Western analysts believe that doubling down now on Muslim conservatism would be a mistake. But decades have shown that the West’s ability to influence the royal family in moments like this is limited, to put it mildly.