Belmont Club

The Sands of Time

Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s secretary of defense, is dead.   Aged 86, he was rumored to be suffering from cancer.  The Crown Prince was once regarded as the successor to the throne.  The reigning monarch, King Abdullah, also has health issues and had his third back surgery in less than a year. “It is still unclear how long the king will take to recover, or when he is expected to leave the hospital.”  The death of the Crown Prince has put a spotlight on the the Kingdom’s succession mechanism, which must now elevate what passes for royal youth to fill the vacancies forced by age.

Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a brother who is thought to be 77, is seen as Sultan’s most likely successor as crown prince, putting him next in line to King Abdullah. …

In order for Prince Nayef to become the crown prince, a special committee set up by the royal family five years ago to regulate the kingdom’s opaque process of succession will have to reach an agreement on his elevation.

The so-called Allegiance Council, representing every branch of the dynasty founded by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud last century, has never been tested before. It must now meet to approve King Abdullah’s nomination of a new crown prince, setting the direction of the country for years to come.

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the opaque nature of its succession process created an entire profession called Kremlinology — a word itself derived from “astrology”. It was often these soothsayers who advised Washington what to expect from the Kremlin.

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to “read between the lines” and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as “First Secretary”, the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper “Pravda” and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics. In the German language, such attempts acquired the somewhat derisive name “Kreml-Astrologie” (Kremlin Astrology), hinting at the fact that its results were often vague and inconclusive, if not outright wrong.

Who can say what will happen in the Kingdom when the septuagenarian Young Saudis steps into the shoes of their elders?

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