As King’s Health Deteriorates, Who Will MbS Appoint As Crown Prince?

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman faces significant political and familial challenges in appointing his crown prince as King Salman’s health deteriorates, raising crucial questions about the future leadership within the House of Saud.

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As his aging father, King Salman, is nearing the end of his life and is receiving treatment for a lung infection, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on the verge of becoming King Salman. Although Mohammed bin Salman’s accession to the throne appears certain and uncomplicated, he will have to make two difficult choices: choosing a crown prince and a deputy crown prince.

In theory, the 1992 Saudi basic law of government should be consulted when choosing the future crown prince. It states that rulers are chosen from among the male descendants of Ibn Saud, with the “most upright among them” being chosen for the position.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, via AFP

However, King Salman’s 2017 revision states that “no king and crown prince belonging to the same branch of the founder king’s descendants” should come after the sons of Ibn Saud.

Mohammed bin Salman would technically have the authority to disregard the amendment and name one of his siblings as crown prince, but there would be repercussions for doing so. If he excluded other branches of the House of Saud, it would make him look even more callous.

A step like this would further sour relations with the multitude of relatives who belong to influential branches, like al-Fahd and al-Sultan, who have not suffered the humiliation of al-Nayef and al-Abdullah. Despite speculations regarding the potential choice of Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince thus far, the choice has been kept secret.  

The future monarch’s decision to create the position of deputy crown prince in 2014 (before passing away the following year) raises more questions about whether he would emulate King Abdullah, who expressed concern about a potential power vacuum if both he and his crown prince passed away quickly. However, Mohammed bin Salman took over as crown prince in 2017, leaving the position of deputy crown prince empty.

Establishing power

For two reasons, King Salman never named a deputy crown prince. First off, it seemed improbable that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was only in his early thirties in 2017, would pass away anytime soon and need a deputy to take over.

More importantly, and second, King Salman would have had difficulty finding a competent deputy crown prince because he and his son had strained relations with Nayef and Abdullah, two branches of the al-Saud family.

The most devastating blow came to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef when he was forced to step down from his extremely critical and significant roles in the interior ministry and intelligence services after decades of service. After being placed under house arrest, he has vanished from view.

After being fired from his military position, Mutaib, the son of King Abdullah and the previous head of the Saudi National Guard, was similarly humiliated. He has since vanished from public view due to charges of corruption.

These two royal family branches and their offspring have not taken a liking to King Salman and his son. The king still had the option to select a deputy crown prince from the other significant branches, but he declined.

King Salman may have intended his son to have time to build his authority independently of the support of more senior princes, the majority of whom had served as ministers or military chiefs.

Royal prerogatives

Mohammed bin Salman has been the sole crown prince for the past seven years. He essentially turned into the state, gaining immense control over all facets of Saudi Arabian society and governance, including the armed forces and entertainment.

Mohammed bin Salman has ruled with totalitarianism, only considering the opinions of his close associates, foreign advisors, consultants, and inner circle. Instead of seeking advice from a broad group of senior and more experienced princes, his international and domestic policies are a reflection of his personal preferences. To put it mildly, a deputy crown prince would have been a pain.

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Furthermore, the memory of the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, which served as a detention center following Mohammed bin Salman’s extensive “anti-corruption” campaign against influential officials in 2017, haunts most eligible candidates for the roles of crown and deputy crown prince. After they gave the state billions of money, he later freed them.

The task Mohammed bin Salman will have as future king is to select a suitable crown prince and a deputy, neither of them should be able to oppose him or give the impression that they are stronger than he is because of experience, age, or aura. To ensure that they do not challenge his authority and unwavering focus, he will need to select more submissive and weaker princes.

Saudi society will undoubtedly have no say in the matter because they are solely royal prerogatives. Beyond a disenfranchised society devoid of civil organizations or pressure groups lies the future of leadership. Tribal groups, religious leaders, and businesspeople won’t have any influence over the decision; they will only be called to the palace to swear loyalty to whoever Mohammed bin Salman selects.

A totalitarian, oppressive monarchy functions in this way. Not only does it not share authority but also does not confer with its royals, notables, or elites.

Last year, GreatGameIndia reported that Saudi Crown Prince MBS humiliated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by keeping him waiting several hours for a meeting expected to take place in the evening, which the crown prince only attended the next morning.

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