Iranian news sources have been reporting that current King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, is legally dead. The information was reported by Press TV on May 26 based on contributions from the London-based Asharq Alawsat news service. Saud has ruled Saudi Arabia for the past twelve years, since August of 2005.
Press TV and Asharq Alawsat claim that Saud, 89, suffered cardiac, respiratory, and renal failure in late May, and is currently alive only because of the life support he receives from a ventilator.
Press TV is the English-language news outlet operated by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, a state-owned communications corporation based in Tehran.
The report has not been corroborated by the Saudi government or any other news outlet, which indicates that it may be a rumor perpetuated by the Iranian government in order to upset the balance of power in the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia have a well-established antagonistic relationship, based on their positions as epicenters of Shi’a and Sunni Islam, respectively, as well as their statuses as two of the most economically, politically, and historically powerful countries in the Middle East.
Whether the Iran-based reports are accurate will likely be made apparent in the coming weeks, but even if the current reports of systemic failure are untrue, Saud’s advanced age and failing health raise issues about the line of succession in the Saudi Arabian monarchy, and subsequently the future of the conservative and isolated state.
Although Saud has at least thirty-five children, including his eldest living son Mutaib bin Abdullah al-Saud, the current commander of the Saudi National Guard, Saudi Arabia’s traditional inheritance laws dictate that the title would likely not pass to any of his children upon his death.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the only remaining systems of nobility to follow the agnatic seniority principle of inheritance, rather than the agnatic primogeniture found in most other monarchies. In systems of agnatic seniority, titles and positions pass to the former holder’s younger brothers upon death, rather than to his sons.
Each of the five kings of Saudi Arabia since 1953 have been sons of the kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, who established the contemporary state of Saudi Arabia in 1932. As Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud was born in 1876, this has led to a rapidly aging line of succession with increasingly elderly and decrepit monarchs. In a system where several crown princes often die of old age before ascending the throne, future monarchs, and the future of the kingdom, are always caught in a delicate balance.
Aside from Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, fourteen sons of Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud are still living. They range in age from 67 (Muqrin) to 90 (Musaid and Bandar). Salman, the current crown prince, is the most likely candidate for king when Abdullah dies. The youngest, Muqrin, is the current second deputy prime minister, a position commonly regarded as being occupied by the second in line to the throne. Apart from Salman and Muqrin, possible candidates are many, and the line of succession is murky. The Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the house of Saud, was founded in 2006 to peacefully select new crown princes from among Abdulaziz’s sons.
It is possible that the system of agnatic seniority, and the dramatically aged monarchs it produces, has led to Saudi Arabia remaining more conservative and absolutist than it otherwise would, in a region where other countries are rapidly and dynamically shifting in ideology.
By Laura Gates
Sources: Huffington Post, Press TV