The political stability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the largest country of the Arabian Peninsula and the world’s leading oil exporter, is of vital importance to the stability of the Middle Eastern region and global economic stability as well. This explains why subjects such as the succession to the Saudi Arabian throne have always been the focus of international attention and speculation.
Since the proclamation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and unification of its territories in 1932 by its founder, King Abdul Aziz al-Saud (1876-1953), the succession to the throne has been restricted to his sons and followed special rules based on traditional customs (Al-Badi, 2008). Issue of succession Since Abdul’s death in 1953, Saudi Arabia has had five kings: Saud (1953-1964), Faisal (1964-1975), Khalid (1975-1982), Fahd (1982-2005), and Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (2005-present) (Kumaraswamy, 2005).
Politically, the King of Saudi Arabia exercises unlimited powers and is the head of the Council of Ministers. He designates the Crown Prince who is Deputy Prime Minister and accedes to the throne after the King’s death. Since 1975, the King also appointed the Second Deputy to the Prime Minister who became the next Crown Prince after the ascension of the previous one to the throne (Metz, 1992). The rules of succession existing until recently, however unclear they appeared, guaranteed a relatively smooth transition of power in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The problem is, however, that each new ruler has been older than the previous one. The current King Abdullah, for example, is now 84 or so years old and the current Crown Prince Sultan will be even older when (and due to his old age, if) he succeeds to the Saudi Arabian throne. It becomes obvious that if succession continues to be restricted to the sons of King Abdul, new kings will rule the country for shorter time periods compared to their predecessors and in the foreseeable future successions of power will happen quite frequently (Kumaraswamy, 2005). Perhaps foreseeing this problem and wanting to protect the Kingdom from the forthcoming strife among the royal family consisting of more than 3,000 princes, King Fahd introduced in 1992 the first official decree aiming at the creation of a legal basis for the transfer of power in Saudi Arabia. Fahd’s decree reaffirmed that the country is a monarchy and set forth that the Kings were to be chosen not only from among King Abdul’s sons, but also from among his grandchildren.
It confirmed that honor, honesty, and other high moral standards had to be regarded as a condition of allegiance. But Fahd’s decree did not provide any clear details as to who among hundreds of descendants of the founder’s children can be considered the most upright prince to succeed to the Saudi Arabian throne and through which procedures his own successor would have to be chosen so that his legitimacy would be acknowledged and family unity maintained (Al-Badi, 2008). Institutionalized succession
When King Abdullah succeeded to the Saudi Arabian throne in 2005, he designated Prince Sultan as Crown Prince according to the tradition, but he did not name the Second Deputy Prime Minister causing much speculation among the royal family as well as among many domestic and foreign observers. King Abdullah instead issued in October 2006 The Allegiance Commission Law consisting of twenty-five articles and establishing a new constitutional body, the Allegiance Commission.
The Allegiance Commission Law resolved the ambiguities of Fahd’s decree introducing a set of principles that legally deal with the appointment of Saudi Arabian rulers. A series of bylaws pertaining to this law followed in October 2007 and the Allegiance Commission was formed in December 2007 (Al-Badi, 2008). “Page # 3” The Allegiance Commission Law governs the process of selection of Crown Princes from among the royal family and also deals with cases when the King or the Crown Prince (or both of them) are incapacitated, fall seriously ill, or die.
It is important to note, however, that the new law will become effective only in the future since King Abdullah has already designated the Crown Prince. The bylaws also set forth the status of the Allegiance Commission, the process of selection of its members, its powers, duties, and responsibilities. The Allegiance Commission Law issued by King Abdullah has been incorporated into the Basic Law of Governance of Saudi Arabia (Al-Badi, 2008).