Succession to the Saudi Arabian throne

The order of succession to the Saudi Arabian throne is determined by, and within, the House of Saud. Every King of Saudi Arabia, upon his death, has been succeeded by the crown prince, with a new crown prince then being appointed according to agnatic seniority among the sons of Ibn Saud, though various members of the family have been bypassed for various reasons. A deputy crown prince (second in line for the throne) was first selected in 2014.

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The current ruler of Saudi Arabia is King Salman,[1] who succeeded King Abdullah on his death on 23 January 2015. On the same day, Prince Muqrin became Crown Prince only to be replaced three months later by Muhammad bin Nayef at the order of Salman.[2]

On the morning of 21 June 2017, Muhammad bin Nayef was deposed as Crown Prince and Salman's son Mohammad bin Salman was appointed to the position.[3][4][5][6] The current crown prince is a grandson of Ibn Saud, the second of his generation to be officially placed first in the line of succession. The Allegiance Council was created in 2006 to facilitate the royal transfer of power.


Abdulaziz "Ibn Saud"

The House of Saud controlled vast parts of the Arabian peninsula for two and a half centuries. The dynasty collapsed twice in the 1800s due to discord over succession. In 1890s, the Al Sauds were completely supplanted by the Al Rashid. The kingdom began to fight to restore itself through Emir Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman, known to the world as "Ibn Saud", and his capture of Riyadh in 1902.[7] After much tumult, Saudi Arabia became a kingdom in 1932.

As Ibn Saud conquered Arabia, he formed alliances by polygamous marriages to members of its biggest tribes. This strengthened his power within the Al Sauds and expanded his legitimacy in Arabia, not to mention nearly a hundred children, sixty of whom were boys. He died in 1953.[8]

The question of succession in Arabia: 1920–1953

When Ibn Saud first began the reconquest of his kingdom, he had a son named Turki, who was considered his likely heir, but he died during the great influenza epidemic of 1918–19, leaving a pregnant wife behind. It was unthinkable to have a baby as heir to a kingdom that was patently unstable, as the Emirate of Najd was in 1920. The Emir decided to leave the question open, leaving hope for one of his brothers or his second son Saud to eventually take over what would become a mighty kingdom.

In the late 1920s and early 30s, Ibn Saud's brother Muhammad bin Abdul-Rahman began to argue with him as to who would be next in line, his son Khalid, or Saud. In 1933, the king made his choice, and Prince Saud was declared Crown Prince.

Late in life, King ibn Saud declared that he wished that the Saudi succession would be via agnatic seniority and that Saud's heir presumptive would be his next, and more capable son, Faisal. Accordingly, when the old king died in 1953, Saud became king and Faisal was immediately declared Crown prince.

Saud vs. Faisal

For the eleven years of his reign, the question of who was to succeed King Saud was considered a "done deal". However, as the war between the King and Crown Prince grew more heated in the early 1960s, the King let it be known that he was considering changing the line of succession from agnatic seniority to agnatic primogeniture and naming his eldest son Crown Prince. This was unacceptable to the rest of the Royal Clan, and at Faisal's request, Prince Muhammed led a palace coup which ousted the King in late 1964.[9]

The problem of Prince Muhammed

Despite problems that led to his nickname "The Father of the Two Evils", Prince Mohammed was an intelligent and dynamic personality, leaving the possibility of another royal feud. During one of the times Faisal had taken over the government, he had appointed his half brother Khalid as Deputy Prime Minister in 1962, bypassing Muhammed. Secret negotiations as to the conditions to which Muhammed would step aside would last well after the reign of Faisal had begun, and Muhammed was technically Crown Prince from 1964 to 1965, when Khalid was declared to have the position, in the process disinheriting two other princes, Nasser and Saad, who were deemed "unworthy".

Fahd and Abdullah

One of the reasons that Muhammed initially demured from standing down, was his distrust of the so-called Sudairi Seven, the sons of Ibn Saud's favorite wife. The eldest of the group, Prince Fahd, was Faisal's top choice. He was given the position of "second deputy Prime Minister" and at the same time, royal sources let it be known that Prince Abdullah, head of the National Guard, would be in line after him. Between the two, they would reign for 33 years.

Return of the Sudairis

As King Khalid's health began to rapidly decline, the problem of succession came back into the fore. Crown Prince Fahd wanted his next full brother, Defense Minister Prince Sultan, to become "heir to the heir", but there was a hitch: there were two brothers senior to Sultan, namely Princes Bandar and Musa'id. Prince Musa'id was in disgrace, his son having murdered King Faisal, but Bandar was a different matter.[10]

For much of his life, Bandar had stayed away from government, preferring private business. However, now he demanded his right to the succession, and Prince Sultan's Defense portfolio as well. He was asked to name his price for stepping aside and, seeing that his more powerful brothers were inimical to the idea of his accession, Bandar read the writing on the wall and accepted the offer of money. He is said to have named a high price, but the massive bribe, reputed to be in the tens of millions of USD (US$), was something the world's richest family could easily afford. Bandar accepted the money and yielded place to Prince Sultan.

King Fahd reigned over the kingdom from 1982 to 2005. King Abdullah ascended the throne in 2005 on his 81st birthday, whereupon Prince Sultan was automatically promoted to the position of crown prince. Most other surviving sons of Ibn Saud were elderly and bypassed. Crown Prince Sultan convinced the King to appoint the next Suderi, Nayef, to the Second deputy spot. In 2011-12, both Sultan and Nayef died within months of each other, and a fourth Suderi brother, Salman, became crown prince on 18 June 2012.

Allegiance Council

With the advancing ages of the sons of Ibn Saud (all are in their 70s and 80s), King Abdullah created the Allegiance Council[7] to address the shrinking number of candidates for the throne. It is composed of 28 persons: King Ibn Saud's sons, the eldest sons of the brothers who have died and the sons of King and Crown Prince.[7] The Council was led by Prince Mishaal.[7]

Power of the Council

The purpose of the Council is to ensure the smooth transition of power in the event of incapacitation or death of the King or Crown Prince.

This, along with an earlier decree by King Fahd, opened the possibility of considering Abdul-Aziz's grandsons as viable candidates. Beyond age, the criteria for selection include:

  • Support within the House of Saud
  • Tenure in government
  • Tribal affiliations and origins of a candidate's mother
  • Religious persona
  • Acceptance by the Ulema
  • Support by the merchant community
  • Popularity among the general Saudi citizenry.

The Council votes by secret ballot.[11][12]

Influence of the Council

With the promotion of Crown Prince Sultan's three successors deemed automatic, and the King's writ on the subject of the appointment of the second deputy PM (the honorific "deputy crown prince" being much more recent than the position itself). The Council has proved to be little more than a "rubber stamp."

Election of Prince Muqrin

After almost a year with the post of second deputy Prime Minister vacant. During this time, there were reports of an attempted coup.[13] In response to this, Prince Muqrin, the youngest son of Ibn Saud, was formally designated second deputy by royal decree in 2013. This meant that he was informally second in line, bypassing several senior princes. In order to make his place in the line of succession permanent and preclude any challenges by any of the dispossessed royals, King Abdullah polled each member of the Allegiance Council individually before announcing Muqrin's new title.[14] The Allegiance Council met on 27 March 2014, for an official vote, which was 75% yes and 25% no.[15]

Election of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef

As King Abdullah lay dying, a plot to change the line of succession was underway.[16] It was said that Chief of the Royal Court Khaled al-Tuwaijri was conspiring with others to oust Crown Prince Salman and replace him with either Prince Muqrin or the King's son Prince Mit'eb.[17]

Upon the death of King Abdullah on 23 January 2015, Salman ascended to the throne and Muqrin became crown prince.[1] At the same time, Muhammad bin Nayef, the Interior Minister and a supporter of Salman's, was appointed deputy crown prince, an act that was ratified by the Allegiance Council after the fact. Muhammad bin Nayef is the first grandson of Ibn Saud to enter the official line of succession.

Removal of Crown Prince Muqrin

Normally, the position of Crown Prince was an extremely powerful one, with Faisal, Fahd and Abdullah running the country on behalf of, or sometimes despite, their monarch. This was not the case of Crown Prince Muqurin, who was frozen out of King Salman's new double cabinet scheme and relegated to mostly ceremonial activities.[18]

Instead, King Salman's son Mohammad had been showered with offices, including the Defense Ministry, the Secretaryship General of the Royal Court and Chairmanship of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, leading some in the press to dub him the "king in training."

Muhammad bin Nayef, the Deputy Crown Prince as well as the Interior Minister, was also a Sudairi, and it was clear that without Muqrin, the clan would have a permanent grip on power. In the early morning hours of April 29, 2015, the king signed a decree deposing Crown Prince Muqrin, promoting Muhammad to crown prince and naming Mohammad bin Salman deputy crown prince. The following day, The Allegiance Council met and formally elected Mohammed by a vote of 28 to four with two abstentions.[19]

Removal of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef

On the morning of 21 June 2017, state television announced that Muhammad bin Nayef had been removed as Crown Prince, and that Salman had elevated his son Mohammad bin Salman to the position.[3][4][5][6] According to the New York Times and other sources, MbN, as he is known to distinguish himself from his successor, who is known as MbS, was forced to abdicate and has since been under house arrest.[20][21]


  1. "Saudi King Abdullah dies, new ruler is Salman". Reuters. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  2. Saudi Arabia's king announces new heirs to throne, BBC, 29 April 2015.
  3. "Mohammed bin Salman named Saudi Arabia's crown prince".
  4. CNN, Nicole Chavez, Tamara Qiblawi and James Griffiths. "Saudi Arabia's king replaces nephew with son as heir to throne". CNN.
  5. Raghavan, Sudarsan; Fahim, Kareem (21 June 2017). "Saudi king names son as new crown prince, upending the royal succession line". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  6. "Saudi royal decrees announcing Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the new crown prince". TheNational. Abu Dhabi Media. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  7. "The Saudi succession: When kings and princes grow old". The Economist. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  8. "Warrior King Ibn Saud Dies at 73". The West Australian. 10 November 1953. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  9. Alrasheed M. (2002) A History of Saudi Arabia Cambridge University Press; pp. 108–9.
  10. "After King Fahd: Succession in Saudi Arabia (2nd ed.)". The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  11. "Saudi king details succession law". BBC. 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  12. Stig Stenslie. Regime Stability in Saudi Arabia: The Challenge of Succession. Books.Google. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  13. Voltaire Network. "Saudi Arabia: arrest warrant against the prince Khaled bin Sultan". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  14. Caryle Murphy. "Saudi Arabia: Prince Muqrin in Line for the Throne". Pulitzer Center. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  15. Saudi Research & Marketing (uk) Ltd. "Opinion: Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin and Saudi State Stability". Asharq Al-Awsat. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  16. Monday 16 February 2015 09:16 UTC (16 February 2015). "The frantic intrigue of Abdullah's final hours". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  17. "Former chief of Saudi Royal Court under house arrest". Middle East Monitor. 14 February 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  18. Wednesday 29 April 2015 12:46 UTC (29 April 2015). "Saudi reshuffle solidifies Sudairi hold, youthful heirs". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  20. Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard, Mark; Schmitt, Eric (18 July 2017). "Saudi King's Son Plotted Effort to Oust His Rival" via
  21. "Drug addiction and intrigue: Why Saudi King ordered Mohammed bin Nayef to step aside for younger prince". 19 July 2017.
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