Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Successor to Prince Saud?

by Elliott Abrams
July 29, 2011

An interesting royal decree from Saudi Arabia this past week suggests who may finally succeed Saud bin Faisal as foreign minister.

Saud, son of the late King Faisal (who ruled 1964-1975) has been foreign minister for thirty-five years. Appointed at the age of thirty-four, he is the world’s longest-serving foreign minister and a sharp player. But now Saud is ill (Parkinson’s among other ailments), and has several times asked to retire. There has for years been a guessing game as to who might succeed him: his brother, Turki, former Saudi Intelligence chief and once their ambassador to Washington? But Turki did not get good reviews back home for his performance here, and does not have the reputation his older brother enjoys. The current ambassador here, Adel al-Jubeir? But he is not a member of the royal family, which has been a prerequisite. Might the job be given out as part of succession deal among the rival clans in the royal family after the death of King Abdallah (who is eighty-seven years old according to official accounts but may be older, and is also not in perfect health)?

It appears that the king has his own candidate and wants to line up the job for him now—while he still can. An AFP news item on July 22nd revealed that “’Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has appointed his son deputy foreign minister with the rank of minister,’ the official SPA news agency said on Friday. ‘The king appoints Prince Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz as deputy foreign minister with the rank of minister,’ SPA quoted a royal decree as saying.”

The prince is forty-eight, and his brief resume does not suggest him as the most obvious candidate. But he has since 1989 been a close adviser to his father, who was then Crown Prince and after 1996 (due to the incapacitation of King Fahd) ruled the country as regent. Close Saudi watchers will now wish to see if in the new position the prince actually takes up new duties and begins to position himself to take over for Saud. Of course, a new king will have the right to choose his own ministers—but this move by the present king certainly gives his son a leg up on the competition.

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