Thursday, July 16, 2009

Helena Cobban on the Saudi political succession system

It has to be read to be believed.

The big question regarding the Saudi succession hangs over whether, and how, the kingship will ever be transferred from the numerous ageing brothers and half-brothers who stand in line after Crown Prince Sultan, to the "next generation" of princes - some of the more senior of whom are already nearing 70 years old.

Earlier this year, King Abdullah named his 76-year-old half-brother Naif ibn Abdul-Aziz as "second deputy prime minister", a position that places him a likely - but not certain - second in line to throne after Sultan.

When King Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi state, died in 1953, he left some 37 sons from his 22 wives. Various of these sons have ruled the kingdom in turn since then.

Many of Abdul-Aziz's sons had a dozen or more sons of their own. Saudi Arabia has no system of "primogeniture" (first-son succession.) Thus, there are hundreds of possible eventual claimants to the throne. Indeed, the youngest of Abdul-Aziz's sons, Prince Muqrin, is, at 64, some years younger than several of the next-generation princes who now hope to become king.

Like something out of a comedy sketch. This is an affront, not to Western values, but to modern political values everywhere in the world. North Koreans are disgusted by the backwardness of the Saudi political system. The Saudi political system is rightly a source of shame and embarrassment for Arabs and Muslims all over the world.

But the United States does not even verbally criticize the Saudi political system. In a display of hypocrisy almost as revolting as the Saudi political system itself, the United States supports, even to the point of committing US intelligence resources to ensuring its internal stability, this system. The reason is that the US trusts the Saudis to be relatively accommodating to Israel. US acceptance of the Saudis, like its invasion and occupation of Iraq, is related to oil, but only through the understanding the oil resources will not be used to threaten Israel.

Bush said extremists controlling Iraq "would use energy as economic blackmail" and try to pressure the United States to abandon its alliance with Israel. At a stop in Missouri on Friday, he suggested that such radicals would be "able to pull millions of barrels of oil off the market, driving the price up to $300 or $400 a barrel."

The Saudi system, as is sometimes pointed out, is in a position where it needs an unresolved conflict over Zionism for its survival. After one side or the other has convincingly won the conflict over Zionism, both internal pressure and pressure from all over the world, including the United States as a leader, will force the Arabians to accept a normal, competitive, preferably democratic political in a very short time.

The Saudi system could barely last a decade if it was to stop offering Israel's supporters the limited cooperation it offers. It also could not last a decade if the people of the region thought the issue was resolved in which case Saudi relative cooperation with Zionism would not be necessary.

No comments: