RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, a former intelligence chief in the kingdom, has been appointed deputy crown prince, making it likely he will one day become king.
The appointment makes Muqrin, 69, the youngest son of the kingdom’s founder King Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, next in line to succeed King Abdullah in the world’s top oil exporter after his half-brother Crown Prince Salman.
“Prince Muqrin is granted allegiance as deputy crown prince, a crown prince if the position becomes vacant and to be given allegiance as king of the country if both the positions of crown prince and king become vacant at the same time,” a royal court statement said.
The announcement gives more assurance to the kingdom’s long-term succession process at a time when Riyadh sees itself as being an island of stability amid conflict and political turmoil across the region.
U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks appear to show Muqrin as sharing King Abdullah’s views that Western countries should take a strong line against Iran, which they see as pursuing an expansionist agenda in Arab countries.
In a 2009 cable, he was quoted telling diplomats that the Shiite crescent where the sect has traditionally held sway was in danger of “becoming a full moon” thanks to Iranian support for its coreligionists at the expense of Sunnis.
In the same cable, which recorded a conversation soon after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, he said of the new president, “I like his attitude,” before adding “he’ll meet the facts later. ... Many people are not as good-hearted as he is.”Muqrin, who trained as a fighter pilot in Britain in his youth, is seen as likely to continue the cautious economic and social reforms begun by King Abdullah, analysts say.
“He reads books. He’s into music and art. I think he is from the more moderate school of Saudi politics,” said Jamal Khashoggi, head of a television news station owned by billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.
There is no formal line of succession beyond the king and crown prince, and some analysts had speculated that it would pass to another member of the ruling family. The role of deputy crown prince is a new creation.
Under rules governing the succession, drawn up by King Abdullah a decade ago, a new monarch is empowered to select an heir himself from within the ruling Al-Saud family, so long as an internal council agreed to his choice.
Crown Prince Salman and that family body, the Allegiance Council, have accepted Muqrin as the deputy crown prince, SPA reported, indicating he will automatically become Salman’s heir when King Abdullah dies.
As Muqrin is younger than some of his nephews who might otherwise qualify to become crown prince or king, his appointment would appear to rule them out of the running.
“It will be instructive in due course to see who follows Muqrin in the eventual line of succession as that is when the shift to the grandsons of King Abdul-Aziz will have to take place,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, Gulf expert at the U.S.-based Baker Institute.