RIYADH: The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia appointed his son as governor of Riyadh Province yesterday in a move that strengthens his branch of the ruling dynasty as it approaches a difficult decision over how to transfer power to the next generation.
King Abdullah also reshuffled top defence posts, removing the deputy minister and the chief of staff, state news agency SPA reported.
Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s elevation to one of the most important positions held by ruling family members comes months after another son of the King, Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, was made governor of Makkah Province.
Moves in the ruling family are closely watched at home and abroad for clues on who will rule the world’s top oil exporter, a country which also a huge influence over Muslims through its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites.
The Saudi line of succession does not pass directly from father to son, as in European monarchies, but has moved along a line of brothers born to the country’s founder King Abdulaziz who died in 1954. As that line nears its end, the Al Saud dynasty is grappling with how to move the succession down to the next generation of the family.
King Abdullah, who is over 90, has made a series of changes and appointments over the past two years that have consolidated the position of his allies in the family.
The most recent was the appointment of Prince Muqrin, the youngest of King Abdulaziz’s sons to survive into adulthood, as deputy crown prince, a newly created position that makes him next in line to rule after King Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman.
That move was seen as delaying the moment when the Al Saud will have to decide on a prince from the younger generation to take charge, and prompted speculation about a wider deal between different branches of the family. Until 2011, the position of Riyadh governor had been held for five decades by Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, who was made crown prince in 2012.
The province is home to the country’s capital and is the heartland of the Al Saud’s traditional support base. Prince Turki bin Abdullah was born in 1970.
Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was removed from his post as deputy defence minister “upon his request,” SPA said, citing a royal decree. He was replaced by Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Riyadh.
The outgoing deputy minister is a son of the late Crown Prince Sultan, who served as a defence minister for nearly five decades.
SPA said the king also removed the chief of staff, General Hussein Al Qabeel, who was retiring, and replaced him with his deputy General Fayad Al Rawyli. The defence overhaul came a month after the king removed powerful intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Besides appointing sons as governors of Riyadh and Makkah provinces, two of the three most important in the country, King Abdullah has also made one of his sons, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, deputy foreign minister.
However, his most senior son, and the one seen as most likely to one day become king, is Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who is head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.Reuters